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There is growing evidence that obesity is, in part, gene related and that specific genes influence our feelings of satiety, and our tendencies to overeat.   A recent study from Cambridge University, however, has suggested that not only might certain genes be linked to us feeling full, but that, on a subconscious level, they even tell us what foods to eat.

A Cambridge University study has suggested that the MC4-R gene is linked to a higher consumption of fat.  The study provided participants with three different types of chicken korma – each manipulated to look and taste the same. The curries actually contained varying levels of fat – one 20 per cent, one 40 per cent, and one 60 per cent.

Using three types of people (lean, obese, and people with a defective MC4-R gene), the research found that in 95 per cent of cases individuals with defective MC4-R genes ate almost double the amount of high fat korma than lean individuals, and 65 per cent more than obese participants.

More interestingly, however, the MC4-R patients subconsciously chose the higher fat meal:  their brain was steering them towards the highest fat curry through a decision process other than taste as this had been manipulated.

An additional area of the study saw participants provided with three types of Eton mess, this time with varying sugar contents of 8 per cent, 26 per cent, or 54 per cent.

Surprisingly, the MC4-R defective group ate significantly less dessert than the others, and rejected the high sugar option.  This seems almost paradoxical, and has led to speculation as to why the group would choose fat but reject sugar.

One explanation is that the MC4-R gene relates to the body’s perception of famine.  When the gene is defective, individuals develop a relative state of starvation, consuming fat-rich food in order to store for later.  As sugar cannot be stored in the same way, the group unknowingly reject it as a poor food choice.

Understanding gene behaviour helps us monitor and treat disease early.  The presence of MC4-R helps us, in part, understand why some people find it harder to make food choices and achieve dietary goals.

Nevertheless, the same basic principles apply; if you are overweight, you can still reduce your risk factors, (such as cholesterol and blood pressure), and get individual diet and lifestyle advice from your GP.  We may not be able to alter your genes, but we can help you make the most of who you are.