Thursday, November 20, 2014

Gene based dieting-Does it really work for body weight reduction?

Losing weight is a big business with many "experts" recommending special diets for achieving the objective of shedding body weight and bringing down body mass index (BMI) within the limits considered to be ideal. Millions of dollars are riding on this industry and in spite of all the efforts by scientists and the well being industry there is no guaranteed result oriented "treatment" or regime which can be considered successful to all the people. Who has not heard of Atkins Diet or Ornish Diet or South Beach Diet which had their golden run for a few years but eventually faded from the center scene. There are many health managing semi-medical type of centers, especially in India where special diets are administered to in-house patients for periods of one or two weeks. Though they are successful in rejuvenating the patients for some time, once they come out of the facilities and start on a regular diet the lost weight comes back with a vengeance. Is there no solution for this unenviable situation where man has found himself sucked into the obesity trap due to many reasons, most important being unbalanced dietary intake?

Food we eat to survive and lead a healthy disease free lifestyle has metamorphosed into a pleasure giving experience to day having lost the aura of health associated with it. Who is responsible for this distortion? Some say it is the industry which is "corrupting" the public with its reckless range of food products with progressively diluted nutritive value and full of food additives with doubtful safety credentials. Many sociologists feel that the food marketing strategy of the industry is to be faulted as large pack sizes and jumbo serving portions encourage consumers to eat or drink more than what they really need. Easy access to markets nearby and the personalized transport system invariably act as incentives for more eating. It is the stand of the nutritionists that most foods are designed improperly with sensory perception getting priority over nutrient content. Whatever it may be, fact still remains that over weight and obesity are here to stay with no sign of abatement in spite of many efforts at different levels. 

One of the most effective tools in the hands of the government is punitive taxation on fat-rich and sugar-rich products making these products more and more costlier. Such a policy is bound to show results in a short time but could be temporary as price sensitivity among people is relatively short lived. Tobacco industry still survives though smoking is becoming exorbitantly costly, especially for middle class population due to incidence of high taxes on them. Ultimately the responsibility for eating rightly and in a balanced way rest on the individual and unless there is a realization within that high fat and high sugar in foods can be "toxic" to their lives, very little can be achieved by the State. The argument that those who are obese need medical attention is another view increasingly being accepted but that cannot be a solution to a problem which is refusing to fade way easily. Assuming that the present obese population can be treated through drastic medical interventions, what about future? How are we going to arrest the growing trend of obesity and increasing number of people crossing the Rubicon

For quiet some time there has been a class of scientists attributing the tendency to put on body weight to genetic factors though no conclusive proof was forthcoming. The unsolved riddle of same diet causing one to put on weight while another one not showing this tendency could be the reason for the scientists to look at the genetic angle a little more carefully. The "brown fat vs white fat" issue brought out recently may be another angle to unravel the mystery associated with obesity. But it only helps to treat a patient by implanting stem cells that can differentiate into fat cells capable of making brown fats which are easily burned by the body. There is still another view which highlights the role of the human microbiome in deciding about the proclivity of any individual to accumulate body weight. The claim that some microorganisms can even be inherited from parents may be some what far fetched indicating that child of a fat mother must also be fat! 

It was in 2010 another twist was given to the genetic angle to obesity when a private company in the US and the reputed Stanford University collaborated and brought out a starling fact that disposition to put on weight is encoded in the genes of individuals. They were able to decode the variations in some genes that make a person vulnerable to illogical weight again. The science of Nutrigenomics is a relatively new discipline and linking of diet to genes is opening up new avenues to treat obesity. Certain genes like ABP2, ADRB2, PPAR-gamma are shown to have variations in their single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) which can predict whether a particular diet can cause overweight. The FTO gene which contributes to Fat mass and obesity related protein is reported to have high impact on body weight. According to this theory variations in FTO gene can cause an increase in the levels of the hunger hormone Ghrelin which makes dieting extremely difficult for such an individual. Those with FTO gene variations may have an irresistible craving for foods with high fat and high sugar.

How can all the above "revelations" help in tackling obesity? If some of the well being industry players are to be believed all it needs is to take a swab from the cheek of a person to finger print the DNA make up and based on this, right type of diet can be prescribed for him. Thus people with the DNA type that can favor low carbohydrate diet must go for the same without bothering too much about the fat content. to get the best result. For others low fat diet may be more achieve the goal. In India one of the fitness specialized companies is offering the so called  "DNA FIT" program claimed to be "a custom-fit solution" that can "answer for all those who have been seeking a scientific, individualized weight loss program that offers speedy, yet sustainable results". It also claims to be Asia's first DNA based weight loss program. How far these claims are realistic cannot be verified in the absence independent opinion from experts, though it offers some hope for those desperate to slim down after failing all other routes to achieve positive results.

A million dollar question that still remains unanswered is how come there is such a large gene variation happening just in the last 10-15 years when obesity rate started climbing steeply and showing no signs of abatement. Is this due to the environment which is precipitating this epidemic to cause such widespread changes in the DNA make up of people? Or could it be due to increased consumption of processed foods containing many additives having this effect on the DNA? What ever it is, how can the world manage to reverse this trend with almost 16% of the population vulnerable to obesity and 70% of the population with 50% chances to become obese based on their gene make up, unless they change their eating habits according to their DNA type? It is paradoxical that ultimately the focus comes back to individuals who have to take action as per the above findings and DNA picture provides only a suggested solution for adoption.   


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