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Expert Q&A

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Can DNA analysis help ID best weight loss method?

Asked by Todd, Massachusetts

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I have seen many weight loss DNA testing kits on the Internet. These tests claim to identify the best weight loss program by analyzing your DNA. Is there any merit to this?

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Diet and Fitness Expert Dr. Melina Jampolis Physician Nutrition Specialist

Expert answer

Hi, Todd. While there is a definite genetic component to obesity, which ranges anywhere from 40 to 70 percent, our current understanding of the interaction between the genetics of obesity, diet and weight loss is limited. There are several hundred genetic regions that have been associated with being obese or overweight, but to my knowledge, none of them has been definitively associated with the potential effectiveness of a specific weight loss program. And while there is considerable interest and research underway exploring the interaction of nutrition and genetics -- an exciting new field known as nutra-genomics -- there are no definitive answers yet.

Interestingly, genes have been identified that are associated with a person's responsiveness to exercise. One genetic variant presented at the Obesity Society meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, last year showed that in some people, exercise actually switches off obesity-causing genes. In addition, several genetic variants are associated with abnormal carbohydrate metabolism, which could steer a person toward a lower-carbohydrate diet to lose or maintain weight. But there are much simpler, less expensive and clinically validated methods to assess carbohydrate metabolism, including testing of cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure, and measurement of waist circumference.

So at this point, I would not recommend undergoing DNA testing. You are much better off looking in the mirror or using a tape measure -- if you tend to carry your weight only around your midsection, you may lose weight more effectively by cutting back somewhat on carbohydrates, especially the highly processed or sugary carbohydrates. If you tend to carry your extra weight more uniformly, cutting back on overall calories is the best approach, and reducing fat intake is the easiest way to cut calories.

And make sure to exercise regularly. Whether or not you have the exercise-sensitive gene, regular exercise will improve your health and help you maintain weight loss.

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