Researchers have found that when mice became obese, the longer they are obese for, the less effective turning on a particular gene which ‘rescues’ obesity was. In essence, there is a point of no return in obesity which is linked to genetics. This research was published Oct. 24 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
This research study is the first of its kind to prove experimentally the establishment of a point of no return in obesity where the body adapts to an obese state and maintains the body weight at that level regardless of changes in the body’s biochemistry.
Obesity is a chronic metabolic disorder that affects half a billion people worldwide. Managing obesity is difficult, as many patients rebound to their pre-treatment weight after a concerted effort to lose weight.
There is an hypothesis that chronic weight gain causes the body to adopt a state that supports excess weight and fights any attempts to reduce body weight. Many people who have tried to lose weight repeatedly would understand how this hypothesis came to be. It would explain why many people who diet and lose weight, recover their lost weight within a short period of time after they cease dieting and eventually lose heart and stop making an effort to eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise.
A research team led by Malcolm Low at the University of Michigan designed a study intended to challenge this hypothesis by developing a mouse model of obesity where the proopiomelanocortin (POMC) gene in the hypothalamus can be turned on and off.
With the POMC gene, which is also present in humans, turned off, the mice ate heavily and became obese.
Low and colleagues turned POMC back on at different time points after the mice became obese and found that the effectiveness of this genetic rescue declined the longer the mice stayed obese.
The results of the study surprised the researchers; they did not disprove the hypothesis but in fact their results supported the hypothesis that there is a point of no return in obesity, which, once reached makes it very difficult indeed for sustained weight loss to occur. The body appears to adapt to a new, obese weight which it considers to be the new normal.
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Whilst it still remains for other researchers to replicate the findings of this study in order to confirm the results, if the findings are correct, it shines a whole new light on our approach to obesity and the recommended treatments for it.
It is also clear from the results of this study that preventing weight gain in the first place, is even more important for health than we previously thought.
This study was performed on mice, who are not capable of committing to and undertaking an organised weight-loss program. The results of the study was solely due to switching the POMC gene on and off. This study does not mean that if you are overweight or obese that losing weight is impossible for you. There are plenty of examples of people who have been incredibly obese and who have, through a dedicated effort, managed to regain a normal body weight. What it means is that you may have to work harder in order to lose weight and may have to remain vigilant about your diet and lifestyle, even after you have reached your goal weight.
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Bumaschny VF, Yamashita M, Casas-Cordero R, Otero-Corchón V, de Souza FS, Rubinstein M, & Low MJ. (2012) Obesity-programmed mice are rescued by early genetic intervention. The Journal of clinical investigation. PMID: 23093774
Eurekalert Press Release