Limit Intake of Sugar & Processed Carbs
As we discussed previously, people who carry the ‘A’ allele for rs1800497 tend to crave carb- and sugar-rich foods. Refined sugar, in particular, is highly addictive — and may even trigger some of the same neural pathways as addictive drugs [R]. Additionally, some studies have reported that animals fed high-sugar diets show reduced D2 receptor activity [R, R].
It is important to note that refined carbohydrate sources — such as white flour — have a high glycemic index, which means they quickly turn into sugar in your body, and can cause a potentially dangerous “spike” in blood sugar levels [R].
Excess sugar consumption can be one of your worst enemies when it comes to weight control, and is one of the single-most common factors that can lead to obesity [R, R].
Avoid High-Fat Diets
Animals fed high-fat diets have reduced D2 receptor activity [R, R].
People with rs1800497-A crave fried and fast foods, which are very often loaded with fat. Additionally, these unhealthy foods may also further impair the brain’s reward system, leading to a vicious cycle of habitual fast-food consumption [R, R, R, R].
A combination of fat and sugar — typical for fast foods and snacks — is particularly dangerous, as added sugar actually reduces the satiating effects of consuming fat [R].
With that said, this doesn’t mean you go to the other extreme and avoid consuming fats altogether! Unlike refined sugar, fats are essential and healthy — as long as they are consumed in moderation. Although heavily marketed, so-called “low-fat” products often compensate for reduced fat with high levels of added sugar and starches, and therefore are not necessarily a “healthier” alternative [R].
When in doubt, always check the nutritional labels of the food you’re eating — you may be surprised at just how unhealthy some “low-fat” products can be!
To potentially counteract your negative DRD2 variants and reduce food cravings, avoid highly-processed and “fast” foods, which are often very high in sugar and fat.
Increase Protein Intake
Rats fed a low-protein diet had lower D2 receptor density in their brains [R]. Dietary protein has a more potent satiating effect than carbs and fat, and may therefore help keep the reward system balanced and “well-tuned” [R].
Additional studies also suggest that getting more calories from protein may support weight loss, metabolism, and promote appropriate feelings of “fullness” after eating [R, R, R].
Therefore, it may be a good idea to consume a variety of protein-rich foods, such as [R]:
- Meat & fish
- Cheese (if not sensitive)
- Nuts & seeds
Protein-rich foods also supply tyrosine, the main amino acid our body and brain uses to create the neurotransmitter dopamine. However, it is still unclear whether dietary protein intake has a noticeable or significant impact on the levels of dopamine the brain is capable of producing [R].
Increase your intake of dietary protein to balance the reward system, reduce appetite, and improve weight control.
According to some sources, different types of caloric restriction (e.g., intermittent fasting & continuous restriction) may be equally effective for weight loss in the general population [R].
However, people with the ‘A’ allele for rs1800497 may prefer intermittent fasting (also sometimes known as “time-restricted eating“). Human trials suggest that intermittent fasting may help control appetite, and may even enhance the body’s ability to burn fat [R].
Intermittent fasting may even affect the brain’s dopamine system directly. For example, one study of obese rats reported that fasting actually led to increased numbers of D2 receptors in the brain [R].
Mice lacking D2 receptors show significantly lower levels of physical activity, despite various exercise opportunities. Some authors suggest that lack of exercise is likely an important mechanism by which DRD2 variants influence weight gain [R, R].
Two clinical trials have confirmed the above findings by determining that women with the ‘A’ allele were much less physically active [R].
Additionally, regular exercise helps:
- Balance dopamine levels [R, R, R]
- Reduce food cravings [R]
- Enhance fat-burning and weight loss [R, R]
Engage in Art
Finally, back to the hypothesis about modern people becoming “mindless pleasure junkies.” The authors of the study exploring this phenomenon suggest that artistic and creative activities may potentially be a “cure” for some of our problematic pleasure-seeking behaviors. For example, some research has reported that engagement in different types of art may help stimulate brain development, as well as foster better/healthier decision making and support long-term mental and physical well-being [R].
Other papers have confirmed the crucial role of art in brain development, emotional regulation and psychological well-being [R, R]. Therefore, it could be a great idea to pick up an artistic hobby, if you don’t already have one!
The good news for people with rs9939609-A and other FTO variants is that they respond equally well to different weight-loss interventions, including dieting [R, R, R].
Most studies found that simple dietary adjustments and exercise may even be enough to cancel out the potential negative impacts of these genetic variations [R].
As discussed, increased protein intake may improve weight control and metabolic health, especially in people carrying the “problematic” alleles. To get at least 18% of total calories from protein, an adult male consuming 2,500 calories/day should get around 112g of protein daily.
Great protein sources include (protein content per 100g):
- Soybean, roasted (38,5g)
- Hemp seeds, raw (33g)
- Chicken and turkey breast, grilled (32g)
- Lean beef steak, grilled (31g)
- Peanuts, roasted (28g)
- Almonds, roasted (21g)
- Eggs, cooked (12.5g)
- Cottage cheese (10.5g)
- Lentils, cooked (9g)
A negative link between FTO variants and saturated fat may be a reason to prioritize plant-based protein sources. As a side benefit, they are rich in fiber and may thus improve satiety [R, R].
Given the opposite effect of dietary protein on FTO observed in children and adolescents, they should avoid high-protein diets [R].
Unlike children and adolescents, adults with FTO variants may want to increase the intake of dietary protein. Focus on plant protein sources as they are high in fiber and low in saturated fat.
In a meta-analysis of 14 trials and 7,700 subjects, people with FTO variants such as rs9939609-A lost more weight in response to various weight-loss interventions. Most protocols included calorie-controlled diets and increased physical activity [R].
To keep food cravings under control during calorie restriction, make sure to increase the intake of dietary fiber and don’t skip meals, especially breakfast [R, R].
In a study of over 25,600 participants, FTO had a greater impact on men who consumed artificially sweetened beverages. Interestingly, researchers haven’t confirmed a link between sugar intake and these variants, but it’s still a good idea to avoid added sugar [R, R].
An intriguing 2015 paper blames increased milk consumption for the adverse metabolic effects of FTO variations. The authors found that amino acids from milk increase FTO expression. This may be crucial for infants’ growth and development but detrimental to obesity-prone adults [R].
Since children and adolescents consume more milk, it might be responsible for the opposite effect of dietary protein observed in these populations. However, this remains just a theory until more research is done.
To lessen the metabolic burden of your FTO variants, cut back on artificial sweeteners, added sugar, and milk.
A huge meta-analysis analyzed the data from over 200,000 adults to determine if physical activity influences the link between FTO and obesity. According to their results, physically active people with rs9939609-A had a 27% lower chance of becoming obese [R].
Many studies have shown that physical activity reduces and may even completely counteract the effect of this variation on weight gain [R, R, R, R, R].
Try to include 150 min. of moderate aerobic exercise weekly (such as jogging or brisk walking) and practice resistance training two times per week [R].
Sleep Quality and Circadian Rhythm
Impaired sleep quality is a well-known risk factor for obesity. Disturbances in the circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycles) can negatively impact metabolism but also contribute to food cravings and unhealthy food choices [R, R].
Given the role of FTO in appetite and emotional eating, people with problematic alleles should make a special effort to fix their circadian rhythm.
It’s essential to get enough sunlight during the day, limit your exposure to blue light (phone and computer screens) in the evening, and follow other tips to improve sleep quality [R, R].
Fixing your circadian rhythm will improve your sleep quality, lessen the harmful effects of FTO variants, and cut your risk of obesity.
Please note: plenty of herbs and supplements are being advertised as effective for weight loss, but there’s no substantial clinical evidence to back up these claims. No supplement can replace a healthy lifestyle and a balanced calorie-controlled diet.
A study of 796 Brazilian children suggested a link between vitamin D status, FTO, and obesity. The “A” allele at rs9939609 was associated with higher BMI only among vitamin D-deficient children [R].
Make sure to get adequate sun exposure and consider taking a vitamin D supplement if deficient.
2 Replies to “Better Control Eating Behavior”
It’s important to have a balanced diet and to avoid processed foods and sugar. This is why it’s important to limit your intake of refined carbs and sugar, and to increase your intake of protein. After all, healthy fats are essential for weight control. Regular exercise is important to maintain balance in the Reward System, and intermittent fasting may help control appetite. I also enjoy going to art classes to get my brain active.
That is some good advice.