Too Fat? Your ‘Thrifty’ Gene May Be to Blame

People who struggle with weight issues could have their ancestors to blame. Scientists have identified a “thrifty” gene that helps the body store fat and can cause someone to gain weight, even when following a healthy diet.

A new study has found that a “thrifty” gene that once helped our ancestors survive famines could be to blame for obesity.

Researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies found that mice bred to lack the CRTC3 (thrifty) gene were able to eat a diet high in fat, while normal mice who had the CRTC3 gene and ate the same diet packed on the pounds.

Study findings also revealed that animals without the CRTC3 gene were leaner than those with the gene, which also raises their risk of diabetes.

“If you feed them a diet that has up to 60 percent of calories from fat, their normal brothers and sisters that have the CRTC3 gene gain weight and become obese, insulin resistant and some go on to develop diabetes, but those who don’t have the CRTC3 gene remain lean and insulin sensitive,” lead researcher Dr. Marc Montminy told Reuters.

In their attempt to determine whether the same effects manifested in humans, scientists found that Mexican Americans who have a mutation of the thrifty gene have a higher risk of becoming obese. However, the CRTC3 gene did not seem to affect non-Hispanic whites with the genetic variant the same way, further proving that obesity is very complex.

The CRTC3 gene “slows down the rate at which the fat cells burn fat,” Dr. Montminy told Reuters. Having the gene could have been an advantage to our ancestors, who sometimes were forced to go a long time in between meals, but can be a disadvantage in modern first world countries, where food is abundant.

Dr. Montminy noted that given the study findings, pharmaceutical companies may focus future research at offsetting the effects of the CRTC3 gene to treat and prevent obesity.

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