When it comes to weight loss we have heard, so far, a plethora of myths, “magic” pills, and diets presented with “fancy” titles that promise to solve easily and quickly the worldwide obesity epidemic. The majority of all these assumptions have been proved to have zero scientific background and have caused devastating confusion and misconceptions not only to the people who wish to lose weight and are willing to try everything but also to the health professionals who treat them. David L. Katz, Director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center has nailed the subject in his article stating that “No, we are not, absolutely not, emphatically NOT clueless about the basic care and feeding of Homo sapiens.”
In the post-genomic area, we are towards the creation of another, new, more attractive, and innovative “myth” and “easy-quick” solution for weight loss that originates from the expansion of DNA tests in the market, specifically the nutrigenetic ones. I strongly believe that it is mandatory to clearly explain the facts, from the beginning, to avoid the creation of a new weight-loss “magical” solution.
Nutrigenetic testing offers you a great and valuable knowledge of how your organism works but nutrigenetics is NOT about weight loss. Nutrigenetic testing can give you the knowledge of your genetic variation but will definitely NOT make you lose weight, not by itself. The nutrigenetic analysis assesses the interactions between our nutrition and our genetic background and these interactions are only part of the equation that will lead to a healthy person with the optimum quality of life. That is because the interplay between genotype and phenotype is what actually dictates health or disease.
Weight loss is a totally different mechanism and it is about behavioral changes and nutritional education that needs to start early in life. I have previously written about what a personalized diet is and what it is not and I wish to do the same after the latest WSJ article entitled “Test your genes to find your best diet”. When reading titles like this, one – especially the ones who struggle with weight loss – can easily jump to the conclusion that by doing a genetic test they can find THE ultimate solution to their problem. However, this is NOT the case with nutrigenetics.
As a woman who has been struggling with being overweight since my early life years, I would be more than thrilled to know that a single DNA test can make me lose all my extra weight once and for all.
As a researcher in the nutritional genomics field, (who has actually performed almost all available DNA tests) I know that losing weight includes a wide variety of molecular pathways, interactions, and complexity that simple DNA analysis cannot assess. Weight loss depends on nutritional education and change of habits that include, among others, stress management, proper sleep, continuous physical activity, motivation, and adherence to a healthy lifestyle guided by a professional.
Nutrigenetics is an exciting field of research that has just started showing its promising results and, yes, dietary patterns can impact our genetic background. As always happens with innovation and exciting new results, it has attracted great attention and interest from different stakeholders, as it represents the innovative and “fashion” trend in prevention. However, when it comes to prevention, motivation, and adherence are what actually make prevention possible.
The WSJ article presents the different opinions that exist proving that we are at the beginning of an exciting new era with lots to learn and discover. For example, last May, the International Society of Nutrigenetics and Nutrigenomics (ISNN) published a statement about the fields of precision nutrition, and the same was done by the American Heart Association (AHA) regarding nutrigenomics and cardiometabolic health earlier this year. But, is it always like that when it comes to innovation? Is it always like that when it comes to novel medicine advances? Indeed, it is.
However, people do not need another weight-loss myth to keep struggling with their weight problems and we, as researchers, should prevent the creation of unwarranted expectations. People need to know that a nutrigenetic test CAN NOT make them lose weight by itself. What CAN make them lose weight is their adherence and their effort coupled with the proper guidance, by trained professionals. These are the only ones who can accurately interpret nutrigenetic results and follow them up continuously towards a profound lifestyle change that will respect their individuality and will last.
After all, if a genetic test could help us, that easy, to find the perfect diet and lose weight, obesity should not have been a worldwide epidemic, right?
By Dr. Valentini Konstantinidou, RDN, MSc, PhD.