Being vegetarian may partly be in one’s genes, study finds

The genetic makeup of a person can be a factor in determining if they are able to adhere to a strict vegan eating plan and if they are able to do so, as per the findings of a recent study.

The study, which was released this week in the online journal PLOS One, is likely to result in further research regarding personalized diet recommendations as well as the creation of meat substitutes.

Although a significant portion of individuals self-identifies as “vegetarians,” they also say they eat seafood, poultry, or red meat, suggesting that there are limitations in the environment or biological that can overrule the desire of a person to follow the vegetarian diet, according to scientists, which include researchers at Northwestern University in the US.

“It seems there are more people who would like to be vegetarian than actually are, and we think it’s because there is something hard-wired here that people may be missing,” co-author of the study Nabeel Yaseen explained.

In the study, researchers examined UK Biobank genetic data from 5,324 vegetarians who eat no poultry, fish, or red meats – with 329,455 healthy controls.


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Researchers have discovered the presence of three genes connected to vegetarianism. They also found 31 other genes likely to be involved.

Many of these genes, in accordance with the findings, are involved in the process of lipid (fat) metabolism or brain function, including two of the most prominent three (NPC1 as well as RMC1).

“My hypothesis is that there could be a lipid component(s) that are present in the meat that certain people require. Perhaps those whose genes favor vegetarianism could be able to synthesize these elements endogenously,” Dr Yaseen said.

“However, at this time, this is mere speculation and much more work needs to be done to understand the physiology of vegetarianism,” he added.

While the trend towards vegetarianism is growing in popularity, those who are vegetarians are only a tiny fraction of the population around the world, with 2.3 percent of adults and 1.9 percent of the children living in the UK being vegetarians.

Scientists believe that the main reason for determining the preference for food or drink is not only taste but also how the body’s metabolism processes it.

They stated that when they tried an alcohol drink for the first time, many people wouldn’t be able to enjoy it the first time. However, they will begin to develop a taste based on the way alcohol tastes gradually absorbed.

“I believe that in meat, there’s something that’s similar. Maybe you have a particular element – I’m thinking of an lipid component – which creates a need and want the taste,” Dr Yaseen said.

“While religious and moral considerations certainly play a major role in the motivation to adopt a vegetarian diet, our data suggest that the ability to adhere to such a diet is constrained by genetics,” he added.


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Researchers hope that future research will provide an understanding of the differences in physiology between meat-eaters and vegetarians.

They claimed that such a consensus could allow for personalized diet recommendations and help produce healthier substitutes for meat.


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