Can changes in diet and lifestyle override my genetics?

Brian Tanzer
Nutrition & Dietetics

There's no doubt that our genes influence disease incidence, progression, etc. A growing area of nutritional science is nutrient control of gene expression. We know that there are compounds found in healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables that may influence the expression of certain genes. Based on some research on twins separated at birth and raised in different environments that there is no doubt that lifestyle plays a significant role in obesity, diabetes, certain forms of cancer and other diseases. Changes in diet and lifestyle including vigorous exercise, may not "override" per say, ones' genetics, but there is no doubt that these changes can and do have a major impact on the expression of our genetics which includes the incidence, severity, progression, etc. of disease. The bottom line is, why take a chance and just blame everything on your genes, from weight gain to diabetes to other conditions and risk factors, when making simple lifestyle changes could potentially be lifesaving.

Dr. Andrea Pennington, MD
Integrative Medicine

Based on the DNA you inherited from your parents, you have a programmed weight range or set point for how much weight you should carry on your body. The part of the brain that controls this is called the lipostat. Because we humans have been blessed with free will we can override Mother Nature's instruction by increasing our biological weight set point! If you increase your weight beyond the set point and lock it in for a few years or more, the brain assumes that you know better than nature and it will re-set the lipostat for the higher weight! Now when you attempt to starve yourself or work out like a fiend, your brain says, "Silly person! You said you wanted to be 20 pounds heavier."

The brain then directs your metabolism and appetite in such a way that your body resists your weight loss efforts or you find yourself driven to eat more and locked into the heavier weight. So if you are going to be successful at maintaining a healthy weight, you have to lose the weight sensibly and adopt a healthy, active lifestyle and nutrition plan that you can stick to for the rest of your life. Because when you do achieve your weight loss goal you must "lock onto" that weight for at least 5 years. Studies show that we can lower our lipostat again, but only after we prove to the brain that we are sure that this new weight is what we want and what we need to be healthy. In other words, you've got to be serious enough about this to get your brain to quit fighting you and change its programming!

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.