Genes and Weight Loss

weighing in on your genes

How genetics affect your weight

Written by Kean Health
9 min

We all learned in high school biology that your DNA determines your hair color, nose shape, and eye color, but what do we know about the role genes play in our weight loss goals?


At Kean Health, we like to say the key to good health and managing your weight is not a one-size-fits-all approach because we all have different genetic makeup each of our bodies reacts differently to certain diets and foods. A study at Harvard Health found that each person’s genes have a different level of influence on their weight; for instance, some individuals' genes are responsible for 25% of their weight gain and loss while others may be as much as 80% responsible. But even if your genes have this much control over your body weight, there’s still a chance to beat the odds by living a healthy lifestyle.

To What Extent Are Genes to Blame for Obesity?
The number of overweight Americans has been steadily increasing since the 1970s, and genetics alone do not provide enough information to fully understand why this happens. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that genetic changes take place too slowly to be completely to blame for the American obesity epidemic. Many doctors and researchers agree that, in order to see success in your weight-loss strategies, you must take an approach that accounts for both your genes and lifestyle factors. The extent to which genes affect weight loss is generally based on a person's genes and their environment, however, it varies for each individual. 


How to Know Whether Habits or Gene are Causing Weight Gain?

Whether you have struggled with a long-term weight problem or have only recently started battling weight gain, it’s useful to know whether the extra pounds are due to your DNA or your lifestyle so you can take a targeted approach to your problem.

According to researcher, Zhaoping Li, MD, PhD at UCLA, “We know from research that some genetic predisposition increases your risk to be overweight and obese, but it can be overcome by lifestyle... genetics loads the gun, environment pulls the trigger. Genetics does play a role, but the truth is who you are is still determined by how you live your life." Your genes may have a significant influence on your weight if you’ve been overweight for most of your life and haven’t been successful with weight management with consistent diet and exercise. If you have a blood relative or parent that is also overweight, there’s a good chance that your weight is a genetic problem — and this likelihood multiplies if both of your parents are overweight. On the other side of the coin, it is known that lifestyle choices are a big factor in the average person's obesity.  Lifestyle weight gain can be due to inactivity, poor diet, and other habits. This is why diet fads are a bit risky in managing your weight. People who are heavily influenced by food and who lose weight easily after changing their habits through diet and exercise are probably gaining weight due to their change of lifestyle factors.


Genes That Have Been Linked to Weight

While hundreds of genes are linked to various aspects of obesity, researchers have been able to pinpoint some of the specific ones that influence the way we feel after eating, our appetite levels, our ability to burn calories and use energy, our body composition, and more. There isn’t a single gene responsible, but rather hundreds that are linked to appetite, glucose absorption, and metabolism. By identifying these genes, it may be easier to create a custom weight-loss regimen that works for your genetic makeup and increase your chances of losing weight and maintaining your weight loss over time. 


So Which Genes Contribute to Managing Your Weight?

→ FTO a protein associated with fat mass and obesity, is found on chromosome 16. The presence of this gene has shown to have a direct connection to obese individuals, as those with this gene have a 30% higher chance of being overweight.

→ MC4R—The melanocortin-4 receptor (MC4R) gene is a known contributor to human metabolism. This gene controls how much energy we use from what we eat and contributes to our feelings of hunger. Some people have a rare variant of this gene and are slightly more likely to be overweight.
→ Ankyrin-B—Known for causing obesity in its variant form, ankyrin-B causes fat cells to absorb glucose at an increased rate, which significantly increases the size of the cell.
→ Panx1—Also known as Pannexin 1, is the gene that regulates obesity and the accumulation of fat. The presence of this gene is correlated with a higher risk of obesity.
→ IRX3—The iroquois homeobox gene 3 (IRX3) is a gene that may cause difficulty losing weight. Studies have found that individuals with deficient expressions of this gene showed a 30% loss in weight.

The Good News About Genetic Predispositions to Obesity

Even if you express these genes, they should not be viewed as a lifetime obesity sentence or final destination. They’re merely risk factors, and health professionals urge people to never be discouraged by family histories or genetic makeup. Rather, they encourage at-risk individuals to embrace healthy living to overcome obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and other health complications. Be sure to begin a discussion with your health care provider before taking steps to change your diet or lifestyle routines.

Level up your weight-loss routine by finding out what genetic risk factors may be influencing your ability to manage your weight.

Your genes and your lifestyle both play a part in your weight, but your lifestyle is controllable while your genes are not. But getting acquainted with what your genes say about your health can be the first step in becoming a healthier you!

Find out what your genes have to say by testing with Kean Gene. Gene offers a comprehensive gene trait analysis. By providing a simple saliva sample, this personal genetic test reveals 100+ gene traits exploring your health, nutrition, appearance, sensitivities, and much more!



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