Can the Secret to Weight Loss Be Found in Your DNA?

March 15th, 2010

Research being done in conjunction with Stanford University is showing that your success with different types of weight loss diets may depend on your genetics.

There’s a wide variety of weight loss diets to choose from, and while they all make big claims about delivering results, the diets are often drastically different. Furthermore, each of these diets typically have their share of glowing success stories as well as reports of making people feel miserable. Although there are many factors that contribute to the success or failure of a weight loss diet, perhaps the most obvious conclusions that can be drawn from these discrepancies are that we each respond to food in different ways and that the type of diet that works extremely well for one person may very well cause problems for another. Could genetic testing be the solution to this uncertainty?

More Support for Metabolic Individuality

Nearly half a century ago, a researcher by the name of George Watson was already studying the varying influence of food on people’s wellbeing. While the evidence and understanding of this relationship have increased greatly since then, many people are still unaware of it. Recent research that has caught the attention of mainstream media may change this.

A company called Interleukin Genetics has developed a DNA test called the Weight Management Genetic Test which predicts several of an individual’s metabolic tendencies based on the existence of genes related to fat absorption, fat cell formation, the utilization of stored fat, and fat breakdown.1 Since 2008, Interleukin Genetics has been working with Stanford University researchers to determine if individuals who follow a diet suited to their genetics, as determined by this test, would lose more weight than those who don’t.

Although the research hasn’t been published, investigators from Stanford University reported on their findings during an oral presentation at the American Heart Association’s 50th Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism conference. According to the presenters, those following a diet appropriate for their genotype lost 5.3% of their body weight whole those who followed a diet not appropriate for their genotype lost 2.3%. In other words, those who ate in accordance with their genetic tendencies lost an average of more than twice as much weight in relation to their total body weight.

The results are even more dramatic when only the participants following either the Atkins or Ornish diets are considered. Of all the diets included in the research, the Atkins diet was the lowest in carbohydrates and the Ornish diet was the lowest in fat. The participants following the diet appropriate for their genetics lost 6.8% of their body fat while those following the diet not appropriate for their genetics lost only 1.4%. On average, the group eating according to their genetic tendencies lost more than 4 times as much weight in relation to their total body weight.2

Metabolic Individuality is About More than Weight Loss

The ability to make health improving decisions based on genetic analysis is as promising as it is fascinating. Perhaps it will be a fundamental aspect of living a healthy lifestyle in the not too distant future. However, this technology is still in its infancy and tests like the one offered by Interleukin only provide a glimpse of one’s metabolic tendencies.

In my opinion, the most important aspect of this research is not the availability of a test that can identify the best weight loss diet for a particular individual, but rather the convincing evidence that each of us respond differently to the food we eat. As desperate as some people are to lose weight, it’s important to realize that eating a diet based on accommodating metabolic tendencies has implications that are much more significant. Doing so is an important factor in achieving optimal health, and weight loss tends to occur naturally and effortlessly as part of the process.

A Better Way to Assess Your Metabolic Individuality

The research described above is an extension of previous research on the effectiveness of a variety of diets that were either low in carbohydrate, low in fat, or evenly balanced.3 As I mentioned previously, each of these diets tend to provide incredible results for some while making others miserable. The research done with Interleukin’s genetic test gives us a good indication of why this is the case.

The macronutrient ratios of the three types of diets studied are similar in nature to the ratios that are a part of Metabolic Typing. However, the factors that Metabolic Typing are based on involve much more than just a handful of genes that give an indication of fat storage and utilization tendencies. Most notably, these factors include individual variations in cellular respiration which indicate how effective or ineffective an individual is at metabolizing protein, fat, and carbohydrates for energy production, and autonomic nervous system dominance which predicts how certain foods will influence an individuals nervous system, and in turn, physiological function in general.

Although Metabolic Typing is based on a more subjective assessment that relies on the accurate assessment of one’s physical attributes and typical reactions to certain types of foods and meals, it has a high rate of success. As the field of genetic testing advances, perhaps it will one day be a part of Metabolic Typing and will provide a more accurate and in depth method of testing to compliment a well rounded holistic approach to optimal health. The possibilities are very exciting!

[1. Interleukin Genetics. "The Science Behind the Weight Management Genetic Test." Cited March 11 2010.]
[2. Interleukin Genetics. "Interleukin Genetics, Inc. and Stanford University Report Genetic Test Improves Weight Loss Success." Cited March 11 2010.]
[3. Gardner D, Kiazand A, Alhassan S, Kim S, Stafford RS, Balise RR, Kraemer HC, King AC. "Comparison of the Atkins, Zone, Ornish, and LEARN Diets for Change in Weight and Related Risk Factors Among Overweight Premenopausal Women." The Journal of the American Medical Association. 2007. 297(9):969-977.]

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