16 July 2013
British scientists have discovered how a particular version of a gene called FTO contributes to obesity and increases the likelihood that a person will need to consider gastric bypass surgery.
About one in six people carry the obesity-related FTO variant and are 70 per cent more likely to become obese than the general population.
Researchers at University College London, the Medical Research Council and King's College London have now shown that people with the variant have higher levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin in their blood, which means they feel hungry relatively quickly after eating.
Further tests revealed that the gene variant also alters the brain's responses to both ghrelin and images of food in regions that play a role in the control of eating and reward.
Lead researcher Dr Rachel Batterham, whose findings are published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, described the gene's effects as a "double hit".
"What this study shows us is that individuals with two copies of the obesity-risk FTO variant are biologically programmed to eat more," she confirmed.
The scientists added that people can reduce their levels of ghrelin by exercising or eating a high-protein diet, while drugs are being developed to suppress the hormone.
Posted by Jeanette Royston
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