Geriatrician, Hospitalist, Patient Advocate, Healthcare Educator

Being Vegetarian May Be Linked to Your Genes

Per Kristin Samuelson, in Northwestern Now, “Being a vegetarian may be partly in your genes”.

“From the Impossible Burger to “Meatless Mondays,” going meat-free is certainly in vogue. But a person’s genetic makeup plays a role in determining whether they can stick to a strict vegetarian diet, according to a new Northwestern Medicine study….

To determine whether genetics contribute to one’s ability to adhere to a vegetarian diet, the scientists compared UK Biobank genetic data from 5,324 strict vegetarians (consuming no fish, poultry or red meat) to 329,455 controls. All study participants were white Caucasian to attain a homogeneous sample and avoid confounding by ethnicity. The study identified three genes that are significantly associated with vegetarianism and another 31 genes that are potentially associated. Several of these genes, including two of the top three (NPC1 and RMC1), are involved in lipid (fat) metabolism and/or brain function, the study found….

Religious and moral considerations have been major motivations behind adopting a vegetarian diet, and recent research has provided evidence for its health benefits. And although vegetarianism is increasing in popularity, vegetarians remain a small minority of people worldwide. For example, in the U.S., vegetarians comprise approximately 3 to 4% of the population. In the U.K., 2.3% of adults and 1.9% of children are vegetarian."

This study was published in PLOS and is limited to white Caucasian participants so more research is needed to take other ethnicities in consideration. It would be interesting to include people from India where 38% of the total population is vegetarian. We know from recent studies that implementing a plant based diet at any age has been linked to lower cardiovascular risk and despite that the rate of vegetarianism is low. If being vegetarian is not an option, we can all at least try to incorporate more fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and whole grains into our diets. After all, that is the diet linked to longevity.