Exercise to Avoid the Effects of the ‘Obesity Gene’

November 12, 2012

Exercise to Avoid the Effects of the

A large scale study recently published in PLoS Medicine has found that those with the ‘so-called’ fat gene can still lose weight if they are physically active. The researchers say that physical exercise can minimize the powers of the FTO (fat mass and obesity associated) gene in adults. This sends a message to all of those people who say that fat is in their genes, and that message is to keep on exercising and eating healthily in order to avoid obesity.

Earlier work had identified that within the United States about 74% of those with ancestors coming from Europe had a variation on the gene associated with FTO. This is a gene which has been linked to weight gain. This study noted that when exercising the negative, obesity enhancing effects of this gene were weakened by 30% in adults.

One expert, Louis Aronne, MD, founder and director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Program at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center says, “There is no question that the FTO gene is associated with an increased body weight”. However he counters, “Despite the fact that you have the gene, there are things you can do to prevent it from influencing how heavy you are”.

Aronne is pragmatic in his approach, he points out that if you have the gene then you are not powerless and goes on, “we can prevent these genes from taking their full course by doing something”. Furthermore genes should not be considered destiny but if you have the FTO gene then you must be aware that certain things may be more difficult, but not impossible.

Aronne encourages people with the FTO gene to “put on gloves and fight even harder”. He reassures people that there are things that can be done and regular exercise is the most effective action.

The researchers are in accord with this view and point out that the findings are in conflict with the view that genes and genetic influences on a person were not able to be altered. They say, “Our findings emphasize that physical activity is an effective way of controlling body weight, particularly in individuals with a genetic predisposition toward obesity”.

The Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit in Cambridge, U.K. ran a survey on more than 218,000 adults with the aim of confirming the link between this gene and the increased risk for becoming obese. The research was led by Ruth J. F. Loos and it found that adults who took regular exercise had a 33% less chance of being obese when compared to adults who did not exercise regularly.

Genes can be Overcome

One researcher in this field who was not involved in the study is Paul Thompson, PhD. He is a professor of neurology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles and has carried out research on the FTO gene previously. Of the study he says, “It is a really exciting study that shows you can overcome your genes.” He then points out the physical effect of the gene and how to counteract it. He says, “If you have this very severe obesity gene, you can reverse your risk with exercise. This gene makes you crave 200 more calories a day. That can be offset by walking two miles a day”.

He further believes that it is another step forward in the quest to find a drug which can neutralize the effects of the FTO gene.

Thompson believes that if people are tested for the gene it could motivate them to do more exercise. However other experts believe that gene testing for all has no benefits because irrespective of whether an individual has the gene or not the answer is the same in every case. That is, eat a healthy balanced diet and exercise regularly. J. Lennert Veerman, PhD, who wrote an editorial with the study and is a senior fellow from the School of Population Health at the University of Queensland in Australia, says, “testing for genetic traits that are associated with obesity makes no difference in the advice to overweight persons: increased physical activity and a healthy diet are indicated regardless of the genes.”

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