Researchers in the United Kingdom say they’ve discovered a genetic mutation that mutes appetite, a scientific advancement that could potentially be used to develop new drugs to prevent obesity.
The mutation stems from a gene called MC4R, which researchers previously discovered can impact hunger — it acts as a switch to alert your brain when you are full, encouraging you to stop eating.
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For some people with MC4R mutations, the “switch” is always off, meaning they never feel full and eat more. For them, the risk of diabetes and heart disease is 50 percent higher than those without the mutation.
But researchers from the University of Cambridge found the opposite effect as they pored through data from 500,000 volunteers from the U.K. Biobank, ages 40 to 69.
The study, published Thursday in the journal Cell, found that about 6 percent of participants had a MC4R gene mutation that kept the switch on, meaning they were never hungry and subsequently ate less.
The research team, led by Professors Sadaf Farooqi and Nick Wareham, determined that people with the mutation were, on average, 5½ pounds lighter and had a 50 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, according to Science Daily.
“This study drives home the fact that genetics plays a major role in why some people are obese — and that some people are fortunate enough to have genes that protect them from obesity,” Professor Farooqi said, according to the outlet.
The discovery also determined that the MC4R gene sends signals through a pathway – and with that pathway now known to be linked to weight regulation, it opens the door for the development of new drugs that can mimic the pathway and protect against obesity, according to the study.