Weight loss troubles link to genes

Your genes may be to blame for poor weight loss.

The next time you reach for that irresistible piece of cake, think about how your genes might be controlling your craving.  Researchers at the University of Michigan Health System have recently published a study in Nature revealing the link among genetics, appetite, metabolism and body mass index (BMI).

Genetic Investigation of Anthropometric Traits (GIANT) is the largest ever genome-wide study on the biology and genetics of obesity. Over 500,000 genetic samples were tested to determine the number of genes that play the roles in controlling human size and weight.

“If we can figure out which genes influence where fat is deposited, it could help us understand the biology that leads to various health conditions such as insulin resistance, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease,” said Karen Mohlke, a professor of genetics at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and a co-author of the study.

As many as 97 different regions across the genome were identified as having an effect on body mass index. Individuals are more likely to be obese if they carry a number of obesity susceptibility genes.

“The large number genes makes it less likely that one solution to beat obesity will work for everyone and opens the door to possible ways we could use genetic clues to help defeat obesity,” said Elizabeth Speliotes, an assistant professor at the U-M Health System. “We envision using these genetic markers to help doctors decide which treatments would work best to keep patients healthy.”

Obesity is often linked to diabetes and other metabolic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases and thyroid disorders. However, the study discovered that some individuals are more susceptible to weight gain but are also more protected against diabetes and heart disease.

“Who cares about obesity if it’s not going to affect your health,” said Speliotes.

The research not only provides a link between genetics and obesity, but also uses novel computational approaches to look at the neuronal and biological pathways. These pathways are important metabolic regulatory mechanisms. The central nervous system (CNS) and the hypothalamus were found to play a central role in body weight regulation. The hypothalamus secretes neurohormones that regulate a number of important psychological and behavioral responses such as appetite, body temperature, sleep and internal biological body clock. Glutamate receptor activity and synaptic plasticity are pathways in the CNS that respond to changes in feeding and fasting. Glutamate receptors are responsible for mediating excitatory neurotransmitters, sending signals between neurons through synapses. Synaptic plasticity is the change in strength and ability of synapses in receiving neurotransmitters, depending on the quality and quantity of neurotransmitters released. These pathways are being considered potential therapeutic targets for the management of body weight.

The study stressed that a healthy lifestyle and exercise will help keep those pounds off despite the influence of genetic factors.

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