As we discussed last week on the blog, it is not news that obesity is a problem here in the U.S., and in the world. Obesity is connected to some of the leading causes of death: Heart disease, Stroke, Type 2 Diabetes and some cancers. The cost to the individual is incalculable, and to the U.S. — $147 billion a year. The world cost of obesity is $2 trillion per year. Ironically, ending obesity would save enough money to end hunger and educate every person on the planet.
We could discuss the causes of obesity for hours, but we all have the inescapable impression that something about the system just isn’t right. We see lean people in restaurants eating substantial meals. And we see people who are 100 pounds overweight. There must be more to it than just diet and exercise.
And there is.
Researchers in British Columbia recently found a specific gene in mice, which is involved is obesity. The gene makes a protein called 14-3-3 Zeta that causes fat cells to multiply and get larger (store fat).
They were able to turn off this gene in mice. With no 14-3-3 Zeta, and eating an identical diet, mice lost 50% of their visceral fat (the bad fat). Researchers then inserted an extra copy of this gene in other mice (cursed mice), and watch them get fat.
So we have a particular protein to investigate.
We have not yet identified the particular gene in humans that produces 14-3-3 Zeta, but evidence shows that this protein is present in human cells. Current research shows that approximately 100 genes are involved in some aspect of obesity.
Finding this specific gene and protein opens a big door. We have quietly been moving into molecular medicine in the treatment of some cancers in the last decade. We have been able to make specific molecules that uniquely block a particular protein. This approach provides a cleaner treatment with fewer side effects, and better results.
Molecular medicine is one area that may be able to use this new information.
None of this means that exercise or eating correctly is any less important. But it does mean that, in the near future, we may be able to convince the body that it is naturally lean, and even the genetic playing field.
Is progress going to be made on this? A $2 trillion problem, with the potential for 20 or 30% of the planet’s population needing treatment. What do you think?
Do what you can now, and remember that help is on the way.
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.
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