Results of a new study published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation show that a mutation in the FTO gene
- Makes fatty foods more tempting
- And increases the level of the hunger hormone, ghrelin
People who get a mutated or high-risk version of the FTO gene from each parent are 70% more likely to become obese compared to those with the low-risk version of the gene.
Those with the high-risk version of the gene have higher levels of the hormone ghrelin. Past studies have shown that high levels of this appetite hormone make high-calorie foods more appealing. It is thought that ghrelin may influence our eating behavior by stimulating our brain’s reward systems.
This latest study confirms that people with the high-risk version of FTO find pictures of high-fat foods more appealing than people with the low-risk version. They are “biologically programmed to eat more,” according to Dr. Rachel Batterham of University College London.
A few ways that high-risk people can lower their ghrelin levels is with exercise, and eating more protein. Eventually, there may be ghrelin-blocking drugs that will help people with the high-risk versions of the FTO gene.
We now know that people with two copies of the high-risk version of the obesity gene FTO have an inherited risk of becoming obese. Their bodies produce more of the hunger hormone ghrelin, which induces them to eat more and eat high calorie foods. Exercise and protein rich foods help reduce the amount of ghrelin in our bodies. Eventually, however, a ghrelin blocking drug may be the answer in helping high risk people to avoid obesity.
For more information, read “Fat-boosting gene mystery solved” by BBC News, and “Hormone Ghrelin Raises Desire for High-Calorie Foods” by WebMD.