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New research shows how our eating habits may be genetic

Ever wonder why your coworker can walk right by the chocolate birthday cake in the break room without batting an eye, while you’ve already had your third piece and it’s not even noon? Chocolate has been the dietary downfall of many a person, but scientists now think these irresistible food desires and eating habits could be linked to gene variations within the brain.

New research from the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid in Spain sheds light on how gene variations from person to person influence how our brains desire different foods. In the past, much research has been done to identify the genes linked to eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia, but little has been done on how gene variants could affect eating behaviors in healthy individuals.

“Most people have a hard time modifying their dietary habits, even if they know it is in their best interest,” explains Silvia Berciano – the leading researcher from Universidad Autonoma. “This is because our food preferences and ability to work toward goals or follow plans affect what we eat and our ability to stick with diet changes.”

This study is the first of its kind to describe how brain genes affect food intake as well as dietary preferences in healthy people. It includes an analysis of the genetics of over 800 men and women of European ancestry, which was paired with information about their individual diets.

Through this analysis, the researchers found that their genes of interest played a significant role in an individual’s food choices and dietary habits. Higher chocolate intake and a larger waist size were both linked to certain variations of the oxytocin receptor gene. Furthermore, a gene associated with obesity had an impact on vegetable and fiber intake. Not surprisingly, they also found specific genes that were linked to salt and fat intake.

The scientists believe that this knowledge could lead to improved strategies that help people understand and follow their optimal diets. “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,” says Berciano.

Research such as this could also be helpful in developing new medical treatments and therapies that will aid in minimizing a person’s risk for diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

The research team hopes to continue with similar studies involving other groups of people with different characteristics and ethnicities. They also plan on investigating whether the gene variants they identified are associated with increased risks in certain diseases or health issues.

By Connor Ertz, Staff Writer

Source: Experimental Biology 2017

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