The obesity gene according to science

Historically we could say that The history of the obesity gene dates back to 1962. The scientist in question is the geneticist James Neel, who postulated a hypothesis about it, which is still being discussed to this day.

James Neel wondered why a disease primarily associated with obesity, such as diabetes, had perpetuated over time. The logical thing would have been that humans with such a condition were not increasing throughout the history of humanity.

To explain why diabetes continued and there are more and more affected, he proposed the existence of a gene. This gene would serve the human species to overcome the stages of famine, which were frequent in prehistory. Through the ‘saving gene’ humans would accumulate extra fat to survive in times of famine.

According to James Neel, this obesity gene made sense in those moments of humanity. As history evolves, and there are fewer and fewer stages of widespread hunger in the world, fat accumulation became obesity and also increased frequency of diabetes.

What was an advantage for our ancestors, and the possibility of survival, today is a disadvantage in an increasingly urbanized world, more sedentary and with greater availability of foods rich in fats and sugars.

The problem of obesity

Obesity is a big global problem. There is talk of a pandemic, that is, an epidemic that spreads throughout the world, overcoming geographical boundaries.

It is cataloged as a chronic disease. The basis for its definition is excess fatty tissue in the body. The measure that doctors use to determine obesity is the body mass index (BMI). BMI is calculated using a formula that divides body weight in kilograms over height in meters squared.

Statistically, 22% of the world's adult population is obese. Some calculations are higher and estimate that one third of the world is obese, or at least has an overweight problem.

Not only is it an aesthetic situation, far from it. Hence the importance of locating something like the obesity gene. The obesity It is associated with other diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure, besides affecting the quality of life causing:

  • Social isolation.
  • Depression.
  • Sexual problems
  • Difficulties at work.

Doctors calculate the body mass index to determine obesity

To continue discovering: 3 strategies to fight obesity

The current discovery about the obesity gene

In 2007, a new discovery was reached about the obesity gene. The scientists identified the FTO gene as being associated with obesity. Experiments showed that if this gene is defective, the body tends to store more energy than to use it and burn it.

But nevertheless, The genetic problem does not explain to all obesities of all people. Approximately 44% of Europeans carry it; Not even half.

Other recent studies explained in more detail how the obesity gene alters the levels of a body hormone called ghrelin, better known as the hunger hormone. If the FTO gene is altered, ghrelin overacts making high-fat foods more palatable.

Continue reading: Ghrelina: functions and mechanism of action

Can you reverse genetics?

Scientific studies also coincide in something: the obesity gene is not the only factor involved. Lifestyle is more prevalent in determining obesity, among other things. And besides, the lifestyle is modifiable.

Exercise is one of the main pillars to fight obesity

These are some points that we can take into account to combat genetics from what we have control over:

  • Exercise: The recommendation to carry out more than 150 minutes of physical activity per week is still valid. In addition to preventing obesity, exercise helps prevent other chronic noncommunicable diseases.
  • Healthy nutrition: It is essential to have a balanced diet, varied and with adequate caloric content for physical activity. High fat foods and sugary foods should be avoided.
  • Weight control: without becoming obsessed, weighing yourself from time to time helps to know the body behavior to make the necessary modifications.
  • Constancy: Lifestyle changes must last over time. Persistence with exercise and a healthy diet gives results in the short, medium and long term.

In conclusion

Genetics will continue to investigate, but we are still far from drugs that manage to regulate the FTO gene and the ghrelin hormone. The obesity gene exists. However, it is not the sole determinant of a person's overpressure. Lifestyle, exercise habits and a healthy diet are the true pillars of prevention and treatment of obesity.