Obesity is a growing problem worldwide, but genetics appear to naturally protect some people from the condition, according to new research.
It turns out there are specific genetic variants that help prevent obesity as well as the many health conditions linked to it.
Genetic Variants Play Significant Role In Weight
In the study published in the journal Cell, researchers from the University of Cambridge discover that there are genetic variants in the MC4R gene that prevent people from becoming overweight.
The MC4R gene is known for helping regulate weight by coding the melanocortin 4 receptor, which suppresses appetite.
Findings of the study reveal that genetic variants in MC4R increase the activity of this specific receptor.
Researchers studied the MC4R gene in half a million volunteers from the United Kingdom, finding 61 genetic variants. Among these genetic variants, some predispose people to obesity and others protect people from it.
As the MC4R gene works like a switch telling the body to stop eating, genetic variants linked to obesity actually stops this gene from working. On the other hand, the genetic variants found to protect people from obesity keeps the MC4R "switched on."
Six percent of the participants were found with the genetic variants that protect from obesity. Those who were found with two copies of this variant weighed 5.5 pounds (2.5 kilograms) less than those without the variant. They were also found to be 50 percent less at risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, both of which are associated with obesity.
"This study drives home the fact that genetics plays a major role in why some people are obese — and that some people are fortunate enough to have genes that protect them from obesity," Professor Sadaf Farooqi, from the University of Cambridge Metabolic Research Laboratories, explains in a press release from the university.
While Farooqi stresses that people can influence their weight with diet, she says the odds are stacked against certain people due to genetics.
The Significance Of This Discovery
The knowledge of the existence of these genetic variants open the doors for the design of safer, more effective medications and treatments for obesity and diabetes.
Future medicine could "copy" the mechanisms of these genetic variants
"Our findings may pave the way for a new generation of weight loss therapies that activate MC4R preferentially via the beta-arrestin pathway," Dr. Luca Lotta, joint lead author and senior clinical investigator at the Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit, explains.
In the United States, obesity affects 93.3 million or 39.8 percent of adults from 2015 to 2016, according to CDC. It's linked to an increased risk for many health conditions, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, and mental illness, among many others.