Obese man

Recently declared a disease by the American Medical Association, obesity may be a bit better understood thanks to new research highlighting genetic issues, and not a moment too soon.

With obesity now affecting more than one third of the U.S. population (CDC statistics), science is still struggling with how to treat the disease. Dietary changes alone do play significant roles, but they’re often not enough, and a genetic culprit may be the reason why.

According to a study conducted by researchers from University College London and published in the recent issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, a genetic variation that affects one in six people may make obesity more likely in those individuals.

Reuters reports that a variation in the FTO gene (alpha-ketoglutarate-dependent dioxygenase) makes people who have it, 70 percent more likely to become obese, “people with the variation not only had higher levels of the ‘hunger hormone’ ghrelin in their blood but also increased sensitivity to the chemical in their brains.”

The researchers identified the gene by a combination of blood samples and fMRIs of brain activity, as well as monitoring ghrelin production. According to Reuters, “the work provided new insights and possible new leads for treatment, since some experimental drugs are known to suppress ghrelin and could be particularly effective if targeted at patients with the obesity-risk variant of the gene.”

Ghrelin suppression drugs, and high-protein diets (which also suppress ghrelin) could be effective measures in preventing or reversing obesity in the individuals with the hormone.

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Image: kyle may