Weight Loss Is in Your Genes; Many People Struggle to Lose Weight on Diet Plans They See in Newspapers, Magazines and on the Internet. but Could That Be Because They're Not Right for Them on a Genetic Level? JOHN HILL Looks at a Weight Management Programme That Tailors Your Eating and Exercise Habits to Your DNA

Article excerpt

Byline: JOHN HILL

KEEN photographer Joan Thirlaway bought The Journal on that morning in October because it featured one of her pictures; an early-morning snap of Rydal Water just after sunset.

But a few pages away, she spotted something that had her haring to the telephone. The edition featured an interview with stem cell scientist Carolyn Horrocks, who was looking for people to join a trial which would give participants a weight management plan tailored to their DNA.

"As soon as I saw it, I got on the phone and asked to be part of the trial,", she says. "I thought it was fate.

"I've always struggled with my weight, and always believed there was a genetic element to it, but people poo-pooed me. It was a lightbulb moment that at last someone was doing something about it."

The 63-year-old, from Gilsland in Northumberland, was one of 20 people who signed up to the trials for Carolyn's company MyGenomics. The six who completed it had an average weight loss of 12lb and came out of the nine-week programme with its most impressive results.

Joan lost 24lb on the programme, which involved 1,300 calories each day and walking five miles around the home and in the beautiful countryside nearby.

"I've lost so much weight already that my clothes don't fit," she says.

"I'm looking to lose another stone so I'm holding off buying new clothes for now. I'm buying pounds 5 jeans to see me through, and they're looser within days."

MyGenomics is based in the Centre for Life's Bioscience Centre. It emerged from Newcastle Science City's Innovation Machine programme, and has been backed with a pounds 100,000 investment from venture capital group Northstar Ventures. Participants on the programme are given access to a fitness instructor who advises on exercise, and a nutritionist who guides them through their diet. But the intriguing hook is that the whole process starts off with a DNA test. MyGenomics looks at certain markers in a person's DNA which are regarded as relevant to weight management. For example, your DNA can dictate how you absorb fat, and how your adrenalin receptors respond to calls to start burning fat. Your blood-flow through muscles is crucial to how you build strength, while the number of fast and slow twitch muscles in your body indicates whether you're best suited to power or endurance exercise. Once the company has analysed the participant's DNA sample, it can tell which diet is best, and put together a plan which is tailored to how a body reacts to certain factors. It offers users a range of four diets - a Healthy Balanced diet balanced in fat, carbohydrate and protein; a GI Smart diet with moderate carbs and low fat; a Carb Smart diet; and a Fat Smart diet. In addition, it will set your exercise level at light, moderate or intense, and the exercise type at endurance, sprint/power or neither. "You always see this debate in the Press about which diet is the best. But the answer really is that it depends," says Carolyn Horrocks. "At the end of the day, it's about what's best for you." The company developed its weight management plan, the Nordiska DNA Diet, based on a system that originated in Denmark, which enabled 90% of participants in a 7,700-person study to lose and keep weight off for a year. But the company needed triallists to test how the product worked in a British market. Carolyn says: "Based on what happened in Denmark, we had three levels of service, from one consultation with the nutritionist a week to one a month. We found people much preferred the three-month intensive programme. "We started off with 20, and three dropped out straight away because of the commitment that would have been required. "Some more dropped out because they found the online system difficult to work with, because you have to fill in a food diary of what you eat every day.

"A lot of people asked us if they'd be able to lose weight fast, but it's really a question of whether you want to cosmetically lose weight or be more healthy. …