In my forthcoming book, “The Fallacy Of The Calorie: Why The Modern Western Diet Is Killing Us And How To Stop It,” I explore the relationship between the development of disability and disease and the interaction of our genetics with our environment. Arguably, our most important and intense interaction with our environment is reflected by what we choose to consume. What we eat affects how we feel and how we feel affects what we eat. Now there is accumulating evidence that how you feel can affect your waistline; your genes very well may determine your jeans.
The study examined genetic data from almost 6,000 people. There was an association between a particular gene, Early B-Cell Factor 1 (EBF1), and central obesity. Central obesity, or belly fat is associated with an increased risk of diabetes, atherosclerosis and heart disease. This particular gene occurred in only about 13% of the population studied and was expressed only in Caucasians.
In this group of people, as they experienced increased stress they got fatter. Specifically, they accumulated more belly fat increasing their hip circumference and body mass index (BMI) and therefore increasing their risk of diabetes, atherosclerosis and heart disease. Obviously, diet and exercise play a role as well. In individuals with such an inborn liability to stress, a healthful approach to diet could potentially negate the genetic risk.
Such an effect has been shown in persons with a genetic susceptibility to the development of diabetes. In those vulnerable persons, those that consumed a typical modern Western diet developed the disease; those who consumed the Mediterranean diet did not. The disease only manifested in the right environment; an environment predominantly determined by what they ate.
It is important to note that while there was a correlative association between stress, genetics and cardiovascular disease this study does not prove a causal relationship. However, Dr. Redford Williams, director of Duke’s Behavioral Medicine Research Center and study co- author observed that, “These findings suggest that a stress reduction intervention, along with diet and exercise, could reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and may be most effective in individuals with this specific genotype”
We are not only what we eat, it seems that what we eat is who we will become.
 (Singh, et al., 2014)
Singh, A., Babyak, M. A., Nolan, D. K., Brummett, B. H., Jiang, R., Siegler, I. C., et al. ( 2014). Gene by stress genome-wide interaction analysis and path analysis identify EBF1 as a cardiovascular and metabolic risk gene. European Journal of Human Genetics , doi:10.1038/ejhg.2014.189.