The Battle For Your Belly, Genes Vs Mind

Genetics playing a big part in your health is a well-known and well-established fact and many have even resorted to buying genetic test kits or get genetic tests in labs to find out how best to optimise their health.

Well, turns out that doing the tests can become a redundant exercise with just a little power of the spoken word.


Your Genes VS The Mind

A new study published in December in Nature Human Behaviour has shown that if you reveal to someone that they have a genetic condition or predisposition like having a low exercise threshold or an unhealthy eating tendency, they start to respond to that accordingly in a subconscious way, even if their genetic makeup does not actually reflect that condition in question. The results pose serious questions about just how much do our genes impact our physical circumstances and how much do our beliefs in our bodies and abilities and limits influence us.

DNA testing is currently a popular thing among both those curious about their body and those serious about doing their bodies justice. Over-the-counter tests promise us information on our health and inheritance, how we respond in the bodyweight department, effects of exercise, metabolism, and physical traits like face and height. The tests can also inform us of our risks of a diverse range of diseases and medical conditions.

However, the accuracy of these tests is doubtful. Most geneticists consider the effects of gene variants on health as still not well understood. But the psychological impact of knowing how high or low your genetic risks of any health or fitness problems and the effect of our attitudes on our physiology is even lesser known.

So, for the new study, Stanford University researchers went out to dupe a large sample group made up of men and women about their genetics temporarily to study the effects of the mind on their bodies. They began by putting up local advertisements for participants who want to learn which diets or exercises best apply to them based on their genetics. For the test, each participant gave the researchers their saliva samples. All the while, the participants were unaware of the true intention of the test.

The men and women were collectively split into two divisions. One did a test on a treadmill during which they ran for as long as they could go while having a mask put on which measured their oxygen efficiency and lung capacity. Occasionally, they would inform the researchers how they were feeling.

The other group, on the other hand, focused on their dietary and eating behaviours. The men and women in the group were each given a 480kcal liquid meal to finish, after which they have to describe how full they felt. Researchers then drew their blood to test the levels of the hormones involved in helping us feel satiated or hungry.

Later on, the participants paid a separate visit to the lab to learn about the results of their supposed genetic test. Some in the treadmill exercise group were informed that they had a particular gene that made them more likely to have a lower endurance and find prolonged exercises more difficult. While this gene and its effects exist in reality, most of the participants who were informed that they possessed this gene, in fact, did not.

On the other hand, the researchers told some of the people in the other group that they carried a gene reduces their level of felt satiety and cause them to overeat or a variant of the gene that makes them feel full easier and reduce their appetite.

The men and women were then required to repeat their treadmill or meal tests.


It’s All In The Mind

The distinction between the results of both sessions was clear as day. Those in the exercise group who had been told that their genes made them tire from exercise quicker now performed worse than the previous session, and their oxygen efficiency and lung capacity were lowered significantly.

For those in the diet group, the participants who were informed they had the gene that helps them feel full easier reported experiencing a higher sense of satiety after drinking the liquid meal than before, and their bodies released more of the satiety hormone.

In both cases, the subjects displayed that their state of mind altered their physiological responses to the tests. But more interestingly, the researchers also found that the effect of their psychological state on their test results was more substantial than the effect their genes did, suggesting that people perhaps credit more power to their genes than they deserve. Our mindsets and our beliefs seem to impact us in ways greater than our DNA “dictate” us to, in shaping some of our bodies appearances and our reactions to diet and exercise.

Having said these, the results are by no means conclusive; more research is required to better understand the relationship of genes, psyche and health, and gradually aid people to interpret the results of their genetic tests better.