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Genetic consequences of obesity

Those extra pounds gained by overindulging during the holidays will not only show up on the scale, but also could negatively affect your DNA, according to a large-scale international study coordinated by Helmholtz Zentrum München, a partner in the German Center for Diabetes Research. Although genes themselves do not change over a lifetime, the study showed that a high body mass index [BMI] leads to epigenetic changes – changes in the area on or around the genes – causing effects on gene expression which contribute to diabetes, heart disease and metabolic disorders.

The international research team led by Dr. Christian Gieger and Dr. Harald Grallert examined possible correlations between BMI and epigenetic changes, using the blood samples of over 10,000 Europeans. Among those with high BMI, significant changes were found in the expression of some genes, including those responsible for lipid metabolism and inflammation. The team was also able to identify epigenetic markers that could predict the risk of Type 2 diabetes.

“Our results allow new insights into which signaling pathways are influenced by obesity,” said Gieger. “We hope that this will lead to new strategies for predicting and possibly preventing Type 2 diabetes and other consequences of being overweight.”

The study, which was the largest of its type conducted to date, was published in Nature.

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