A short while ago you can probably remember the news making a big deal of the discovery of an 'obesity' gene that pretty much means (if you listened to their usual style of sensationalising stuff like this) that it doesn't matter what you do, if you are genetically meant to be obese then you are pretty much stuck with it. Now, this wasn't the first or only paper that has looked at genetic links to obesity, but it is probably the most high profile and given that the average UK waistline is currently expanding faster than Gordon Brown's overdraft - it's certainly hot news....
"Honestly, it's genetic.....it's nothing to do with nutrition or exercise...."
Well, at Aegis Training as personal fitness trainers, we greeted this kind of research with the kind of enthusiasm normally reserved for opening a credit card bill or listening to one of Leigh Brandon's jokes. We didn't quite believe things to be as simple as this, could it really be possible that no matter what you did, if you were genetically cursed then that was it? Well, we didn't buy that, and neither did a lot of other scientists.
Now, I should warn you, this whole genetics thing can get a bit complicated and is best left to those who spend their days toiling over bunsen burners and injecting small animals with various potions. However, I will attempt a brief explanation.
One of the main studies on this actually came from the U.K and looked at something called the FTO gene. They found that variations of this gene were related to weight gain, and increased risk of diabetes. Having several variants of the gene puts you at risk of even greater weight gain. The FTO gene acts on enzymes and they found it to be particularly active in the Hypothalamus, which amongst other functions, controls hunger and thirst - uh oh.....you can see why this might be a problem....(apparently over half of us here in the UK have variants of this gene).
Now of course, this is hardly as simple as it may, or may not sound. The body is a complex bit of kit and there are many hormones within the body and many enzyme driven processes that can be altered through diet and exercise. However, the Hypothalamus is often central to the secretion of these and can be thought of a bit like the conductor of the hormonal orchestra that drives how we eat and store fat.
O.k back to the story. Now, research out of the U.S has given us some hope. While scientists are now looking at how to modulate the FTO gene as a treatment for obesity, the latest research to be published suggests that high levels of physical activity may negate the effects of this troublesome gene. Researchers at the University of Maryland looked at just over 700 folks from the Armish community (the Armish make good research subjects as they are genetically homogenous)and found that they too showed similar patterns of increased weight gain in those with the FTO gene. However, and here is the important part so listen carefully, they also found that high levels of physical activity (many of the Armish have physical jobs such as farming or building) actually modulated the effects of the FTO gene in men and women. The researchers stated that - "This provides evidence that the negative effects of the FTO variants on increasing body weight can be moderated by physical activity". Powerful stuff, and also solid evidence that even if genetically you aren't blessed, you can still 'beat your genetics' with the addition of regular physical activity.
As a side note to this, which we will be looking at in future articles - they also found that the Armish had lower rates of diabetes and more favourable cholesterol levels than the average - despite a high fat and high cholesterol diet, adding further fuel to our philosophy on nutrition currently used here at Aegis Training.
If you would like to check out the original study, you can find the abstract HERE .