18 Jun Active Women in Their 70s Beat Genetic Propensity to Obesity
When it comes to health risks, what’s more important, genes or lifestyle? This is an age-old question that is relevant to all of us because of the diabetes and obesity epidemic facing so-called western civilization today. An easy way to understand the interaction between genes and the environment is to use the bullet analogy.
Imagine that every gene you have that increases your risk for a chronic disease is like a bullet loaded in a gun. As long as the bullet isn’t trigger and doesn’t fire, it’s not a problem. And imagine that lifestyle behaviors are like pulling the trigger. If you happen to have a gene or a bullet that codes for diabetes and you pull the trigger of eating too much and not exercising, then you’re going to experience the suffering associated with diabetes. More importantly, even if your gun is loaded with bad genes, if you don’t pull the trigger (in other words if you live a set of daily and weekly lifestyle rituals that are optimal such good nutrition, fitness, stress, sleep and the avoidance of toxins) then the gene or bullet simply sits there and doesn’t trigger disease.
In this study, over 8,000 women of European ancestry were evaluated for the risk of obesity even in the setting of having significant genetic risk factors for metabolic syndrome which includes obesity. This was the first study to demonstrate in the 70 to 79 year old age group that exercise actually mitigates the risks of genetic obesity. Two things stand out for me in the study. The first was the age of the subjects. Even if you are an older woman (or man) you can beat obesity by exercising on a regular basis. This increases your lean body muscle mass which increases your metabolism and reduces your visceral or belly fat. The second thing is that the genes were clearly identified in this cohort of patients. In past studies, genetic risk was mostly interpreted from family history. In this study, 95 single nucleotide polymorphisms associated with a high body mass index were used to create a genetic risk score. Physical activity was stratified activity and about a hundred and fifty minutes of physical activity per week.
The results were clear. Women with the highest genetic risk and highest body mass index were the most sedentary in the cohort. Women with the highest genetic risk and the lowest body mass index where the most active. This study removed bias and answered the questions we have had for years around the interaction between genes and the environment. This reinforces the new approach to genetics which suggests your genetic risk does not determine your outcome and that instead it’s your lifestyle that does. Even in bad genetic risk situations.
Epigenetics is the study of the interaction of the environment most importantly lifestyle and your genetic heritage. The message is clear: you can walk away from risk!
Dr. Randy Knipping BSc MD CCFP FAARFM ABAARM
Lifestyle Medicine & Integrative Medicine
Physical activity modifies genetic susceptibility to obesity in postmenopausal women. Menopause: May 14, 2018 – Volume Publish Ahead of Print – Issue – p