The FTO gene is carried by more than 50 per cent of the population, as discovered several years ago. And while researchers knew it made people fat, they didn’t understand how, until now. Scientists in the UK have discovered an independent strand of DNA carried by millions of people that probits them from feeling full. Instead, it leaves them craving sugary and fatty foods. The ‘hunger’ gene, prevents a drop in the hunger hormone ghrelin that should normally come on after eating, and makes carriers 70 percent more likely to become obese.
The British-led team asked young men with and without the genetic flaw to assess their hunger before and after a meal. Volunteers’ blood samples were then tested for ghrelin, a hormone that triggers feelings of hunger. Levels of ghrelin are often high before eating, and lower afterwards. In the men who carried the ‘hunger gene’, the levels remained high after eating, leaving then feeling hungrier than the others. The volunteers were then shown photos of various foods, and despite having just eaten, still found imagery of cakes, chips and burgers very tempting.
Study leader Dr Rachel Batterham, of University College London, said that some of us were simply “biologically programmed to eat more”.
“Not only do these people have higher ghrelin levels and therefore feel hungrier, their brains respond differently to ghrelin and to pictures of food. It’s a double hit,” she added.
Now that scientists have discovered this rogue gene, it could help carriers of it manage their insatiable hungers better, rather than binge last minute on fatty foods or desserts.
Batterham also said that drugs were not the answer, and that “ghrelin, and therefore hunger, can be reduced by exercise like running or cycling or by eating a high- protein diet.”