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Weight gain, and loss, causes widespread molecular changes

Study finds even a modest weight gain causes the body to fluctuate on the molecular level, but most changes revert back when weight is lost.

We’re all well-acquainted with the temptations — and the aftermath — of bountiful holiday goodies. And I know for many (including me) it’s not uncommon to see an uptick on the scale come January.

Recently, after reading a new paper published in Cell Systems, I found out that even modest weight gain (five pounds or so) causes your body to fluctuate pretty dramatically on the molecular level.

But I’ve got good news for those of us who believe leftover holiday pie is occasionally a viable breakfast option: almost all of the molecular and microbial changes revert back to normal when you lose the weight.

The study, led by Stanford's Michael Snyder, PhD, chair of genetics, gathered billions of data points that together indicate how packing on extra pounds changes the microbiome, shifts the expression of genes involved in the cardiovascular system, and increases signs of inflammation. The researchers gathered data from 23 participants at three time points: at the beginning of the study, after they overate for a month to gain weight, and again once the participants had lost the weight.

Our release explains:

The researchers pooled information from each person’s transcriptome, a collection of molecules that reveal patterns of DNA expression; proteome, the complete set of proteins an individual actively produces; microbiome; and genome.

The researchers also paid special attention to differences in molecular profiles that seemed to vary between those who are insulin-resistant and therefore at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, and those with normal insulin sensitivity. The largest difference was that participants with insulin-resistance exhibited more molecular markers for inflammation.

“The goal here was to characterize what happens during weight gain and loss at a level that no one has ever done before,” Snyder told me. “We also really wanted to learn how prediabetic folks might differ in terms of their personal omics profiles and their molecular responses to weight fluctuation.”

The results, Snyder says, were surprising:

I didn’t expect 30 days of overeating to change the whole heart pathway... But this all fits with how we think of the human body — it’s a whole system, not just a few isolated components, so there are system-wide changes when people gain weight.

Previously: Stanford study shows wearable sensors can tell when you're getting sick, The power and limits of zeroing in: Stanford Medicine magazine on diagnostics and Personal proteins: Assembling a "'completes part list' of the human body"
Photo by mojzagrebinfo

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