How Genes Affect Your Eating Habits


Food is the fuel for our body to move, feel warm, and practice different activities, and that our biological systems need to function. In brief, food keeps us alive. Healthy eating habits are no less important than food; they enable us to gain the utmost benefits from the food we consume. Hence, healthy feeding habits are vital for a healthy life and they prevent several diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, heart and artery diseases.

Scientists have lately been interested in studying the relationship between eating habits and inherited genes. Understanding the nature of this relationship would enable them to find methods to control them and protect many people around the world from diseases associated with unhealthy eating habits. There are two types of genes that affect people’s eating habits: the first are carried by all human beings, such as taste genes; while the second is only carried by some individuals, such as those responsible for body fat percentage, anorexia, and bulimia.

Taste Genes
Taste directly influences one’s choices of food; hence, influencing their eating habits. Normal people can identify four basic tastes: sweetness, saltiness, bitterness, and sourness. Although people are supposed to sense these tastes equally, this is not actually the case.
Studies have found that several factors affect taste; such as the number of tongue taste buds, the ingredients of saliva, genetic differences, etc. Sensing particular tastes, thus, differs from one person to another, affecting their choice of favorite foods, which might entail sugar- or fat-rich diets that negatively affect their well-being.

The Obesity Gene
The obesity gene is the gene responsible for increasing the body fat percentage; it is carried by numerous people around the world. This gene has two forms: a singular form—inherited from one parent—carried by over 40% of the world population; and a double form—inherited from both parents—carried by about 17% of the world population.
The obesity gene affects the part of the brain that controls appetite, causing a belated sense of fullness, thus, affecting eating habits. Carriers of this gene consume more food, especially fat-rich food that has a positive effect on the mood, which consequently increases their weight and exposes them to major health dangers.

The Anorexia Gene
You may have noticed that some children do not feel for food, or get hungry even after several hours since their last meal. This, of course, has a direct effect on their natural growth and might cause some serious malnutrition diseases. Medical analyses and scans for these children would be normal and would not show any physical diseases that can affect their appetite.

These cases have puzzled scientists until recently, when the gene responsible for appetite loss, or anorexia, was discovered. The anorexia gene is an inherited gene that profoundly affects a person’s appetite. In the past, only some appetizers were prescribed to carriers of this gene; however, a medication has lately been developed to address this genetic disorder.

The Bulimia Gene
Unlike the anorexia gene, the bulimia gene makes one consume quantities of food much larger than what the body needs. The symptoms of this gene appear in early childhood, leading to overweight and idleness. Scientists are still investigating methods to control the gene carriers’ eating habits; some medications have been developed, but are still being experimented.

To sum up, our eating habits are not necessarily a matter of choice, but are rather bound to compulsory factors, such as inherited genes. Some scientists confirm that studying a family’s genetic history can help prevent its descendants from carrying such genes, consequently avoiding diseases associated with unhealthy eating habits.

*Published in SCIplanet printed magazine, Summer 2017 Issue.


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SCIplanet is a bilingual edutainment science magazine published by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Planetarium Science Center and developed by the Cultural Outreach Publications Unit ...
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