There are lots of different genetic variants that add a little bit to your risk of being overweight. These genetic variants, of course, combine with environmental factors such as food choices, sleep, and toxin exposure.
This article looks into a well-studied variant that can increase the risk of obesity, hypertension, and cardiovascular events and focuses on some applicable lifehacks that can help reduce those risks.
Is obesity a genetic problem?
GNB3 gene codes for a protein that transfers a signal from the cell’s surface into the cell, thus causing a response. Therefore, a genetic variant in this gene that alters its function can cause a variety of responses within different cells.
One relatively well-studied GNB3 variant, rs5443 or C825T, confers a 2x to 3x risk of obesity.[ref]
This one genetic change is found in varying percentages in different population groups. While the minor allele is T for most populations, it is the most common allele for those of African descent. For example, about 10% of Caucasians carry two copies of the variant (T/T), while Africans have approximately 80% of most population groups carrying the variant allele.
GNB3 Genetic Variant:
Check your genetic data for rs5443 (23andMe v4, v5; AncestryDNA):
- T/T: Increased risk of obesity, hypertension, metabolic syndrome[ref][ref]
- C/T: Increased risk of obesity, hypertension, metabolic syndrome
- C/C: typical
Members: Your genotype for rs5443 is —.
In a nutshell, this variant has links to cardiovascular events, hypertension, and obesity.
Before we get into the weight-related aspect of this SNP, let’s look at a couple of other things linked to it.
- A 2014 study looked at the 10-year event-free survival rate for a group of over 4000 Caucasian subjects. The study found that males with the T/T genotype had a higher risk (2.6x) of a hard coronary event (non-fatal heart attack).[ref]
- Many studies link this variant to a higher risk of hypertension[ref]
- A 2014 study of professional basketball players looked at peak oxygen consumption, anaerobic test parameters, and knee isokinetic muscle strength. The study found that the T/T genotype lowered the capacity for athletic performance.[ref]
- A 2012 Polish study found that the rs5443 T variants have associations with higher systolic and diastolic blood pressure and response to a dobutamine stress echocardiography.[ref]
- A Japanese study found that the T/T genotype had lower fasting blood glucose and a reduced risk of diabetes. The study went on to look at the association between salt consumption, the rs5443 variants, and the risk of diabetes. It found that the reduced risk of diabetes for the C/T and T/T genotypes was only for those in the lower salt category (less than 12.4 g/ day). The study’s introduction discussed the idea that the activation of the sodium-proton exchanger by GNB3s involves issues arising from these variants.[ref] The study brings up a good point that other studies may not be taking salt consumption into account, which could be a part of regional/ ethnic differences in study results.
- A 2014 study looked at the effectiveness of isosorbide dinitrate and hydralazine (a medicine approved by the FDA only for African Americans with congestive heart failure) regarding the 825T allele. The T/T genotype was associated with a greater therapeutic effect.[ref] (Note that the T allele is most common in Africans with some groups having up to 80% T/T)
- A 2007 study of migraine and cluster headache patients found that T/T carriers were almost three times more likely to respond to triptans. This migraine medication is a serotonin receptor agonist.
- No association was found between this variant and THS or thyroid function.[ref]
- A 2009 study looked at weight loss using sibutramine treatment in relation to the rs5443 variant. The study found that compared to placebo, those with rs5443 T/T and TC lost weight using sibutramine (7.4kgs vs. 3.4 kg) while those with the wildtype, C/C, had no significant weight loss.[ref] (Sibutramine is a serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor known as Meridia in the US. It was withdrawn from the market in 2010 due to increased strokes and heart attacks.)
- A 2005 study looked at weight gain with clozapine (an antidepressant). The study found “Patients with the T/T type experienced significantly more weight gain (16.2±2.5%) compared to those with C/T (9.3±1.2%) or C/C types (5.5±2.4%) after long-term clozapine treatment (P=0.003).”[ref]
- A 2009 Korean study on blood pressure found that those with rs5443 T/T had significantly higher body weight than C/T and C/C individuals.[ref]
- A 2014 study also found higher serum lipids and visceral fat for the T allele.[ref]
- Not all studies have found a link between obesity and rs5443 SNP. A study in a Taiwanese population did not find an association.[ref]
- There seems to be an environmental link to obesity with this SNP. A study of young people from Zimbabwe found a link between the T allele and obesity, but only for those living in the capital city. People from rural Zimbabwe didn’t have the same link to obesity. The discussion part of the study brings up the following point: “It is tempting to speculate that the 825T allele might be neutral as long as lifestyle resembles that of our hunter-gatherer ancestors but may become detrimental upon Westernization. Thus, the presence of the 825T allele can only increase the risk for obesity in concert with certain behavioral or environmental factors, but clearly does not cause obesity by its sole presence.”[ref]
- Women carrying the T/T alleles gained more weight in pregnancy than those with C/C or C/T.[ref][ref]
How does this GNB3 polymorphism work?
Apparently, this variant isn’t actually what causes the changes in the signaling activity, but it is associated with a deletion further along. “This polymorphism does not affect the amino acid sequence. However, the T allele is in almost complete linkage disequilibrium with a series of other polymorphisms within the GNB3 gene, the so-called ‘T-haplotype’, which is associated with deletion of nucleotides 498–620 of exon 9, due to alternative splicing. It has been shown that this splice variant is functional and is postulated to be associated with enhanced signaling activity.”[ref]
The consensus seems to be that this variant induces a “splice variant,” which is a structural change in the beta subunit. The change in the beta subunit appears to help the GDP exit and increase the activity of the G protein. The link to higher blood pressure comes from an increased sensitivity to vasoactive pressor hormones.[ref]
Re-cap and tie it together:
The T allele leads to enhanced signaling for a G Protein beta, which causes the alpha subunit to be more active. It leads to overall more sensitivity to certain hormones.
Serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine are involved.
Sodium plays a role. Na+ / H+ exchanger activity is involved, as is an influence from high salt (>12.4 g/ day) diet.
Lipolysis breaks down fat cells, so an antilipolytic effect would keep the fat stored in the fat cells.
Estrogen upregulates the number of antilipolytic α2-adrenergic receptors, specifically in subcutaneous fat.[ref]
In a study on the effect of the C825T variant on lipolysis: “Fat cells of T/T carriers showed a significant 10-fold decrease in the half-maximum effective concentration of agonists selective for lipolytic beta(1)- and beta(2)-adrenoceptors as well as for the antilipolytic alpha(2)A-adrenoceptor. In T/T carriers, maximum beta-adrenoceptor agonist-stimulated lipolysis was decreased, but the maximum antilipolytic effect of alpha(2)-adrenoceptors was less marked. Norepinephrine-induced adipocyte lipolysis and circulating fasting levels of free fatty acids and glycerol were reduced by half in T/T carriers.”[ref] This study also found “Our lipolysis data, therefore, suggest that the T-to-C substitution alters the Gβ3 protein in a way that decreases signaling of β1–, β2-, and α2-adrenoceptors for adipocyte lipolysis at some earlier steps above protein kinase A. The polymorphism may have a more marked effect on Gαs– than Gαi-coupling, as responsiveness for norepinephrine was decreased in adipocytes of T/T carriers. Norepinephrine’s effects on lipolysis reflect the net sum of β- and α2– adrenoceptor signaling.”[ref]
Possible weight loss strategies for GNB3 variants:
You could boost norepinephrine levels using foods with tyrosine and phenylalanine, such as bananas, chicken, cheese, chocolate. Be Brain Fit has a good article outlining balancing norepinephrine naturally.
Maca, a Peruvian medicinal plant, raised both dopamine and norepinephrine in a 2014 study involving mice.[ref]
Related article: COMT – A gene that affects your neurotransmitter levels
*Those with the COMT variants may want to be careful with anything that changes dopamine and norepinephrine levels.
Fasting may not be the way to go.
A 2009 study looked at the effects of an 8-day modified medical fast (<350 kcal/day) stratified by GNB3 C825T polymorphism type. It found “Whereas weight loss was not dependent on genotype, both mood and hunger were significantly associated with genotype, with homozygous C/C genotype carriers having best mood (p = 0.004) and least hunger (p = 0.036) during fasting compared to T/T genotype carriers.” …”Pronounced mental discomfort during fasting in 825T allele carriers might partly explain their increased risk for obesity. The strong association between the subjective response to fasting with GNB3 genotypes indicates a role of the gene in the behavioral regulation of food intake, which should be further considered in nutritional intervention studies.”[ref]
Yohimbine is an alpha2 adrenoceptor antagonist that may help with weight loss for T allele carriers.
- A small study looked at the effects of noradrenaline on vasoconstriction in skin based on GNB3 825T variant status. It found that T allele carriers had a significantly enhanced response compared to those with C/C. Pretreatment with yohimbine caused T allele carriers to have the same response as those with C/C.[ref]
- Yohimbine increased plasma nonesterified fatty acids and noradrenaline without a significant increase in insulin.[ref] It has been used for weight loss for many years, especially in the bodybuilding community.
- Examine.com is an excellent reference for finding out more about supplements. Check out their Yohimbine page. The research talks about metabolizing yohimbine through CYP2D6 with poor metabolizers having increased side effects such as anxiety.
Related article: CYP2D6 gene and medication reactions
- Note that some report pretty serious side effects from yohimbine for some people! Please do your research before starting any supplement.
A Japanese herbal weight loss supplement, bofutsushosan, has been studied concerning this variant. The study found that those with the T/T and C/T alleles lost a little more body fat with this supplement than C/C. But when you look at the numbers, overall, the study subjects lost no more with the supplement than with the placebo (average weight loss of around 2 lbs over eight weeks). The discussion at the end of the study explains ephedra in the supplement seemed to be what worked best with the 825 T alleles. Ephedrine stimulates norepinephrine.[ref] Suppversity has an article on bofutsushosan if you are interested in learning more. I believe the US has banned all supplements with ephedra.
While sibutramine was shown to work better for those with the T allele in some studies, a study combining sibutramine with orlistat found that the “GNB3 825T allele was associated with a blunted fat mass reduction in obese females.”[ref] Note that sibutramine is no longer on the market due to increased cardiovascular events (i.e., heart attacks!). In the US, you will find orlistat marketed as Alli.
Related Articles and Genes:
Circadian Rhythm: Weight Loss and Meal Timing
There are five key elements to weight loss from a circadian point of view: Timing of Meals; Light Exposure; Sleep; What to Eat and When; and Genetic Variants. All of these can come together in our modern world to give you a propensity to gain weight – and all can be hacked to help you lose weight.
Ghrelin: The “hunger hormone”
Learn how your genes impact your baseline ghrelin levels and how this impacts your weight.
Hypertension Risk Factor: CYP11B2 Variant
Hypertension risk can be modifiable in terms of diet and exercise however genetics can play a part in risk. Learn more about how the CYP11B2 variant can increase the risk of hypertension.
Blood glucose levels: how your genes impact blood sugar regulation
Genetics plays a big role in your blood glucose regulation. Some people may be able to get by with eating some junk food and not exercising as much, but for others, our genetic susceptibility combines with poor choices to cause elevated blood glucose levels.
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Debbie Moon is the founder of Genetic Lifehacks. Fascinated by the connections between genes, diet, and health, her goal is to help you understand how to apply genetics to your diet and lifestyle decisions. Debbie has a BS in engineering and an MSc in biological sciences from Clemson University. Debbie combines an engineering mindset with a biological systems approach to help you understand how genetic differences impact your optimal health.