Brain genes influence our eating habits, study finds

Differences in the genetic make-up of our brains may account for the particular food preferences people have and their varying ability to stick to diets, according to new research.

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Gene variation, which occurs as a consequence of subtle differences in our DNA, is what makes each of us unique and understanding how these differences affect eating habits could lead to personalized diet plans that will increase the likelihood of people sticking to their optimal diets.

Presenting the findings on Saturday at the Experimental Biology Conference in Chicago, Silvia Berciano (Tufts University, Massachusetts) said the study is the first of its kind to look at how brain genes affect food intake and dietary preferences in healthy people.

Although studies have previously identified genes involved in anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders, little is understood about how variation in these genes could impact on eating habits among other individuals.

For the current study, Berciano and colleagues performed genetic analysis of 818 men and women of European decent and used a questionnaire to collect information on their dietary habits. The team found that certain genes did indeed significantly influence people’s food preferences and eating behaviors.

For example, vegetable and fiber intake were influenced by an obesity-associated gene and a high chocolate intake was associated with particular variants of the oxytocin receptor gene. Certain genes also played a role in the intake of fat and salt.

The knowledge gained through our study will pave the way to better understanding of eating behavior and facilitate the design of personalized dietary advice that will be more amenable to the individual, resulting in better compliance and more successful outcomes,"

Silvia Berciano, predoctoral fellow at the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid.

Next, the researchers intend to investigate population groups with different characteristics and of different ethnicities. They also plan to explore whether the genes they have identified as being involved with food intake are associated with increased disease risk or health issues.

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