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  • Brian Bender, PhD

High Protein Diet for Weight Loss: What Your DNA Says About It

Adding protein to your diet can help you lose weight and sticking with a high protein diet can help you keep the weight off. But the degree of weight-loss success one finds with a high protein diet for weight loss may vary from person to person.

The reason may lie in your DNA.

Hunger Hormones

A high protein diet for weight loss can work primarily through changes to your appetite. Many people have reported that protein helps increase satiety, and therefore this approach can help you feel fuller for longer and reduce the kind of overconsumption that can lead to weight gain.

See our INFOGRAPHIC on Metabolism to learn more!

One of the plausible ways that protein can increase satiety is by reducing the production of a hormone called ghrelin. Ghrelin is released when your stomach is empty and increases appetite and food cravings. On the other hand, when you stomach expands from being full, ghrelin secretion slows down and you subsequently lose your appetite.

Dietary protein, much like a full stomach, appears to slow down the secretion of ghrelin, too. So one of the primary ways protein can help you lose weight is not through a fad or lose-weight-quick-scheme, but by the natural reduction in your appetite. Over time, those individuals on a high protein diet for weight loss will tend to consume fewer calories and this reduction will accumulate over time to result in the shedding of pounds.

But some do better than others with this dietary approach.

Protein and the FTO Gene

Protein and your genes.

Through genome-wide association studies (GWAS), the FTO gene has been associated with energy intake and obesity. Some people have variations in this gene, and those variations lead to some interesting results when compared to diets with different macronutrient profiles.

It turns out, the FTO gene has been associated with ghrelin regulation. Thus, the FTO gene, and any changes to it, likely have a direct influence on your hunger.

Protein comes into the mix because amino acids – which come from dietary protein – interact with the FTO gene. The link between protein and hunger is potentially linked through this FTO gene.

But an interesting twist in the story comes as we are learning that protein’s influence on the FTO gene is variable between groups of individuals. This depends on the allele – or gene variant – you possess.

In the POUNDS LOST study – a 2-year, randomized clinical trial for weight loss strategies and interventions – studied over 600 individuals assigned to one of four diets: high-fat, low-protein; high-fat, high-protein; low-fat, low protein; and low-fat, low-protein.

A study that investigated changes in body composition and weight loss from the POUNDS LOST study showed that a high protein diet was associated with greater weight loss after 2 years in those that carry the risk (A) allele. The researchers also found lower fat mass and lower weight around the trunk in the high-protein diets versus the low-protein diets.

Interestingly, there were no statistically significant changes to weight loss or body composition depending on variants in the FTO gene regarding high or low fat diets. Protein, it seems, makes the difference.

Another study that investigated the same POUNDS LOST cohort found similar results regarding appetite and food cravings. Those with the risk allele (A) showed decreased appetite and decreased food cravings after high protein meals versus low protein meals. And again, no groups showed a statistically significant change to appetite based on high fat or low fat diets.

Personalizing your Diet to Meet Your Goals

These studies identified the risk allele (A) in roughly 44% of the cohort population. Therefore, almost half of the population will respond much more than others, regarding reductions to appetite and food cravings, when trying a high protein diet for weight loss.

For those looking to lose weight over time, this may be a very effective strategy. However, this research is still in its infancy, and many other factors may be at play. As we learn more, there is a good chance we will continue to uncover more details about our individual genetic and biochemical responses to diet.

For those looking to personalize and optimize their dietary protein intake, one strategy may be to experiment with different amino acid ratios and different amounts of total protein to your diet. Make changes and stick to those changes over a long enough timeframe to get a feel for the new routine.

Track your protein intake along with changes in appetite and any changes in body composition. By systematically changing and measuring results, you may be able to find a combination that works better for your body and lifestyle.

Others may try dabbling in genetic testing. Remember, the science is early, and you’ll still need to track your protein intake and appetite response to gauge success and better optimize your results over time. And don’t fret over any specific test result. It’s not about having the right genes. It’s about adjusting your diet to have the right fit. Everyone can still meet their goals, but this research suggests different strategies may work better for some than for others.

But for those looking to a high protein diet for weight loss, your chances of success may lie in genes.

Intake’s mission is to improve global health through data-driven nutrition. Our blog provides information, education, tools, and tips about all things related to nutrition, including healthy eating, disease prevention, peak performance, and personalization. Sign up for alerts on new posts and product updates!



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