How much of a role do genetics play in our health?

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There are many factors that play a role in our development of chronic diseases.  One of the most common chronic diseases we face today is obesity. There is not just one root cause to this condition, but many such as environmental factors, stress, food availability, social factors, etc.  However, the most common factor that many people think of when considering chronic conditions is genetics.

At most visits to your family practitioner, they review your health and family history.  This isn’t just mundane paperwork they must fill out, there is a reason to the 100 questions about grandma Betty’s breast cancer. A family history of chronic disease increases the likelihood of that chronic disease being present in our future1. However, though our genes can be prone to certain disease, ongoing research in epigenetics continues to show that environment IE what surrounds us and our choices determines 70-95% of the risk  for developing most disease because it is those things that influence the genetic expression of health or disease.

Similarly with obesity, many studies have been done exploring the relationship between genes and obesity. In particular, one review article explains that certain individuals have predisposed genes to obesity and that those genes interact with the environment, allowing the individual to be more vulnerable to obesogenic environments2. Obesogenic environments are those that have unlimited supply of food, a promotion of physical inactivity, or other factors making it easier to gain weight.

With the enormous amount of research that has been compiled over the years on looking at specific genes and obesity, scientists have found that this relationship is polygenic, meaning the interaction of many genes contribute to obesity.  In another study observing twins (identical, fraternal and virtual), researchers identified that the differences among sets of twins in BMI change was due to heritability (~65%) compared to environmental influencers3. With genetics playing a large role in our perceptibility to chronic conditions like obesity, there are still preventative measures we can take to counteract our DNA.

  • Physical activity can diminish the effect of fat promoting genes4
  • Having a balanced diet of healthy foods can promote satiety and decrease hunger
  • Anti-inflammatory diets counteract part of gene-related, long-term weight gain. And obese individuals with genetic susceptibility to obesity can experience a greater chance of weight loss success by following the dietary patterns based on a whole foods, anti-inflammatory approaches like the Mediterranean diet
  • Decrease time spent in sedentary activities (watching tv, computer time, etc.) Aim for at least 10k steps/day.
  • Decreasing the amount of processed foods

As one scientist puts it, “Genes may co-determine who becomes obese, but our environment determines how many become obese.”5

Depending on your family history and ethnicity, most of us probably have a genetic predisposition for obesity.  Conscious of that, changes can be made to counteract the chances including changes in lifestyle, diet or environment. Let Thrive Nutrition partner with you today to help you lead your best lifestyle!

Posted on March 28, 2018 .