Maybe it IS your genes….


10407726_745264132200983_3430237727894113929_nDO YOU EVER FEEL YOU CAN’T SEEM TO STOP EATING?!

Over-eating maybe your genetic destiny. Using your genes as an excuse – for being overweight or poor at a particular sport/activity or having big ears or being unable to learn a new language – whatever it is, seems a legitimate way of explaining inadequacy. What you inherit from your parents and their parents before them has left you with the genetic hand you’ve been dealt and there is little you can do to change your DNA. A rock solid excuse for being or looking a bit s**t?

We all possess a FTO (fat mass and obesity) gene. If that gene is mutated at a specific spot it increases the likelihood of having more fat. Genetic mutations can be relatively normal in that they are responsible for one person having blue eyes while another’s are brown. Gene mutations occur in two ways: they can be inherited from a parent or acquired during a person’s lifetime. Mutations that are passed from parent to child are called hereditary mutations This type of mutation is present throughout a person’s life in virtually every cell in the body. Mutations that occur only in an egg or sperm cells and no other cells in the body, are called new mutations. New mutations may explain genetic disorders in which an affected child has a mutation in every cell, but has no family history of the disorder. Acquired (or somatic) mutations occur in the DNA of individual cells at some time during a person’s life. These changes can be caused by environmental factors such as ultraviolet radiation, toxins, chemical exposure etc.

A mutation of the FTO gene seems to (unfortunately) particularly occur in women of European descent. Possessing the mutation does not mean your FTO gene is guaranteed to be faulty. If it is however, you will weigh ON AVERAGE 3kg more than someone without the mutation. This extra 3 kg is because the mutated gene disrupts Ghrelin (the hormone that makes you feel full) meaning you have no signal to stop eating.

The natural first response is to want to know if you have the mutated genes. A genetic test can be administered relatively simply, usually through a tissue or body fluid sample but the costs associated with processing results in a laboratory might be massive. If you feel you are eating all the time and perhaps eating more and weigh more than friends/peers of a similar age/activity then an FTO mutation MAY (only may) be a possibility, especially if you are a Caucasian female.

What to do if you feel this may be the case?

Once again, as with almost every physical ailment, problem, mutation, disease, illness and so on, exercise is the answer. An interesting (genuinely) discovery in one FTO study was that the lifestyle the research participants led heavily influenced the FTO gene. One group were Amish which meant their lifestyles were much more active (carpentry, farming, no cars etc) than the typical research subjects. This activity by-passed the effect of the mutation meaning they weighed less and had a lower BMI despite possessing the mutation. This also addresses the ‘nature v nurture’ debate as to whether it’s purely genes that determine you or whether your living environment play a part. These results suggest modern, city-living with exposure to toxins combined with sitting at a computer all day mean you have to train even harder to overcome an FTO mutation.

So, if you are inactive and have a mutation in your FTO gene then you are giving yourself the best chance of being obese. You can’t change the gene but you CAN increase your activity levels.

Frayling TM, et al. A common variant in the FTO gene is associated with body mass index and predisposes to childhood and adult obesity. Science. 2007 May 11;316(5826):889-94.

Common Variation in the Fat Mass and Obesity-Associated (FTO) Gene Confers Risk of Obesity and Modulates BMI in the Chinese Population
Yi-Cheng Chang1, Pi-Hua Liu, Wei-Jei Lee3, Tien-Jyun Chang4, Yi-Der Jiang4, Hung-Yuan Li4, Shan-Shan Kuo4, Kuang-Chin Lee4 and Lee-Ming Chuang45