How can the US stop obesity?

The fight against obesity and diabetes

At the Helmholtz Zentrum München, Tschöp is surrounded by a team of experts from a wide variety of disciplines: doctors, cancer and brain researchers, geneticists and cell biologists - they all look for the causes of overweight, obesity and diabetes. Many factors play a role when people's body weight and blood sugar levels get out of control. Simply eat less and exercise more, unfortunately it is usually not that simple. Especially since not everyone who has a few pounds too much on their hips gets diabetes, and not every diabetic is overweight. And while one has every piece of cream cake on her hip, the other can eat what he wants without gaining weight.

The influence of hormones

Of course, our genetic makeup plays an important role in this. For example, there is a specific gene that is responsible for producing the hormone leptin. This hormone from the fat cells reduces our appetite. However, there are people who lack the leptin gene. “These patients don't stand a chance,” says Tschöp. “No willpower is enough to eat less.” However, such a monogenetic cause is relatively rare. Polygenetic causes are more common. "We carry around with us a number of gene mutations, each of which is not that bad in itself, but collectively and together with environmental factors can lead to a disease like diabetes."

Research is also paying increasing attention to the role of epigenetics. Environmental factors, exercise, eating or stress influence which genetic information encoded in the DNA for the construction of proteins is read and which is not. In this way, they determine which messenger substances, enzymes and hormones circulate in our body. These mechanisms can even be inherited. Because an unreasonable way of life and the diseases that result from it change the genetic make-up - and can be passed on epigenetically to the children.

Tschöp and his team are particularly interested in the signaling pathways between the brain and our metabolic organs. Because the brain constantly absorbs information, nutrients and hormones from the stomach, intestines or liver - for example about the sugar or fat content in the blood or about the amount of insulin released by the pancreas. It can react to all these indications and send signals to the organs that control appetite, for example.