Can Your DNA Be the Key to Shedding those Last Few Pounds?

Your genes can explain a lot about your eating habits - and it's changing the way many approach dieting.


Stan and Sheila Guntner have been married for 25 years. They have almost identical daily routines and meal plans. They’re avid gym goers and love to go for bike rides on weekends. 


But while Sheila has maintained almost the exact same waistline since her wedding day, Stan can’t seem to get rid of those stubborn fifteen pounds that have accumulated in his midsection. 


For people like Stan there’s finally something to blame this on - your genes.  



With more recent advances in DNA testing, researchers are better understanding the role genetics plays in our well-being, and it’s shifting the way we view diets, obesity and nutrition.


A DNA kit from 23andMe, along with providing insights into ancestral origins, can reveal a lot about how genes affect everything from one's physical makeup and metabolism to a penchant for certain foods and the body’s absorption of different nutrients.


Your DNA can tell you why you reach for chips during a movie and your sister reaches for twizzlers. Or why you exercise intensely but can’t seem to build muscle while your friend does some light walking and looks like she lifts weights every day.


For those struggling to lose weight, developing a better understanding of the influence of our genetic makeup could be the key to shedding those pesky pounds. 


Genetics researchers found that, on average, people with a common variant of the FTO gene are heavier than those without it - two copies of the variant adds about 7 extra pounds and increases the risk of obesity by 50 percent.


In the same way that those who have early-onset diabetes know they need to avoid sugar, those who know they possess the FTO gene variant can take a proactive approach to their health, avoiding fried foods or sweets - understanding they’re already at a higher risk for obesity.  


“Dietary recommendations are based on averages across large populations," says Jose Ordovas, Ph.D., who directs the Nutrition and Genomics Laboratory at Tufts University. “What nutritional genomics teaches is there is no one-size-fits-all diet that works for everyone."


A sample health report from 23andMe, which is leading the way in genetic research


“The better people understand how they’re built, the better they can adjust their lifestyle.”


Researcher Chuck Gethard took a DNA test from 23andMe and found that he has a genetic variant which slows down his body’s conversion of folate, which can be linked to a greater risk of heart disease and stroke. 


So, Gethard made some small but significant changes to his diet, adding more leafy greens and cauliflower - foods that are high in folate - to offset his body’s slow absorption of the nutrient. 


“If it was up to me and my taste buds, I would be eating very differently,” said Gethard. “But knowing that I’m at an increased risk of heart disease, and understanding why, has made me take greater ownership of my health.”


Our genes greatly affect not only our perception of  flavor but also how we absorb nutrients


23andMe’s innovative research program surveys its users and is currently collecting as many as 2 million facts per week on everything from food preferences to weight loss to family history of diseases. 


This information is paving the way in our understanding of DNA which can then help in tailoring diets to individual needs - whether that’s for weight loss, diabetes or cholesterol. 


If you want to take a proactive approach to your health, try an at-home test kit from 23andMe and find out for yourself what your DNA can reveal. 


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