Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
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:
The idea of 'absolute time' is an illusion. Physics and subjective experience reveal why.
- Since Einstein posited his theory of general relativity, we've understood that gravity has the power to warp space and time.
- This "time dilation" effect occurs even at small levels.
- Outside of physics, we experience distortions in how we perceive time — sometimes to a startling extent.
Physics without time<p>In his book "The Order of Time," Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli suggests that our perception of time — our sense that time is forever flowing forward — could be a highly subjective projection. After all, when you look at reality on the smallest scale (using equations of quantum gravity, at least), time vanishes.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If I observe the microscopic state of things," writes Rovelli, "then the difference between past and future vanishes … in the elementary grammar of things, there is no distinction between 'cause' and 'effect.'"</p><p>So, why do we perceive time as flowing <em>forward</em>? Rovelli notes that, although time disappears on extremely small scales, we still obviously perceive events occur sequentially in reality. In other words, we observe entropy: Order changing into disorder; an egg cracking and getting scrambled.</p><p>Rovelli says key aspects of time are described by the second law of thermodynamics, which states that heat always passes from hot to cold. This is a one-way street. For example, an ice cube melts into a hot cup of tea, never the reverse. Rovelli suggests a similar phenomenon might explain why we're only able to perceive the past and not the future.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Any time the future is definitely distinguishable from the past, there is something like heat involved," Rovelli wrote for the <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/ce6ef7b8-429a-11e8-93cf-67ac3a6482fd" target="_blank"><em>Financial Times</em></a>. "Thermodynamics traces the direction of time to something called the 'low entropy of the past', a still mysterious phenomenon on which discussions rage."</p>
The strange subjectivity of time<p>Time moves differently atop a mountain than it does on a beach. But you don't need to travel any distance at all to experience strange distortions in your perception of time. In moments of life-or-death fear, for example, your brain would release large amounts of adrenaline, which would speed up your internal clock, causing you to perceive the outside world as moving slowly.<br></p><p>Another common distortion occurs when we focus our attention in particular ways.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If you're thinking about how time is <em>currently</em> passing by, the biggest factor influencing your time perception is attention," Aaron Sackett, associate professor of marketing at the University of St. Thomas, told <em><a href="https://gizmodo.com/why-does-time-slow-down-and-speed-up-1840133782" target="_blank">Gizmodo</a></em>.<em> "</em>The more attention you give to the passage of time, the slower it tends to go. As you become distracted from time's passing—perhaps by something interesting happening nearby, or a good daydreaming session—you're more likely to lose track of time, giving you the feeling that it's slipping by more quickly than before. "Time flies when you're having fun," they say, but really, it's more like "time flies when you're thinking about other things." That's why time will also often fly by when you're definitely <em>not</em> having fun—like when you're having a heated argument or are terrified about an upcoming presentation."</p><p>One of the most mysterious ways people experience time-perception distortions is through psychedelic drugs. In an interview with <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/14/carlo-rovelli-exploding-commonsense-notions-order-of-time-interview" target="_blank"><em>The Guardian</em></a>, Rovelli described a time he experimented with LSD.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It was an extraordinarily strong experience that touched me also intellectually," he said. "Among the strange phenomena was the sense of time stopping. Things were happening in my mind but the clock was not going ahead; the flow of time was not passing any more. It was a total subversion of the structure of reality."<br></p><p>It seems few scientists or philosophers believe time is completely an illusion.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"What we call <em>time</em> is a rich, stratified concept; it has many layers," Rovelli told <em><a href="https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.6.4.20190219a/full/" target="_blank">Physics Today</a>.</em> "Some of time's layers apply only at limited scales within limited domains. This does not make them illusions."</p>What <em>is</em> an illusion is the idea that time flows at an absolute rate. The river of time might be flowing forever forward, but it moves at different speeds, between people, and even within your own mind.
The world's 10 most affected countries are spending up to 59% of their GDP on the effects of violence.
- Conflict and violence cost the world more than $14 trillion a year.
- That's the equivalent of $5 a day for every person on the planet.
- Research shows that peace brings prosperity, lower inflation and more jobs.
- Just a 2% reduction in conflict would free up as much money as the global aid budget.
- Report urges governments to improve peacefulness, especially amid COVID-19.
The lush biodiversity of South America's rainforests is rooted in one of the most cataclysmic events that ever struck Earth.
- One especially mysterious thing about the asteroid impact, which killed the dinosaurs, is how it transformed Earth's tropical rainforests.
- A recent study analyzed ancient fossils collected in modern-day Colombia to determine how tropical rainforests changed after the bolide impact.
- The results highlight how nature is able to recover from cataclysmic events, though it may take millions of years.