Worlds Health Desk: Going meatless might be more than just a matter of willpower, according to a recent study. This study, published in PLOS One, suggests that genetics could play a significant role in determining how well someone can stick to a vegetarian lifestyle.
The study, led by Dr. Nabeel Yaseen, a professor emeritus of pathology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, found four genes associated with a person’s ability to adhere to a vegetarian diet. Dr. Yaseen noted that genetics might make some individuals better suited for a vegetarian diet than others.
People choose vegetarianism for various reasons, such as health, moral, environmental, religious, and cultural factors. However, not everyone who aspires to be vegetarian can successfully make the switch. Some self-described vegetarians even admit to consuming meat products, which suggests that genetics may be part of the reason for these challenges.
While the study couldn’t identify who is genetically predisposed to vegetarianism, researchers hope that future work will address this question. This research could eventually lead to more personalized dietary recommendations based on an individual’s genetic predisposition.
The study, which analyzed data from the UK Biobank, compared over 5,000 strict vegetarians (those who hadn’t consumed any animal flesh in the last year) with more than 300,000 people in a control group who had eaten meat in the previous year. Researchers identified three genes strongly associated with vegetarianism and another 31 potentially linked to it. Genetic analysis revealed that vegetarians were more likely to have different variations of these genes.
The genetic differences observed in the study could be related to how individuals process lipids, or fats. Some of the genes linked to vegetarianism are involved in lipid metabolism. Since plants and meat differ in the complexity of their lipids, some individuals may genetically require certain lipids found in meat.
The study has some limitations, including its sample’s homogeneity (all participants were White), which may not represent the entire population. Nevertheless, it sheds light on the genetic basis of dietary preferences and suggests that genetics may play a role in shaping dietary choices beyond cultural, ethical, or environmental factors. Further research is needed to fully understand this connection.