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A new study published in PLOS One found that four genes are associated with how well someone is able to adhere to a vegetarian lifestyle. The study found that genetics plays a significant role in vegetarianism, and some people may be genetically better suited for a vegetarian diet than others. Health, moral, and environmental reasons are among the factors that motivate people to reduce or eliminate their meat consumption. However, many self-described vegetarians actually report consuming meat products when responding to detailed questionnaires, suggesting that many people who would like to be vegetarian are not able to do so, and our data suggest that genetics is at least part of the reason.
The study was unable to identify who would or would not be genetically predisposed to vegetarianism, but researchers hope future work will tackle that question. This may lead to better health information in the future, as it highlights the intricate connection between our genes and our dietary choices.
Researchers used data from the UK Biobank, a large biomedical database and research resource that follows people long term. They identified three strongly identified and another 31 potentially identified genes with vegetarianism. In a genetic analysis, the researchers saw that vegetarians are more likely than non-vegetarians to have different variations of these genes. The reason for this may lie in how different people process lipids, or fats. Some of the genes that the study found to be associated with vegetarianism had to do with metabolizing lipids, suggesting that some people genetically need some lipids offered by meat.