REPORT: Why middle aged people and older gain weight

Those struggling with a few extra pounds as they age may find comfort in new research that indicates there’s an explanation that doesn’t include poor choices.

Commonly, it’s believed that exercise combined with good food choices will result in a slimmer figure.  However, researchers released a study published in the May issue of the Journal Cell Metabolism that has identified an enzyme which may play a role in weight gain and fitness decline.

In experiments with mice, the enzyme appears to increase activity in the animals as they age.  In an experiment, mice on a high-fat diet that had this enzyme blocked didn’t gain weight as fast as normal mice.

Study author Dr. Jay Chung, head of the Laboratory of Obesity and Aging Research at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, says that society attributes mid-life weight gain and energy lows to choices or lack of will power.

“But this study shows that there is a genetic program driven by an overactive enzyme that promotes weight gain and loss of exercise capacity at mid-life,” Chung said.

Chung, was puzzled by the tendency of adults to gain weight as they age, especially considering people often eat less later in life. So Chung and his colleagues began to search for molecular changes occurring at mid-life. They found an enzyme called DNA-dependent protein kinase, or DNA-PK.  With age, DNA-PK’s activity increases.

DNA-PK is involved in metabolism, interfering with converting nutrients to fat and in cells, called mitochondria, that turn nutrients into energy. As people age, the number of mitochondria they have reduces. This may be why the average American gains 30 pounds between ages 20 and 50.

Researchers don’t know if humans will react the same way the mice did to blocking enzyme DNA-PK, but with more research, the study has the potential to lead to new weight loss medications and an alternative way to boost out metabolism.

 

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