Response to Weight-Loss Diet May Depend on Genes

Dieters with particular genetic make-up respond better or worse to specific types of weight-loss diets, suggest researchers who presented data at the 2010 Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention /Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism conference. Findings are preliminary, but may explain the common phenomenon of two people going on the same diet, but only one achieving good results.

I’ll bet you can imagine several other explanations.

Several years ago, the “A to Z” study compared the weight loss of 311 overweight women on one of four diets: Atkins (low-carb), Ornish (very low fat, vegetarian), Learn (low-fat), and Zone (moderate carb restriction, high protein, moderate fat). Atkins was a bit better than the other diets, in terms of long-term (one year) weight loss. But within each diet group, some women lost 40–50 pounds (18–23 kg), whereas others gained over 10 pounds (4.5 kg).

Stanford University researchers obtained DNA from 138 of the 311 women and noted the occurence of three genes—ABP2, ADRB2, and PPAR-gamma—that had previously been shown to predict weight loss via diet-gene interactions. For example, a particular mix of these genes predict better weight loss with a low-fat diet; a different mix predicts more loss with a low-carb diet.

Women who had been randomly assigned to one of the A to Z diets tended to lose much more weight if they happened to have the gene mix appropriate for that diet (compared to those on the same diet with the wrong gene mix). The difference, for example, might be loss of 12 pounds versus two pounds.

The lead researcher, Dr. Mindy P. Nelson, told TheHeart.Org that the proportion in the general population genetically predisposed to the low-fat versus low-carb approach is about 50:50.

Take-Home Points

These results, again, are preliminary; additional testing is necessary for confirmation. If they had been able to test the DNA of the other 178 women in the A to Z study, the results could have been either stronger or shown no diet-gene interaction. The study hasn’t even been published in a peer-reviewed journal yet.

Men may or may not be subject to similar diet-gene interaction.

With a little effort, you’ll be able to find the aforementioned genetic test available via the Internet. It’s under $100 (U.S.). The company sends you a kit to swab the inside of your cheek, then you mail your DNA to them.

Other peope just try a particular diet first and see if it works over 4–6 weeks. Successful long-term weight loss is like smoking cessation—most smokers try 5–7 different times or methods before hitting on one that works for them.

Regular readers here know that I advocate, for weight loss, both a reduced-calorie, balanced Mediterranean diet (Advanced Mediterranean Diet) and a very low-carb diet (Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet). Regardless of genetics, experience has taught me that there’s no single weight-loss program that works for everyone across-the-board.

This potential diet-gene interaction could be a major finding that will stop the arguing about which is the single best way to lose excess fat. Many paths may lead to the mountaintop.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference: O’Riordan, Michael. Dieting by DNA? Popular diets work best by genotype, reseach shows. HeartWire by TheHeart.Org, March 8, 2010.

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