Being a Vegetarian Could Be Linked to Genetics

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Oct. 5, 2023 -- People who are vegetarians might have genetic support for sticking with it, according to new research.

Researchers have discovered a set of genes associated with people who stuck to a vegetarian diet for at least a year.

The findings were published this week in the journal PLOS ONE.

“The take-home message is that, based on your genetics, a vegetarian diet may or may not be appropriate for you,” Nabeel Yaseen, the study’s lead author and a professor emeritus of pathology at Northwestern University, told NBC News. “You don’t need to blame yourself if this is something you can’t really stick with.” 

Researchers looked at the genetics of thousands of people who shared medical and lifestyle information with the U.K. Biobank, which contains data on about 500,000 people.

They analyzed about 5,300 vegetarians and about 329,000 meat-eaters. Vegetarians were defined as people who went without consuming animal flesh or animal products for at least a year, based on questionnaires filled out for the Biobank.

Researchers identified three genes that are strongly linked to vegetarianism. All are on a chromosome involved in brain function and breaking down fats to be used as energy.

Another 31 genes were associated with being a vegetarian, and some had a role in fat burning, too.

“We are hypothesizing that maybe one’s ability to adhere to a vegetarian diet may have something to do with how they deal with fats in their body and how that affects brain function,” Yaseen said.

He said the research just shows a genetic connection and not a direct causal effect.