Scientists find 3 genes linked to being a vegetarian

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Choosing to go vegetarian is often perceived as a straightforward dietary preference or a conscious moral choice.

However, a recent Northwestern Medicine study explores a potentially groundbreaking perspective: Could our genetic makeup be silently guiding our inclination, or aversion, to a strict vegetarian diet?

Genetic Markers: A Silent Influencer in Dietary Choices?

Dr. Nabeel Yaseen, professor emeritus of pathology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and his team embarked on a journey through our genomes to seek answers to a deceptively simple question: “Are all humans physiologically capable of sustaining a strict vegetarian diet in the long term?”

In a study involving a sample of 5,324 strict vegetarians and 329,455 controls, all of whom were white Caucasian to minimize ethnic confounding, the research spotlighted three genes significantly associated with vegetarianism and an additional 31 that could potentially be linked.

Strikingly, genes like NPC1 and RMC1, which ranked among the top three, play pivotal roles in lipid metabolism and brain function.

A Lipid Link Between Meat and Vegetarianism?

Dr. Yaseen elaborates, “An area where plant products and meat differ notably is complex lipids.” Speculating further, he suggests that certain lipid components in meat might be necessary for some individuals, while those genetically inclined towards vegetarianism may be able to endogenously synthesize these components.

Vegetarianism: A Biological Struggle or an Ethical Decision?

With vegetarians comprising only about 3-4% of the U.S. population and 2.3% of adults in the U.K., the investigation into why a majority still leans towards consuming meat despite the increasing popularity of vegetarianism becomes paramount.

The findings from this study hint at the intriguing possibility that our genes might quietly be influencing our dietary patterns, perhaps making a vegetarian diet physically challenging for some individuals to maintain.

Religious, ethical, and recently, health considerations have long been prominent motivators behind adopting a vegetarian diet.

Yet, a striking 48 to 64% of self-identified “vegetarians” report consuming fish, poultry, and/or red meat.

This inconsistency, Yaseen explains, might hint towards underlying environmental or biological hurdles that challenge the practicality of maintaining a strict vegetarian diet.

Steering Future Research and Dietary Guidelines

The revelation that genetics could play a role in determining our feasibility to stick to a vegetarian diet opens up an avenue for future research to delve into the physiological intricacies between vegetarians and non-vegetarians.

This exploration could lead to a nuanced understanding of how personalized dietary recommendations can be formulated, considering not only ethical and environmental factors but also the silent influencers embedded in our genetic code.

Furthermore, such insights could potentially steer the production of meat substitutes and alternative products, aligning them more closely with the physiological requirements and genetic predispositions of broader demographics.

Published on Oct. 4 in PLOS ONE, this study titled “Genetics of Vegetarianism:

A Genome-Wide Association Study” becomes the first of its kind to weave the complex tapestry between our genetics and our capability, or inclination, to adopt a strict vegetarian diet, promising to fuel future dialogues and research in the realm of dietary sciences, ethics, and product development.

As we step into a future where personalized dietary guidelines might become a reality, understanding the silent genetic contributors to our dietary choices becomes not merely an academic pursuit but a potential key to unlock more sustainable, ethical, and health-conscious living practices for diverse global populations.

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The research findings can be found in PLOS ONE.

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