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What is the Right Diet and Exercise for Weight Loss? Let Your DNA Decide

January 3, 2017

Whether your knowledge of DNA only extends as far as your high school biology class or you’re a PhD student elbows deep in genetic research, it’s universal knowledge that our DNA makes us who we are. It’s the unique code that each of us is born with and dictates much about our health, appearance, and development. But recent research shows that the “destiny” that your DNA lays out for you may not necessarily be set in stone. Simple changes in lifestyle choices have the ability to promote or silence genes in your DNA that lead to adverse health later in life.

Each time we visit the doctor for a routine physical, we’re asked about our family health history. This question relates directly back to your DNA. When we say that everyone on our father’s side has a history of high cholesterol, it means that it’s extremely likely that we share whatever gene causes this and may ultimately end up with high cholesterol as well. Many of these heritable traits are unavoidable. We inherited the trait from one of our parents and that’s all there is to it. But diet can influence whether or not these genes become more active or suppressed over time.

While there is still much research to be conducted surrounding the link between diet and gene expression, one of the most compelling results suggests that the link may be stronger than originally anticipated. In a recent study, it was discovered that patients who followed diets containing 60% more carbs exhibited an over expression of the genes associated with cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. Similar results have been seen in regards to the genes associated with conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Ultimately, people who carry the genes associated with these diseases speed up their adverse effects with the wrong diet.

We’ve all realized for some time now that diet has a direct correlation to weight loss and weight gain, but understanding that diet can alter the future of your own health is groundbreaking. It’s why genetics is becoming an increasingly important platform in health and fitness. Understanding your genetic predisposition for certain diseases as well as your body’s ability to respond to diet and exercise writes a better prescription for increased health than any doctor could prescribe with medication. Finding a diet that’s unique to your body’s genetic make-up can suppress the expression of those bad genes we wished we’d never inherited. Essentially, eating more veggies may not make your family health history irrelevant, but it could stave off the effects of that high cholesterol that’s oh so common on your father’s side. Now the key is to figure out how YOUR unique body works. You can, of course, track your body composition for months, or years, while you use a trial and error process to evaluate different workouts and diets, OR you can test your genes. In the end, our genetics play a pivotal role in our overall health and fitness levels.

Does Knowing Your Genetics Improve Your Behavior?
As the brave new world of genetics marches forward and provides us with more and more information about the building blocks of our physical body, will knowing the qualities of these building blocks change our actual behavior?

If you were told that your body has a lower than average predisposition to lose weight, how would you feel about that? Would that encourage and motivate you to change your behavior? Or would it discourage you from doing anything? The belief is that knowing this information is more valuable than not knowing. As long as the interpretation of the data and the genetic data itself is scientifically valid, then how can knowing this information not be valuable?

If your genetics show that you are predisposed to having more difficulty losing weight compared to others, does that mean you are doomed to be overweight? Of course not. In addition to your genetic make-up, your environment and biomarker levels such as nutrients, lipids, and hormones are critical factors in your ability to lose weight.

Ultimately, if you know your genetic markers, your biomarkers and your environment, you can have a path laid out in front of you to lose weight. It is completely up to you whether you change your behavior to do so or not. Being fully armed with knowledge, and working with a health coach will provide the motivation and accountability you need to reach your weight loss goals.

Genetics is the Future of Preventive Health
Genetic testing has moved into the mainstream and is the future of preventive health. In addition to the thousands of tests being offered for medical conditions and diseases, the science and research behind genetic testing related to lifestyle and wellness markers has progressed to the point of understanding the specific genes dictating how the human body processes carbohydrates, fat, protein, micro-nutrients, and how specific genes determine the effectiveness of certain fitness activities.

Clinical studies and research on genetic testing related to lifestyle and wellness markers have been rapidly increasing in quality and volume since the human genome was first mapped in 2003. As the testing technology improves and the cost of analyzing an individual’s DNA decreases, more research facilities and universities around the world are able to perform more research studies with larger test subject groups, all leading to further discovery about the connections between genetics and preventive health.

Genetics and Fitness
The DNA test will identify your body’s response to exercise, specifically your fat loss response to cardio, fitness response to cardio, body composition response to weight training, HDL response to cardio, insulin sensitivity response to cardio, and your glucose response to cardio. Each one of these categories allows you to piece together exactly what type of exercises you should be doing in order to maximize your results and experience increased weight loss. If for example you have a low response to cardio but a high response to weight training, then you should be lifting more weights when you hit the gym instead of just getting on the elliptical for half an hour.

It’s information like this that gives your health coach the ability to create a personalized fitness plan based on you as an individual.

There are two main aspects of fitness that pertain to your genetics: aerobic fitness and the ability to build strength and muscle mass. In recent studies, it was determined that aerobic fitness is 40-50% heritable. This means that your body’s efficiency and ability to pump oxygen through the blood to your muscles has about a 50% chance of being determined by the aerobic fitness of your parents (or other relatives). Essentially, you could have a lowered aerobic fitness from the get go simply because of your genetic makeup. This is a crucial piece of information when it comes to fitness and weight loss as aerobic fitness is one of the most important components involved in physical fitness and could help or hinder your ability to lose weight.

Of course, your ability to build strength and muscle is a huge part of the weight loss process and has been discovered to be 50-60% heritable. Your mix of “slow” and “fast” twitch muscles is also 45% heritable. This means that some of us may be genetically predisposed to have more muscles geared towards sprinting, some of us may have more endurance muscles, or some of us may have a harder time building added muscle at all. With all of this being said, it makes sense to understand what your genes say about your ability to really get fit. While your genetic make-up is never an excuse to give up, your genes could be the reason you’re struggling to lose weight or see any type of results on your path to fitness.

Programs tailored to an individual’s DNA have proven to be much more effective than generic programs. A recent study published by the European Society of Human Genetics found that dieters employing weight management programs tailored to the individual’s genome lost up to 33% more weight than those following standard, “one size fits all” weight loss programs. With the latest genomic technology, any health management program that does not take an individual’s genetic profile into account is simply guesswork.

It’s also important to note that obesity in America is often approached with a treatment approach rather than a preventative approach. In fact, it has been shown that the U.S. health care system rewards procedural approaches to obesity such as gastric bypass, liposuction, versus preventative medicine that stops weight gain before it happens. This treatment philosophy in U.S. healthcare is part of the reason why DNA testing companies are beginning to pop up across the country. It doesn’t make sense to apply a blanket treatment to everyone’s health related problems. Just because 38 percent of the American population is obese doesn’t mean they’re all obese for the same reasons. There’s a cause in each individual that leads to the effect. While it might take more time and more physicians, in the long term it’s cheaper to practice preventative medicine. If each individual were to be tested for genetic predispositions for weight gain, thyroid imbalances, response to exercise, then each individual would understand how to properly care for his or her body and fewer people would face frustrations regarding their health or why they weren’t losing weight. In practice, it only makes sense to focus on one body at a time, because we are all genetically different.

How to Get Started
When you sign up for genetic testing, you will be sent a DNA collection kit, which you will use to swab the inside of your cheek and then send to the lab in the package provided. Once the lab receives your DNA test, they go to work analyzing a variety of genes to look for certain traits and tendencies that affect your fitness and weight loss. Your results will be divided into four categories: 1) Weight loss ability, 2) Food, 3) Nutrients, and 4) Exercise. Across those categories, there are 16 possible traits that your genes will exhibit, and 44 possible trait expressions.

For example, within the category of food, they will examine your body’s level of fat utilization. If you have a lower than average fat utilization, it could be one of the reasons you find it harder to lose that excess weight. On the opposite end of the spectrum, people with above average fat utilization could increase their fat intake. The next part of testing involves nutrient utilization and deficiencies. The test evaluates six different vitamins: B9, A, B6, B12, C and D. These specific vitamins have been proven to have a direct correlation with fitness and results allow you to determine what vitamins you need to supplement into your diet to become more efficient with your health.

If you do the math, that means there are over 8 million unique combinations you could receive in your genetic report. Now you see why the chances are super slim of you getting a report that is even close to the same as someone else you know. Everyone is different, so we need to stop acting like the same diet and fitness plan will work for everyone.

What is Included in the Report:
The nutrition information will discuss how much protein, carbohydrates and fat you should consume daily, as well as which micronutrients you may be at risk for being deficient in, and which foods are good sources of those micronutrients. You will learn how your body responds to fat, protein and carbohydrate intake in relation to how you’ll use them for energy, and thus, how best to eat in order to lose body fat. You will receive a 40+ page report in layman’s terms, including:

  • Analysis of 16 genetic traits related to weight loss
  • Food recommendations, including macronutrient breakdown and caloric needs
  • Nutrient recommendations, including supplement suggestions
  • Exercise recommendations, including cardio and strength training
  • Supporting scientific research

Your DNA report will also indicate what your likeliness is of using fat for energy during different types of exercise. It will give you specific information about exercises that are best aligned with your genetic test results: which types of exercise, at what intensity, for how long and how often.

The Life Center is a Naturopathic office specializing in weight loss and nutrition. We recognize that you are as unique as your fingerprints and your diet should not be a one size fits all plan. The Life Diet is individualized according to your DNA and your metabolic uniqueness. We are dedicated to finding integrative health solutions that will help you heal your body, mind, and spirit. Contact The Life Center, 2 Broadway, North Haven and 1007 Farmington Ave, West Hartford, 203-239-3400, www.thelifecenterofct.com.

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