Obesity Gene Makes Us Hungrier and More Sensitive

The HealthGal Health Guide
  • In light of the recent position taken by the American Medical Association to classify obesity as a disease, a new study helps to shed light on some of the physiological issues at play, in the presence of the obesity gene.


    The FTO gene variation is apparently present in one out of six individuals, and it makes the individual about 70% more likely to develop serious weight issues and obesity.  Experts have tried to unravel the actual relationship between the gene variant and the liklihood of an obesity outcome.  The lead researcher is now calling the impact of the phenomenon a double hit.  The gene variation certainly appears to instigate higher levels of the hormone ghrelin in these individuals, fueling a very big hunger.  Secondarily, the variation seems to increase brain sensitivity to the hormone ghrelin, once it’s released into the bloodstream.  The findings, which were recently published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, reviewed studies of blood samples from a number of individuals after they consumed meals, and also used MRI studies of the participants brains post meal consumption, as well as cellular studies of ghrelin production.

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    These insights can be of great help in the effort to develop specific treatments for obesity, with prior findings showing that a meal that is significantly higher in protein is helpful in lowering ghrelin levels.  To be clear, the gene variation only explains a small part of the so-called recipe that sets someone up for a higher risk of developing obesity.  Family history of obesity, maternal weight, maternal diet during pregnancy, paternal weight before conception occurs, family eating habits, timing and choices of solid food introduction in infancy, childhood diet and exercise habits, food insecurity, emotional eating habits and even the food served at your child's school, all play significant roles in the risk of this disease as well. 


    Findings like this do help drug manufacturers to focus on drug therapies that may help to minimize the impact of a risk factor like the FTO gene variation.  But even if you have it, you can create an environment that helps to suppress the impact.  Those same habits can help anyone at risk for developing the disease.  They include:


    • Scheduling exercise daily as a regular “unavoidable” habit and moving as much as possible throughout the day.
    • Learning appropriate portion sizes for most of the foods you eat.
    • Choosing foods with simple ingredients that you recognize, and eating simple foods like fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed foods.
    • Drinking water as your beverage of choice, and secondarily, consuming portion-controlled amounts of lower fat or alternative milks.
    • Prepping and cooking foods in your own kitchen, as much as possible.
    • Avoiding temptation by not bringing desserts and fast foods – even leftovers - into your home
    • Positioning treats in your diet with portion control and frequency in mind.
    • Creating a support system of friends and family, who bolster your effort to control your weight and your diet.
    • Getting therapy if you feel you need it, to modify entrenched behaviors that instigate weight gain and to resolve emotional issues that encourage overeating.
    • Limiting sedentary behaviors like TV time and computer/video gaming time
    • If the tech world inspires you, using apps and tools like pedometers to help you set and achieve goals and weight milestones.


  • Amy Hendel is a health professional, journalist and host of Food Rescue, Simple Smoothies and What’s for Lunch?  Author of Fat Families, Thin Families and The 4 Habits of Healthy Families, she tweets health headlines daily @HealthGal1103.  Catch her guest appearances on Marie! on Hallmark and other local and national news and talk shows.   Check out other blogs on lifestyle issues at www.healthcentral.com/obesity

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Published On: July 16, 2013