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Being a Vegetarian May Be—Partly—in your Genes

Certain variations in genes involved in lipid metabolism and brain function may be associated with choosing a vegetarian diet, according to a study led by Nabeel Yaseen of Northwestern University, published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

In the study, researchers performed a genome-wide association study where they screened thousands of genomes to identify genetic variations linked to being vegetarian. The researchers compared genomes from 5,324 strict vegetarians to 329,455 non-vegetarians who are participants in the UK Biobank, a large-scale biomedical database. They identified variants associated with 34 genes that may contribute to choosing a vegetarian diet. Several of these genes have important functions in lipid metabolism and brain function, which raises the possibility that differences in how the body processes lipids and the resulting effects on the brain may underlie the ability and choice to subsist on a vegetarian diet.

These results add to existing research pointing to a role for genetics in dietary choices. However, the researchers note that more research is needed into potential differences between lipid synthesis and metabolism in vegetarians and non-vegetarians, as well as other physiologic pathways which might underlie vegetarianism. A better understanding of these pathways may help nutritionists design more effective dietary recommendations based on a person’s individual genetics.

The authors add: “Our data indicate that adherence to a strict vegetarian diet is influenced by genetics. Using a genome-wide association study, we identified 34 genes with possible roles in vegetarianism.”

Paper: Yaseen NR, et al. (2023) Genetics of vegetarianism: A genome-wide association study. PLoS ONE.; 18(10): e0291305.

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