How Do Our Genes Affect Our Metabolism?

What’s the healthiest diet?  Are fats healthy or not?  The answer is: It depends!

Genetic variations are what gives us our eye color, hair texture and height, but it is also what affects our disease risk and how we absorb and metabolize certain macro and micronutrients, including fats.

Here’s what you need to know about genetics and fats.

Two people can eat the exact same diet and respond to it in very different ways. Even siblings might eat the same type and amount of fat, for example, and have entirely different metabolic reactions (one may have a higher genetic risk for elevated triglycerides, or weight gain for example, while the other won’t).  We all have our unique gene polymorphisms to thank for this curse, or blessing, of genetic variability. The power lies in what you do with this knowledge once you have it…How we respond to food is influenced by our genes.

Certain genes and gene variants influence metabolism, including our response to various types of fat (saturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, monounsaturated fat) and carbohydrates (i.e. complex carbohydrates vs. simple carbohydrates), which may influence body weight, blood pressure, blood glucose levels, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, obesity, cardiovascular risk, and more…

Let’s look at just 4 well-studied examples of genes that significantly affect metabolism.

Please note there are dozens of genes and gene variants that affect metabolism, body weight, insulin response and fat tolerance, and none of the examples below are ever considered in isolation by your 3X4 Accredited Practitioner when looking at your 3X4 genetic blueprint. These genes and their variants are always viewed in the context of the whole person, including other genes, physiological pathways, organ systems, personal health history, lifestyle factors, and more. We’ve chosen only a few genes to highlight some of the research on how interesting Nutrigenomics can be when applied to real life.

The FTO gene:

The FTO gene, the genetic risk factor for obesity, codes for the fat mass and obesity- associated protein. Ghrelin, often called the hunger hormone, is produced when the stomach is empty and is thought to stimulate appetite and desire to eat. Ghrelin’s production in the body tends to be increased in people with certain variations of the FTO gene, which has been associated with an increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes, particularly in the context of a diet high in saturated fat and low in polyunsaturated fat.

The APOE gene:

Variations in the APOE gene influence the way we handle certain fats in the body, like how we transport and recycle cholesterol. Carriers of certain variations of the APOE gene generally have higher triglyceride levels and may respondwell to lowering alcohol intake; increasing DHA fish oil; and lowering saturated fat in the diet (in favor of more polyunsaturated fats and plant foods for example). On the other hand, people who don’t have these variations of APOE are more tolerant of saturated fats and won’t see the same level of increased triglycerides in their blood. Very important fact: certain gene variants including APOE (and about half a dozen or more like COQ2, HMGCR and SLO1B1) affect how an individual responds to statin therapy, including what side-effects someone is inclined to experience, as well as how effective the therapy will be.

UCP genes:

UCP1 and UCP2 genes are associated with metabolic rate and thermogenesis (the process of burning energy through heat, using fat stores in our body to generate heat).  A variant of this gene is associated with lower resting energy expenditure (or what we often just refer to as having a “sluggish metabolism”). There are some lifestyle factors that can mitigate this effect (for those with this genetic variation) like cold exposure through ice-baths, cold showers or cryotherapy (to increase brown fat) or supplementation with fish oil or increasing dietary fish intake.

MC4R gene:

MC4R is expressed in the hypothalamus of the brain where it plays a role in appetite control, satiety and regulation of food intake. Certain variants of this gene provide protection from obesity and obesity-related diseases like heart disease and diabetes. Knowing your variant of this gene can affect your food choices and give you insights into how to mitigate your risk for these conditions. Research has shown, for example, that individuals with the less favorable variant of this gene may benefit from a Mediterranean diet.

We all respond very differently to calories, exercise, fasting, and fat.

Hunger is also experienced very personally and with great variability between individuals. Knowing how you’re hard wired to handle different foods and fat can save you a lot of time and effort. Doing a 3X4 Genetic Test can be a powerful tool that enables you to work with your body, not against it, to finally reach your health goals.

This blog was originally written by Klara Mudge for 3X4 Genetics.

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