Does Being Overweight or Obese Change Your Genes?

Photo by: Bigstockphoto
Photo by: Bigstockphoto

You already know that excess fat pads your hips and tummy and makes it more challenging to look good in a teeny, tiny bikini – but does it change your DNA too? The idea that being overweight alters the genetic material that controls  cells is an intriguing one – but according to new research published in BMC Medicine, this idea may be right on target.

 Effects of Being Overweight: Does It Alter Your DNA?

DNA is the genetic material that governs the functions of cells and directs all aspects a person’s physiology. You’re born with a certain set of genes, or DNA, that your parents give you, but it turns out that DNA can be altered and modified by the environment.

When researchers at the Medical College of Georgia looked at the DNA of both obese and normal weight teens, they found that teens that carried around too many pounds had changes in specific portions of their DNA. The genes that were altered were ones that control the immune system, which may explain some of the complications that people who are overweight and obese are susceptible to such as cancer, diabetes and even heart disease.

Of course at this point it’s hard to draw any conclusions since this research only looked at the genes of fourteen teens. But the researchers took their study further by looking at the DNA of 46 obese people and 42 normal-weight controls. Again, they found a similar pattern of gene modification.

The question is which came first – the DNA changes or the obesity? That’s a question further research will need to answer. Preliminarily, it appears that being overweight is associated with DNA changes in specific genes that regulate immunity, although it’s not clear what effect these changes have.

 Effects of Being Overweight on DNA: Why Would This Occur?

It’s not surprising that being overweight could cause gene changes. Once thought to be a relatively inactive form of stored energy, scientists now know that fat is hormonally-active tissue that produces hormones. These hormones can alter insulin sensitivity and, possibly, DNA too. Fat tissue is anything but quiet and unassuming.

 The Bottom Line?

Being overweight or obese can affect how your body responds to insulin, your immune system and even change your DNA, if this research holds true. It’s one more reason to watch your diet and be more active to avoid the health consequences of being overweight or obese.

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