This is Why Some People Naturally Have a Harder Time Losing Weight

The study may help us develop a new biomarker for obesity and even type 2 diabetes.

Like many Americans, I struggle with my weight and have trouble losing it. I’ve always had something of a belly. Exercise and dieting have left me frustrated. I usually hit a wall after losing about 20 lbs. or so. A new study finds that it might not be my lifestyle, but my genetic makeup. The results were published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). 

First, let’s be clear. The scientists in this study do peg the growing worldwide obesity epidemic, going on now for the past 40 years or so, to over-nutrition and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. Even so, “numerous familial studies also provide strong evidence for heritable contributions to obesity,” study authors write. Over 100 genes have somehow been implicated. But how much they impact weight and how they work exactly has been unclear, until now.

So it may be a poor diet and little exercise that makes us overweight. But stubborn weight loss might not be. I mean, we can’t be held responsible for how our body stores fat. As a result, society may have to change its perception on what’s healthy and attractive and what isn’t. Because some people just might be more naturally curvy than others. How do we know? Researchers found a certain genetic mutation which tells our body to store much more fat than necessary. And millions of Americans have it.

Although what you eat and how much you exercise are important, how much fat your body stores and how quickly you lose weight may be up to your genetic code. Credit: Getty Images.

This mutation at one time was helpful for our species. In the dawn of humanity and perhaps during other periods of history, food wasn’t always plentiful. So building up a nice layer of fat could help you survive the lean times, whereas others might fall away. Today however, there’s a stigma against being overweight, regardless of one’s biological situation. And of course it’s worse for women than men.

Dr. Vann Bennett was the senior author on this study. He’s a professor of biochemistry at Duke University. Bennett worked with Damaris Lorenzo, an assistant professor of cell biology. She hails from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Although it was discovered in mice, researchers believe this mutation is present across many mammalian species, including our own.

This study surrounds the gene ankyrin-B. Dr. Bennett discovered this gene, and a former PhD. student noticed that mice who had the mutation were fatter than those who didn’t. All a gene is, is a set of instructions on how to make a certain protein. This particular gene’s protein connects a cell’s membrane to other important proteins, and can be found in almost every tissue in the body.

There’s one problem however, no one knows how the gene works. The leading theory today is that obesity has to do with appetite control centers in the brain. Dr. Bennett wondered whether the problem emanated not from the head but elsewhere.  

Ankyrin-B may serve as a biomarker for stubborn weight loss. Credit: Getty Images.

What scientists did in this study was “design” mice, by injecting their DNA with the human variant of the gene ankyrin-B. Then a surprising thing happened. The mice grew fat and quickly. Looking more closely, researchers found that these mice had fat cells that were twice as big as normal ones. Instead of burning calories, their bodies were storing more of their energy as fat. This occurred even though these mice were still eating the same portions and exercising as much as they were before. "We call it fault-free obesity," Dr. Bennet said.

Now, researchers believe changing or suppressing the ankyrin-B mutation could prevent a common, unhealthful cascade which often leads to a serious condition. According to Prof. Lorenzo, "We quickly learned that the increased accumulation of lipids in fat cells 'spilled over' to the liver and muscles." This is similar to what’s seen in humans where an “abnormal accumulation of fat” as Dr. Lorenzo put it, leads “to inflammation and disruption of response to insulin, a hallmark of type 2 diabetes.”

If future research holds up, this gene could become a biomarker for those who are at-risk for body weight issues, and may help researchers develop gene therapies to get stubborn weight loss under control. These scientists estimate that today, 1.3% of white Americans and 8.4% of African Americans carry this genetic mutation. "The problem is, we still didn't know how this gene worked,” Dr. Bennett said. Next, he and colleagues plan to identify humans who carry this gene variant and find out how it affects their metabolism.

To see how one company is marrying genetic information with weight loss, click here:

Tesla introduces new Model 3 at $45,000

The new version's battery has a shorter range and a price $4,000 lower than the previous starting price.

Tesla Model 3 (Photo: Tesla)
Technology & Innovation
  • Tesla's new version of the Model 3 costs $45,000 and can travel 260 miles on one charge.
  • The Model 3 is the best-selling luxury car in the U.S.
  • Tesla still has yet to introduce a fully self-driving car, even though it once offered the capability as an option to be installed at a future date.
Keep reading Show less

Denmark has the flattest work hierarchy in the world

"It's about having employees that are empowered."

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Denmark may be the birthplace of the Lego tower, but its workplace hierarchy is the flattest in the world.

According to the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report 2018, the nation tops an index measuring "willingness to delegate authority" at work, beating 139 other countries.

Keep reading Show less

The surprising psychology of sex with your ex

We all know sleeping with your ex is a bad idea, or is it?

Sex & Relationships
  • In the first study of its kind, researchers have found sex with an ex didn't prevent people from getting over their relationship.
  • Instead of feeling worse about their breakup after a hookup, the new singles who attempted sexual contact with their ex reported feeling better afterwards.
  • The findings suggest that not every piece of relationship advice is to be taken at face value.
Keep reading Show less

Relationship hack: Why class clowns make better partners

Want a happy, satisfying relationship? Psychologists say the best way is to learn to take a joke.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
Sex & Relationships
  • New research looks at how partners' attitudes toward humor affects the overall quality of a relationship.
  • Out of the three basic types of people, people who love to be laughed at made for better partners.
  • Fine-tuning your sense of humor might be the secret to a healthy, happy, and committed relationship.
Keep reading Show less

Yes, Mega Millions just passed $1 billion. What does that look like?

It's hard to imagine such a number. But these images will help you try.

The Mega Millions lottery just passed $1 billion for tonight's drawing.

What does that even look like, when represented by various currencies?

It takes just 6 numbers to win. You can only, however, purchase tickets up until 10:45 ET tonight.

Keep reading Show less

Single algae cells can help deliver targeted medicine

Tiny and efficient, these biodegradable single cells show promise as a way to target hard-to-reach cancers.

Credit: O. Yasa et al./Adv. Mater.
Surprising Science
  • Scientists in Germany have found a potential improvement on the idea of bacteria delivering medicine.
  • This kind of microtargeting could be useful in cancer treatments.
  • The microswimmers are biodegradable and easy to produce.

Metin Sitti and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute in Germany recently demonstrated that tiny drugs could be attached to individual algae cells and that those algae cells could then be directed through body-like fluid by a magnetic field.

The results were recently published in Advanced Materials, and the paper as a whole offers up a striking portrait of precision and usefulness, perhaps loosely comparable in overall quality to recent work done by The Yale Quantum Institute. It begins by noting that medicine has been attached to bacteria cells before, but bacteria can multiply and end up causing more harm than good.

A potential solution to the problem seems to have been found in an algal cell: the intended object of delivery is given a different electrical charge than the algal cell, which helps attach the object to the cell. The movement of the algae was then tested in 2D and 3D. (The study calls this cell a 'microswimmer.') It would later be found that "3D mean swimming speed of the algal microswimmers increased more than twofold compared to their 2D mean swimming speed." The study continues —

More interestingly, 3D mean swimming speed of the algal microswimmers in the presence of a uniform magnetic field in the x-direction was approximately threefolds higher than their 2D mean swimming speed.

After the 2D and 3D speed of the algal was examined, it was then tested in something made to approximate human fluid, including what they call 'human tubal fluid' (think of the fallopian tubes), plasma, and blood. They then moved to test the compatibility of the microswimmer with cervical cancer cells, ovarian cancer cells, and healthy cells. They found that the microswimmer didn't follow the path of bacteria cells and create something toxic.

The next logical steps from the study include testing this inside a living organism in order to assess the safety of the procedure. Potential future research could include examining how effective this method of drug delivery could be in targeting "diseases in deep body locations," as in, the reproductive and gastrointestinal tracts.

Gary Shteyngart: reality catches up to dystopian fiction

Our modern-day Kafka on his new novel Lake Success and the dark comedy that in 2018 pretty much writes itself

Technology & Innovation
  • riding the Greyhounds of hell, from New York to El Paso
  • the alternate reality of hedge fund traders
Keep reading Show less

How lifelong learning makes you shine in the job market

Here's why the school you went to is less relevant than ever.

  • Learning agility is the ability to learn new things quickly and be aware of the trends that are emerging in your industry. It's the most important job skill hiring managers should be looking for and job seekers should be putting forward, says Kelly Palmer.
  • Want to test your learning agility? Answer this practice interview question: "What did you learn last week?"
  • Hiring people based on the school they went to is less relevant than ever. Why? Palmer explains: "If I asked you, "Tell me about your health," and you told me you ran a marathon 10 years ago, does that really tell me what your health is like? Not really." It's what you can offer now and how agile you are that matters.
  • Kelly Palmer is the author of The Expertise Economy.