“Genetics Loads the Gun, and Environment Pulls the Trigger.” ~ Dr. Francis Collins
A New Perspective on Genes and Weight Loss
So many of us, at some point in our health journey, have struggled with weight. Dietary changes and exercise protocols often feel like an uphill battle.
When you think about it, our whole culture is designed to hook us in and get us to consume more products. In the case of food, it is high glycemic, low nutrition foods.
With lax laws around the chemicals in our food, including food additives that are often banned in other countries, the U.S. has the highest rates of obesity among high-income nations.
The highly palatable nature of some of these foods adds to their addictive profile (which funds both the food and pharmaceutical industry down the road).
To make matters worse, chronic disease is among the most significant downstream effects of obesity.
Diabetes, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, and countless other illnesses are linked to obesity. Aside from the often deadly health complications, one of the saddest effects of the obesity epidemic is that people blame themselves and believe it is a moral or willpower issue, as opposed to the combination of a context working against their success and the hand they were dealt with, genetically.
The good news is that although your genes are with you for life, their expression of them can change radically.
The fact is, it’s only a tiny percentage of genes that will determinately lead to specific health outcomes, and the category of excess weight is no exception. The vast majority of genes are simply instructions activated based on the environment. The last part, the background of our bodies, is one we can change. To understand how, keep reading.
When it comes to the genetic factors at play in a struggle to lose weight, these can relate to several main categories:
- Diet and Metabolism
- Mood and Behaviour
Knowing the main genes in each of the above categories puts us in a better position to modify the outcomes, change our gene expression, and lose weight (if that’s the primary concern).
What Diet and Metabolism Genes can Tell you about Weight Loss
Not surprisingly, the genes that play a role in our metabolism and our breakdown of foods play a big part in our attempts at weight loss.
Genes that lead to a ‘slow metabolism’ may require us tp stop eating several hours before bed.
Genes that lead to poor fat metabolism may lead us to gain weight more easily from over-consumption of saturated fats. Food intolerances may be ‘subclinical’ (in that they don’t come up with standard allergy testing) and can increase inflammation in the body. This, in turn, leads to increased weight gain.
A few genes below are examples of Diet and Metabolism Genes to consider if you’re having trouble losing weight:
Famously known as ‘the snacking gene,’ a suboptimal MC4R variation, which is relatively common in the population, is expressed primarily in the hypothalamus and can throw off hunger cues.
MC4R is associated with an increased predisposition to snacking. This gene, combined with some mood and behavior genes such as ADRA2B, 5HTTLPR, and COMT variations, can compound the effect (see below for more details).
This gene correlates with satiety, and individuals with suboptimal variations have a delayed signal between their digestive system and brain to indicate that they’re ‘full.’
It’s not that the message doesn’t get there; they are simply delivered at a slower rate. Therefore, those with FTO are more prone to overeating or realizing once it’s too late that they’ve done so.
Many health hackers and high achievers who want to lose weight opt for a ketogenic diet, as it can have many cognitive and weight loss benefits. However, people metabolize fats differently (which may be a gene to consider if you tried a ketogenic diet or are eating more ‘healthy’ saturated fats and couldn’t lose weight).
Individuals with suboptimal APOA2 variations are more likely to gain weight from saturated fat consumption, even if it’s in the form of healthy fats like eggs, grass-fed meat, and coconut oil.
These individuals may benefit from a higher protein, moderate fat diet (like a modified paleolithic or Mediterranean diet instead).
This gene is associated with an increased risk of Diabetes and what’s known as ‘Insulin Resistance,’ a condition where blood sugar is less able to enter the body’s cells and do its job.
These individuals will need a lower sugar/lower carb diet to prevent weight gain and progression to insulin resistance, diabetes, and high blood sugar, which can be inflammatory.
This gene relates to the ‘metabolism’ people refer to when talking about their ability to break down foods and lose weight.
Suboptimal variations lead to issues regulating body temperature and an increased risk of weight gain.
All of these diet and metabolism genes may discourage you and make you think that it’s “all in your genes” and “there’s not much you can do.” However, fortunately, all of these genes can be modified in their expression with the proper diet and lifestyle.
The understanding that certain behaviors, nutrients, and supplements can change our gene expression is how the field of ‘Functional Genomics’ came about.
An individual with suboptimal blood sugar regulation would often be advised towards a ‘low glycemic’ diet such as a paleo diet.
Another example could be someone with a ‘slow metabolism’ (as indicated by the UCP1 gene) may be advised to practice time-restricted eating, stop eating over 3 hours before bed, and so forth.
It is essential to know that there isn’t one gene that will inevitably lead to weight gain! This puts the power back in your hands to learn about your genes and take empowered action accordingly.
What Mood and Behaviour Genes Can Tell You About Weight Loss
This gene relates to an increased fear response and threat hypervigilance, which can increase stress and anxiety and make one more prone to post-traumatic stress disorder (as one example).
Genes correlated with an increased stress response, like ADRA2B, have been associated with increased snacking, particularly when coupled with other genetic factors, such as having the ‘snacking gene’ MC4R above, for example.
This gene correlates with decreased expression of the serotonin transporter 5HTT.
We have all heard about the correlation between low serotonin and depression. However, this gene is more correlated with anxiety and, to some extent, mood. It can exacerbate snacking behaviors when combined with other genes, such as MC4R, and lead to what one might refer to as ‘stress eating.’
COMT is a gene that encodes for an enzyme that metabolizes neurotransmitters.
Both slow and fast COMT are associated with various issues, while medium COMT (A/G) is the normal/optimal variation.
Although speculative to some extent, slow COMT may be related to binge eating, as it is associated with managing ‘binging’ behaviors.
Fast COMT is associated with low dopamine levels and, therefore, an increased risk of addiction, which can also translate into food addiction.
Because of the many variables in weight loss and weight management, mood and behavior can play a significant role in losing weight.
Looking into your cognitive or mood and behavior profile from a genetic perspective, with the guidance of a licensed health coach or physician, can often shed light on what may be contributing to weight management issues.
What your Hormone Genes can Tell you about Weight Loss
Hormones are an often-overlooked aspect of weight loss. Other than urine, blood, and saliva tests (which can indicate our current hormone levels), our hormone genes will usually give us a pretty good idea of what our hormone profile looks like and what our body type is likely to be.
Once again, these hormone genes are not ‘destiny’ when it comes to whether we will be overweight or underweight, but they will often dictate what our predispositions are in terms of body type and the ease with which we get results at the gym or lose weight.
Both men and women can be ‘estrogen dominant’ for their sex, meaning relative to the norms of their sex, they produce more estrogens or more androgens (the typically male hormones) in balance.
Although biological women produce more estrogen than men on average, men who are estrogen dominant for their sex are also more likely to put on fat with overeating. They may have a more challenging time losing weight or gaining muscle mass.
Although many genes play into overall hormone balance, CYP19A1 is directly related to the speed at which both men and women convert testosterone to estrogen.
Individuals who convert to estrogen more quickly are more likely to store adipose/fat tissue and may have a more challenging time building lean muscle mass.
For both women and men who are more ‘estrogenized’ and who have lower levels of both testosterone and DHT for their sex, weight loss can be an issue.
This is an example of a gene where faster production leads to higher amounts of DHT (Dihydrotestosterone), in the family of hormones called androgens.
DHT, however, is much more potent than regular testosterone and has some pros and cons. Higher levels of it can contribute to increased male pattern baldness, prostate cancer, and acne.
If that DHT, however, is being metabolized more quickly, those effects can be diminished, while the positive effects (such as ease in building lean muscle mass) will remain.
When it comes to hormones, balance is vital. Your genes will dictate both what that balance is likely to be (androgen or estrogen dominant) and, to some extent, the natural body type you lean towards (whether it be curvy or long and lean). However, individuals with any hormone profile can be at their optimal weight and be more balanced.
Knowledge is Power When it Comes to Weight Management
An estimated 80% of our long-term health and longevity relates to lifestyle as opposed to our genes. Fortunately, weight loss is no exception.
Our genes inevitably play a significant role in what we’re predisposed to. However, a healthy weight can be achieved regardless of the hand we’re dealt genetically.
Our environment and food choices, as well as our overall health status, can play a significant role in us attaining our weight management goals.
Our weight issues can stem from a variety of other health conditions and may be related to our hormone health, thyroid health, and metabolic or mental health conditions.
A functional medicine practitioner who takes the time to review all significant contributing factors in each system, along with our genetics, will be able to assess where our weight management issue may stem from.
Once we know the weak link, we’re in a better position to address those systems and make practical adjustments that lead to weight loss at any age.
Next Steps to Aid in Losing Weight
The licensed physicians at Tiger Medical Institute are trained in the root-cause assessment of health conditions, including obesity. They can examine the genetic and lifestyle factors that play into trouble with weight management.
Tiger Medical Institute uses genetic and biomarker testing to determine your risks and the factors in difficulty with losing weight.
To learn more review these additional articles on Weight Management:
- Struggling to Lose Weight After 40?
- How Can I Lose Weight Quickly?
- What Makes Time-Restricted Eating Important?
Book a call today if you want to move forward and speak to a professional at our company to learn even more about your options.
You can go to Tiger Medical Institute and schedule your consultation today.