Don’t blame me: It’s all in my genes!

February 9, 2011 2 Comments by Scott Isaacs MD

Genetics and Weight

There have been great strides made in determining the genetics of obesity.  To date, many genes have been attributed to the control of body weight, metabolism, appetite and body fat distribution.  To date, over 500 genes have been associated with obesity with 30-40 genetic sites identified as having a very strong link.  These genes influence the complex biology of body weight by controlling appetite, metabolism and body fat distribution.  Genetic researchers emphasize that weight gain generally occurs when people burn fewer calories than they consume.

Genes, personal choices and a society that encourages high calorie foods and discourages exercise all play a role in body weight.  But, genetic differences may explain why some people gain weight despite a healthy lifestyle while others stay lean without exercising much or paying much attention to what they eat.  Researchers believe that we can learn a lot from people who are genetically resistant to gaining weight, but currently, there is little practical advice.

Eating Throughout the Years

Because of our genes, our hormonal systems are almost identical to those of our ancient ancestors.  Very little has changed over the generations.  Unfortunately for us, our environment has changed even if our hormonal systems have not.  No longer do we need to forage for nuts and berries; no longer do we need to kill our dinner or go without.  There’s McDonald’s, Snickers bars, bags of Doritos, Ben and Jerry’s, and a car to get us to the restaurant or grocery store. “Becoming obese,” says obesity expert Dr. James Hill of the University of Colorado, “is a normal response to the American environment.”

It’s an environment created by the industrial revolution.  Before the industrial revolution and all its advances in agriculture, transportation and processing, granulated sugar was extravagance.  Ice cream was a delicacy.  Anything requiring refrigeration existed only for the wealthy (or those in very cold climates).  It all changed almost overnight, given the context of human history: suddenly, high-calorie, high-fat, high-refined sugar foods were inexpensive and readily available.

The Era of “Super-Size Me!”

And we like those foods.  We want more; we want more for our money.  Think of “super-sizing.”  A double cheeseburger for 99 cents!  A 48-oz. Coke for only a dime more than a 32-oz. Coke!

Seems like a bargain, right?  But does “more” mean “better?”  We are paying a price for all that “free” extra food.  Sugars and fats bombard our delicate hormone systems.  Our genes can’t keep up with the changes.

Eat like a caveman!

Many nutrition experts today recommend that we eat the way our ancestors did thousands of years ago.  Dean Ornish, creator of the diet that bears his name, has said that thousands of years ago “it was survival of the fattest.”

But things have changed.  Back then the problem was finding enough food to avoid starvation.  And different cultures had different diets.  The Inuits of northern Canada had (and have) a high-protein, high-fat diet, the better to insulate their bodies during the long, hard winter (the body burns that fat for heat, and keeps itself alive).  The ancient tribes of Africa, Mexico and India adhered to a whole-grain, high-carbohydrate diet.  Either way, the bottom line was the same: Many different diets resulted in hormonal balance and lean bodies.

But today, we look for a “one-size-fits-all” solution.  That’s why so many diet books contradict each other.  Different authors select the diet of a particular ancient culture to match the diet they’re writing about.  This anthropological basis for dieting falls short in the fact that it does not take hormones into consideration at all.  Obesity today is caused because the food of our civilization disrupts the delicate hormonal balance we are genetically programmed to have.

“Genetics loads the gun.  Environment pulls the trigger,” says obesity guru George Bray.

Well, we can’t change our genetics (not yet, anyway).  But we can change our hormones.  And you can change your hormones without eating like a caveman.  I can show you how.  Check out the Hormonal Health Diet to learn how you can lose weight without feeling hungry, even if your genes are working against you.

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    2. Scott Isaacs, MD says:
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