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Genetics, DNA and Weight Management

11 June 2021

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There are many factors that influence weight management. These range from diet, metabolism, hormonal balance, movement and stress management to our actual genetic make-up. When it comes to genes and DNA this can be a complicated subject. Many people will put their weight gain down to ‘being big boned’ or notice that they carry weight similar to their mother. This is all associated with familial genetics, but the area of genetics I want to focus on is our ‘gene expression’. What I mean by this is that genes can either express themselves, i.e., ‘switch on’, or not express themselves, ‘switch off’.  This behaviour is called Epigenetics. The code of the genes do not change but instead the behaviour of that gene can be influencing the gene to behave in a certain way.

There are many ways in which environment can influence genetics. For example, smoking can influence genes to the extent that they begin to mutate, and they express themselves in a way that is detrimental to the individual. The gene influence I want to discuss is called Nutrigenomics. This area considers how lifestyle choices such as diet, exercise, sleep and stress impact the way your genes express themselves. This means that if we are aware of what gene variants we have, we can choose the way they express themselves by altering our diet and lifestyle choices. Pretty powerful knowledge in my opinion.

A good illustration of this is the GKR4 gene. This gene influences how salt effects our blood pressure. This gene effects how well a person clears dietary sodium. This can be important insight if the individual has high blood pressure and/or has a high intake of salty foods (crisps, processed meals etc). Knowing your variant can help you make conscious, educated decisions based around reduction in salt intake and increasing detoxification and elimination processes.

Weight management is also, to some degree, determined by our genes, or how they express themselves. For example, the FTO gene determines how our appetite is governed. I call this the ‘snacking gene’ because this gene influences when we feel hungry and when we feel full. Depending on this gene variant, can influence if we snack more because our appetite switch doesn’t always turn off. In clinic, if a patient has this variant, I will highlight that they may snack more, and therefore suggest healthier snack options to reduce potential weight gain.

Another weight influencing gene is the ADIPOQ gene that influences fat burning. This gene influences the production or inhibition of Adiponectin which is a hormone that promotes fat breakdown and boosts metabolism. If a patient has gene variants that influence the expression of this gene, as their Nutritional Therapist, I can help advise additional foods that have thermogenic properties, i.e. help the body create heat to boost fat burning and increase metabolism. This also will indicate to the patient where they may need to increase their exercise program to increase metabolism activity to burn fat.

Take also the fact that some people are lactose intolerant, while others have no problems digesting cow’s milk. In babies who are intolerant to milk, it’s because of a variant in the LCT & MCM6 gene. In adults who develop lactose intolerance later in life, gradually decreasing activity of the LCT & MCM6 gene is to blame. Of course, many people experience no issues with lactose their entire lives as their MCM6 genes have not been affected in the same way. Gaining an understanding that the individual has this variant helps guide them to adjust their dairy intake and perhaps choose dairy alternatives.

Another example are specific genes that effect how people react to caffeine. For years, drinking coffee was touted as a way to reduce the risk of heart disease. But for some coffee drinkers, the risk of heart disease seemed to increase, contrary to most major studies. In some individuals, coffee takes longer to metabolise, meaning the caffeine lingers in the bloodstream for longer, affecting blood pressure and effectively negating any positive benefits a cup of coffee might have. There are several genes that govern how well caffeine is metabolised and these are part of the overall testing we use at Weight Medics.

At Weightmedics, we continue to strive to offer our patients a more personalised approach to their weight loss journey and using genetic testing enables us to gain a deeper insight into our patients’ biochemistry.  If you are interested in gaining a more personalised insight into your genetic bio-individualism, please contact us to find out more.

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