Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Fat gene theory dispelled

May 24, 2011 - 12:29PM

Biggest Loser proves genes don't control weight, says Michelle Bridges.

From Sunday Life

I am not a scientist. However, I can't help being fascinated by what is going on in the research world as it relates to obesity and weight management. One of the things scientists are focusing their attention on is the field of epigenetics, which explores how every gene a person has inherited ends up expressing itself in their physical and neurological characteristics. This subject is even more interesting now that science has unravelled the human genome sequence.

In the past, we've looked to our parents and grandparents for the determinants of the way we look, or for our propensity for disease or obesity. What epigenetic research tells us is that our genes themselves are not wholly responsible for our physical characteristics.

Let me explain. Epigenetics is the study of changes in our physical characteristics that are caused by mechanisms over and above our underlying DNA sequence. Our epigenomes sit on top of our genes, and effectively tell our genes which genetic characteristics to switch on and which to switch off. The action is better described as a dimmer switch, as epigenomes also control to what extent our genes determine our physical characteristics.

It's important to remember that our DNA sequence itself doesn't change. We can't change our genetic sequence because it's hard-wired into our system - but we can change the way our genes express themselves.

Obviously, if we can switch off the genes that give us a propensity to develop cancer or become obese, or at least "dim" them, we stand to benefit enormously. And here's more amazing news: the way to change our epigenomes, and thereby our genetic expression (our propensity to disease, obesity, even the way we look), is by changing our diet, our exercise habits and our environment. In other words, it's not the genetic cards you've been dealt, but rather how you play them that determines much about your physical health and well-being.

This research also dispels the fat-gene theory, which suggests that some of us have the fat gene and are therefore incapable of losing weight. We now know that all of us can control our weight to some degree - if we treat our epigenomes carefully through exercise, nutrition and our environment.

The common denominator of all the contestants on The Biggest Loser is that they all claim to have "tried everything, but nothing worked" in their quest for a healthy weight. Yet we trainers manage to get weight off all of them, without exception. Did they leave their fat genes at the front door? No. Has their DNA sequence changed? No. They just altered its genetic expression. And you can, too.

Michelle's tip

When you change your diet, exercise and environment, the change to your epigenomes - and therefore your genetic expression - is immediate. Never think the changes you've made to your lifestyle haven't made a difference; they have. The difference took place at a cellular level the moment you made the change.

Michelle Bridges is an author land a trainer on The Biggest Loser.

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