The vegetarian gene: do you have super omega-3 metabolism?

Sabina Muminović Last updated: 19 October 2023

Thanks to your genes, you might not need the world’s top nutritional supplement. The dream of every vegetarian and a massive benefit to omnivores; check if you carry the vegetarian gene!

The vegetarian diet has become a global trend. It is a choice made out of compassion or a desire for a positive impact on our health, environment, and society.

One of the nutrient human herbivores – and picky eaters! – can have difficulty getting are omega-3 fatty acids. 

We bet you didn’t know genes can have your back in regard to getting enough of this essential nutrient! Before we explain that, let’s first look into the omega-3s hype …

Essential fatty acids = essential benefits

Omega-3 acids, a type of unsaturated fatty acids, are an essential nutrient our body doesn’t produce; therefore, we need to get it from food.

Their beneficial effects are the strongest for cardiovascular health. Studies show that daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids helps our body control blood pressure and triglyceride levels and strengthen the heart.

Studies show they are important for the proper functioning of our nervous system. They prevent or slow neurodegenerative diseases (Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s) and can make us less likely to experience depression.

They are a key factor in reducing inflammation which is a major risk factor for multiple chronic diseases. By fighting inflammation, omega-3s can help control lupus, eczema, rheumatoid arthritis, and even protect us from cancer.

Hold on tight, we’re not done yet!

Omega-3 rich foods

Omega-3 fatty acids can also contribute to eye health and may help improve bone mineral density, which is especially important for menopausal women.

Recent research indicates that regular intake of omega-3s might cause you to need less sleep!

We could all benefit from a couple of additional hours in a day, right?

And lastly – they can benefit your skin. Omega-3s improve its hydration, balance out oil production, and reduce the risk of premature ageing.

Phew, what a list … No wonder omega-3s are one of the top food supplements!

Now that we’ve firmly established how essential they are, let’s go meet them!

The omega-3 trio

The most important members of the omega-3 family are:

  • ALA (alpha-linolenic acid),
  • EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid),
  • DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).

Balanced nutrition usually covers our body’s needs for ALA, which is abundant in many plants and plant oils (chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, canola oil, edamame, and avocados).

But EPA and DHA are another story because they are limited to fatty fish and algae. Omnivores have it better because their diets naturally provide all three fatty acids.

Your body can convert some ALA into EPA and then to DHA, but only in very small amounts, which poses a challenge to vegetarians and vegans …

Woman smiling, showing omega-3 pills

Genes to the rescue

The enzymes FADS1 and FADS2 help convert plant-based ALA fatty acids to active forms, EPA and DHA. But like we said, this process is not very effective, putting vegetarians and vegans at a disadvantage or dependent on supplements from algal oil.

Enter … the vegetarian gene!

Some of us, vegetarians or not, carry an advantage in the form of a favourable version of the FADS1 gene, which is responsible for the production of the above-mentioned enzymes.

This mutation increases the production of the FADS1 and FADS2 enzymes, which speeds up the conversion of ALA into EPA and DHA.

If you carry it, you can get enough omega-3 from only a plant-based diet. That’s why this genetic variant is called the “vegetarian gene“. Neat, right?

In contrast, people with an unfavourable copy of the FADS gene are at greater risk of an omega-3 deficit.

Banner inviting readers to learn their genetic predispositions for omega-3 metabolism with a DNA test

How common is the vegetarian gene?

The variant was first discovered by the researchers from Cornell University in nations that have lived off of mostly plant-based food for centuries. They’ve found it in people from India, Africa and parts of Eastern Asia.

Analysis of the 1.000 Genomes project has found a favourable copy of the gene in 70% of South Asians, 53% of Africans, 29% of East Asians and 17% of Europeans.

Discover the power in your genes

Carriers of the »vegetarian gene« are not necessarily big fans of salads and nuts, but considering all the benefits of getting enough omega-3s, who wouldn’t want to have it!

Ready? With our saliva-based DNA test MyLifestyle it’s as simple & convenient!

No matter your diet type, you can use the results and recommendations of our experts to fine-tune your nutrition.

Oh, and if you’re a vegetarian or vegan and discover you have the variant – next time someone asks how you could possibly thrive on a plant-based diet, you can reply with confidence: »It’s in my genes!«

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