By: CLIFFORD SONNIE, M.D., M.P.H.
One of the mornings over the Thanksgiving holiday I was running in the park. It was a nice morning and usually on these mornings I get to see lots of other people running, biking, playing Frisbee and generally “blowing off stink” and exercising.
It struck me as interesting because even though medicine today generally emphasizes treatment after the fact, people are realizing that you have to take care of the machine before anything happens to it. Prevention is the key. I’ve said it before and I am sure you all are bored with me saying it. It isn’t easy and it takes more dedication than waiting to get sick and taking a pill. This brings me to what I would like to talk about today.
Too many family, friends and patients have all said that they can’t do something or they are destined for some kind of malady because “it’s in the genes”. Well folks if disease and poor health were genetic, we would have culled the herd long ago. Yes, genetics dictates what we are and what we can be. But it is the expression of those genes that is important. Expression means how the genes display themselves. If you have genes to be tall, you can be tall. If you have genes for something else, you could have that something. If you notice I said “can” and “could” because the issue is that just because you have the gene, it is also lifestyle that is, in my opinion, even more important that genetics. Now for todays issue….weight!
Within the last couple years researchers have discovered a gene (called FTO) that is thought to control obesity. Seventeen percent of us are lucky enough to have double copies of this gene (one from mom and one from dad). Forty percent of us have single copies. When researchers looked they found that ignoring lifestyle, a person has 2.5 times the chance of becoming obese if they have a double copy. There was no increased risk with a single copy. Great! Another excuse for me to use to not exercise and enjoy anything I want! Not so fast!!!
Scientists have proven that even with this “double trouble”; a good nutritious diet along with exercise will completely prevent these twin trouble makers from even being expressed. That’s right, no excuses. In fact as part of this study, they also discovered that pharmaceutical drugs can affect genetic expression, usually for the worse. Now with respect to my pharmaceutical brethren, the study is in its early stages but it does support my contention of “natural” vs. “synthetic” Sorry but I digress.
Ok so what kind of diet? Well, first some more science (##!!**). The thought is that the FTO gene prevents the body from remembering how to burn fat. Remember the body burns proteins, fats and carbohydrates for energy but the pathways are very different at certain points. Likewise the FTO gene may also control leptin, a hormone we all make that controls our appetite (no don’t go out and buy a bunch of leptin).
OK, so let’s look at these two facts together. The FTO gene has been around forever and so has leptin. Why are we so much more obese now? Diet and exercise. That simple! Today we consume so much more carbohydrates and processed “nonfoods” that our bodies have grown tolerant and it has forgotten how to burn fuel efficiently. The key is burning fat. If we eat too much of the wrong foods, the FTO gene is happy as a lark. Therefore if the carbohydrates are not burned off they become, wait for it, FAT. So that big plate of pasta has to be burned off before the fat from the olive oil and nuts is. Don’t burn it off, store it as fat and the body doesn’t burn fat anymore and can actually “forget” how to burn off that fat. So the body gets all the energy it needs from burning off half the carbs and will then turn the excess carbs along with the olive oil and nuts into fat. There is a concept called nutritional typing that I will talk about another time but this also can affect how and what we burn.
OK. I can hear many of you saying, “Well, I’ll just stop eating and my body will just have to burn the fat. Well if you starve yourself, not only will you be a bear to live or work with, but your body goes into starvation mode and the machinery slows way down. It’s not quite this simple but the end result is no weight loss. Now don’t despair, you are on the right track. Cut down carbs!! Along with all processed “nonfoods”, sugars and processed grains. Your body needs nutrition, not fillers and flavors. It also needs fats. The good kind. Scrounge up that article on fats I wrote a bit ago or call the office for a copy.
Finally, there is exercise. Again ##!!?**+!!!!! Sorry but 150 years ago we had to pump water and walk to talk to the neighbors and in many ways we were a lot healthier. I don’t want to debate the issue of “technology good or bad” but we need to “blow off some stink”. Walk, run, try anything you may like for goodness sake. You may not believe me now, but you will thank yourself. And when you get there try interval training. Simply alternate fast pace and slower pace during the same exercise.
Now that all of you are running for the Excedrin, I will confuse you even further. There is no easy answer. Exercise, diet, FTO genes, leptin production, proper foods and other factors we may not even know about all have a part in weight control. Everyone is different and some factors play a larger role than others. As always talk to your family MD or DO about this or stop in and we’ll talk with you. Remember a smart health care consumer is informed and aware.
Clifford Sonnie, M.D. can be found at the Balance of Life Clinic.