Are You Born to Crave High-Calorie Food?
You may think that splurging for a chocolate bar or unhealthy snack is a sign of poor self-control, but a new study suggests that the brains of some people are simply “hardwired” to crave foods high in fat and sugar.
Researchers from the Imperial College in London say they have identified two genetic variants that influence whether we opt for high-calorie or low-calorie foods.
The team conducted DNA genotyping on 45 white European adults between the ages of 19 and 55 to identify the presence of variants near two genes: the FTO gene, which has been associated with obesity predisposition, and the DRD2 gene, which plays a role in the regulation of dopamine in the brain – a neurotransmitter involved in rewards and cravings.
Participants were asked to view pictures of high- and low-calorie foods and rate how appealing they were, while the researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging to analyze their brain activity.
Those who possessed a variant near the FTO gene and who rated the high-calorie foods as more appealing showed greater activity in a part of the brain called the orbitofrontal cortex.
These results suggest that individuals who possess the FTO gene may be at greater risk for obesity because dopamine signals trigger a sense of craving and reward in the presence of unhealthy foods.
The researchers believe their findings could help lead to more personalized treatments for obesity that focus on reducing a person’s high-calorie cravings.