dnaMD- Can You Lose Weight Without the Gym?
Updated: Aug 9, 2021
The UCP1 gene is another gene that can determine how your body stores fat- similar to the FTO gene. The UCP1 gene relates to how efficient your body is at transforming calories into heat to maintain your body temperature.
While your body likely doesn’t need the excess heat in today’s world, an efficient UCP1 gene has been linked to lower body weight, as fewer calories from food are stored as fat. Obviously, this makes the UCP1 a very enticing gene. Luckily, even if you don’t have a beneficial UCP1 variant, there are ways to hack your body to mimic its effects.
Before delving into the UCP1 gene, it's important to understand how metabolic efficiency works. Your metabolic efficiency is measured by how well your body converts chemical energy from food into energy to be used by cells for other processes. It’s actually more beneficial in today’s calorie-rich world to have an inefficient metabolism, meaning you waste more chemical energy from food (or calories) as heat energy. People with an efficient metabolism do not waste excess energy from food, but rather store it as fat.
The process by which our bodies generate heat energy is called thermogenesis. Our tendency to gain or lose weight is heavily impacted by our overall energy balance and thermogenesis. Non-shivering thermogenin is how our bodies generate heat without shivering to stay warm. In this state, the body prevents excess energy from being stored as fat, as it is instead being converted into heat. The rate at which we enter non-shivering thermogenesis (and therefore burn excess calories) is largely dependent on variants within the UCP1 gene.
Non-shivering thermogenin is the key to losing weight without using your muscles or working out. With a high non-shivering thermogenin rate, your body is constantly burning calories to keep your body temperature normal.
Good fat v bad fat:
But it gets more complicated, UCP1 is largely found in the mitochondria of a special kind of fat- brown adipose tissue (BAT). This is one of three kinds of body fat:
White fat → typical body fat, the body’s main form of energy storage
Brown fat → “good” fat, used to generate heat and maintain body temperature
Beige fat → white fat that has started to work like brown fat and burn calories for heat
Brown fat is described as such due to the excess mitochondria within the cells. The mitochondria play a role in heat production within the brown fat. Within these mitochondria, the UCP1 gene uncouples the energy from ATP and uses it to create extra heat. These mitochondria within brown fat that contain UCP1 actually create more heat than regular mitochondria- also burning more calories in the process.
Our levels of brown fat are actually highest when we are born- the body mass of babies can be up to 5% brown fat. Babies need this brown fat to moderate their body temperature, as they are unable to shiver. As we age, however, greater amounts of white fat are stored throughout the body. However, leaner adults typically have greater amounts of brown fat than individuals with a higher BMI. Adults store their brown fat around the collar bones and upper back.
The most researched UCP1 SNP is rs1800592. This SNP determines how your body uses and stores the energy from food. There are two possible variants of rs1800592, T and C.
The T allele is associated with increased activity of the UCP1 gene. Which means a higher resting metabolic rate, higher body heat creation, and less weight gain.
The C allele is associated with decreased activity of the UCP1 gene. This means a lower resting metabolic rate, lower body heat production, and a higher chance of weight gain and BMI. (The less food energy used for heat, the more food energy stored as fat)
Several studies have linked the C allele and the correlating CC genotype to increased weight gain and a higher likelihood of obesity. Those with the CC genotype have the most inefficient UCP1 gene- causing higher body fat storage. Some researchers speculate those with the CC genotype may burn as many as 200 fewer calories per day than those with the TT genotype.
Even having one copy of the C allele may put you at risk of high blood pressure, greater insulin resistance, higher LDL cholesterol, and more triglycerides. A 2011 study found that women with one C allele had less weight loss on a low-calorie diet than those without it. The C allele was likely advantageous when our ancestors lived in warm climates with scarce access to food.
Only around 30% of people have the TT genotype around the world. This genotype is much more prominent in Europe, where 58% of the population has it. Those with the TT genotype have a more proficient UPC1 gene, but lower metabolic efficiency. The TT genotype would allow people to burn calories constantly throughout the day as they do not store much food energy as white fat. This would be beneficial when our ancestors migrated to a cold climate with abundant access to food.
Hacking the UCP1 gene:
Luckily, even if you weren’t born with the advantageous TT genotype, there are ways to hack your body and create more beige fat. White fat can be converted into beige fat through the process of “browning”. This conversion introduces the production of the UCP1 protein into white fat, causing the fat to change in color with the addition of new mitochondria. These cells will now be capable of generating heat energy, allowing less food energy to be stored as white fat. Browning can be sparked in response to sustained cold exposure and exercise. But there are other ways to convert more of your white fat into beige fat:
Cold exposure: Taking frequent cold showers or ending your showers with 30 seconds of cold water can be used to stimulate browning. You can also turn down the heat in winter or wear an ice pack around your neck. However, exposing your body to frequent cold can provoke a stress response, so should not be done if you are already stressed, have poor thyroid function, or have adrenal fatigue.
Iron Supplementation- Sufficient iron is essential for the mitochondria in the UCP1 gene. The mitochondria are actually brown colored due to the high levels of iron. However, before you start taking iron, be sure to check your levels.
Exercise- Exercise has been found to promote UCP1 genes, assisting in the conversion of white fat to beige. Intense aerobic interval training has been found to be the most effective in stimulating the browning process.
Fucoxanthin Supplementation- Brown seaweed contains carotenoid that has been demonstrated to increase the activation of UCP1. A study in Japan found that carriers of the rs11800592 CC genotype had lower levels of insulin resistance after taking 2mg of fucoxanthin per day for 8 weeks. Fucoxanthin can be purchased as a supplement and is found in seaweed.
Rutin Supplementation- Polyphenols found in some vegetables and fruits have been demonstrated to stimulate brown fat. Rutin is also a powerful antioxidant and can help your body produce collagen. It can be taken in supplement form or eaten, as it is available in many foods.
Knowing you have the UCP1 gene variant is important. It will allow you to adjust your diet and lifestyle habits accordingly. Further, there are over 240 genes associated with obesity; while the UCP1 variant has a high association with obesity, you are likely to have several more- especially if you have a high BMI.
When you get your genetics tested at the Johnson Center, Dr. Johnson will analyze your genome and help you to create a nutrition plan that works for YOU. There is no one-size-fits-all diet, the only way to truly reach optimal health is through an individualized plan. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
The Johnson Center for Health services patients in-person in our Blacksburg and Virginia Beach / Norfolk locations. We also offer telemedicine for residents of Virginia and North Carolina!