Genetics Determine Your Best Diet

Everyone knows people who can eat whatever they like, whenever they like and never gain weight. On the other hand you may be someone who just looks at food and gains a pound.  Why is life so unfair?  You eat the same things that others eat but your body stores the extra calories instead of burning them off quickly. 

Your genetic makeup is the reason. Genes give the body responding instructions. Studies of resemblances and differences among family members offer indirect scientific evidence that genetic factors play a role. Studies compared obese and non-obese people for variation in genes that might influence behaviors. Behaviors such as not being able to control eating, or the tendency to be sedentary.  They also looked at metabolism genes that could diminish the capacity to burn fat or cause the body to store fat. The studies identified variants in several genes that may contribute to obesity because they cause a person to take in too much food and not be able to convert them to energy. 

In Dr. J. Dunn’s book Genetic Compassion, she describes further about how genes play a role in being overweight:

Genetics Determine Your Best Diet

“As a health care practitioner, I have seen so many fad diets come and go through the years.  The truth is that they all work…for someone. But clearly, they do not work for everyone; otherwise, there would be only one diet book.  And even if that were so, people would be excited about the diet for a few months, but then they would give up due to the difficulty of sustaining the rigorous discipline required.  

We as a people are so varied in our ancestry; it is impossible for there to be a “one-size-fits-all” diet.  Sorting out all the variables to get the diet that works best for you could be a particularly frustrating endeavor.  Eskimos eat a diet of mostly protein and fats, while others with ancestors who were farmers do better on a carbohydrate-rich diet.  Our genes have much to tell us about which diets are best for us as individuals. This information is worth its weight in gold. How about the “Eat Right for Your Genes Diet”?  There it is the next big breakthrough in diets!  

When I got my genes tested, the results confirmed what I already intuitively know:  I can eat about any form of calories, but I just have to watch the number of calories I eat.  I do have several genes that predispose me, as well as my family, to obesity. In addition, I know that a low-carbohydrate diet is more beneficial for me in maintaining my ideal weight.  This guideline is not true for many people. Eating a low-fat diet can be beneficial for some, a low-carb diet beneficial for others, and a low-protein diet beneficial for others. The secret for you is in your genes.  If your ancestors were exposed to conditions of starvation, then it’s likely that you hold on to weight a little too easily. If they were hunter-gatherers, then a high protein, low carbohydrate diet like the Atkins Diet may be best for you.  The discovery of genes that can predispose a person to obesity has relieved the guilt that many people feel about their weight. The popular belief that all obese persons are weak-willed, undisciplined, and uneducated about diet and exercise can now finally be dispelled. While this may be true of some, many people do all the right things and still have great difficulty losing weight.  How frustrating it is to have genes that work against our desire to be trim, fit, energetic, and healthy. It is especially frustrating when we are surrounded by other people who seemingly can eat anything they want and never gain weight, and who seemingly have boundless energy. “

Overweight People

One of the strongest prejudices we have is against overweight people.  As I’m writing this section, I am reading an article in Scientific American called “The Fat Gene” by Richard Johnson and Peter Andrews.  Their question was “why was diabetes, which is defined by the presence of abnormally high levels of the sugar glucose in the blood, becoming more prevalent?” The authors argue that “people with a gene variant that made their body particularly efficient in the intake and utilization of food would have socked away more of the scarce calories as fat.” The extra fat would allow these folks to survive better during times of starvation and famine.  The authors hypothesize that this very mechanism could be at the root of our epidemic of obesity and type II diabetes along with hypertension, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and heart disease. Johnson, Andrews Scientific American Oct 2015

There appears to be solid evidence that a mutation in a single gene caused modern humans to be thrifty with calories. This same gene may now be linked to many of the major diseases of humans.  Yet we tend to judge these folks. We ask, ‘why can’t they just exercise? Why can’t they just make better food choices?’ They judge themselves harshly as well. They live with such shame and self-loathing that they create a living hell in their lives.  Many of them truly live lives of “quiet desperation.” 

In an article in ABC News Online, “Stigma Against Fat People, the Last Acceptable Prejudice, Studies Find,” author Liz Neporent states that “prejudice against fat people was pervasive and translated into inequities across broad areas of life”.  She goes on to say, “Overweight people are usually shown in stereotypical ways—engaged in out of control eating or bingeing on junk food—and they are often shown as the target of humor or ridicule.” This leaves the overweight person feeling less than human and completely demoralized. However, they may simply have genes that perpetuate their situation and make it extremely difficult to lose weight.  This discouragement, in turn, can lead to eating more for comfort, and a vicious cycle begins. ABC News Neporent Jan 2013

In the gene variant mentioned above, the gene that codes for the enzyme uricase can mutate. This process is known as a single nucleotide polymorphism or SNiP.  This mutation can cause the body to convert fructose into fat more readily than normal, and it predisposes humans to obesity and diabetes. So, avoiding fructose would seem prudent in this case.  

As I travel from one venue to the next, I often write in airports.  While I wrote this section, I took a break to search for something to eat.  I read food labels and noted how ubiquitous fructose is in our modern diets, the biggest culprit being soft drinks.  High fructose corn syrup is a cheap source of sweetness, one to which we are readily addicted. It is in our cereals, stuffing, fruit drinks, breads, candies, condiments, cookies, cakes, granola, granola bars, cough syrups, crackers, dairy products (such as yogurt and Cool Whip), pickles, ice creams, jams, jellies, syrups, packaged meats, pastries, salad dressings, sauces, and even soups.  We are presented with it in schools, at snack vendors, and at fast food and other restaurants. It is actually difficult to avoid. Fruits are also a source of fructose; our ancestors consumed them in larger quantities when they wanted to store fat for times of famine. 

Another variant that could be involved in the efficient storage of fat, the lack of energy, as well as extreme hunger is the ACAT gene variant.  When there is a SNiP (a variation from the normal) in this gene, the individual converts food into cholesterol and triglycerides more readily than someone who doesn’t inherit a variant in this gene.  They store fat easily yet their cells are starving. This information disconnect increases the person’s appetite and may contribute to heart disease and type II diabetes. 

Other genetic variants can also contribute to the obesity epidemic.  The point is that humans are all different, and nature has allowed our ancestors to survive by selecting certain genetic variants that are advantageous.  Having genes that can store fat is certainly one of these during times of starvation, but it’s rather inconvenient when calories are plentiful.”

Discover how your genetics affect your health and learn how to get your genetic report.   

About Dr. J Dunn

Dr. J Dunn, BS, DC, CWK  has been practicing natural medicine for over 30 years.  She is a Chiropractic Physician and certified in Functional Medicine. She began studying the connection between genetics and nutrition in 2013 when she stumbled across information about methylation, genetics, nutrition, and nutrigenomics that sparked her interest. She realized that this was the missing piece to understanding the true underlying causes of disease. Her drive to understand true causes and her passion for helping those who are suffering from depression, anxiety and attention issues lead her to create the MyHappyGenes program.