People who have a ‘sweet tooth’ gene variation, that makes them crave and eat more sugar, are likely to have less body fat than others, a study has found. It comes as a bit of a surprise to the researchers, who last year discovered that precisely this genetic variation could be one of the reasons why some people have a particular craving for sweet things. People with this variation eat more sugar than others. “It sort of contradicts common intuition that people who eat more sugar should have less body fat. But it is important to remember that we are only studying this specific genetic variation and trying to find connections to the rest of the body,” said Niels Grarup from University of Copenhagen in Denmark. “This is just a small piece of the puzzle describing the connection between diet and sugar intake and the risk of obesity and diabetes,” said Grarup.
However, the effects associated with the genetic variation are not all positive, the study showed. The genetic variation is connected with slightly increased blood pressure and more fat around the waist than the hips – that is, more ‘apple shape’. The study, published in the scientific journal Cell Reports, are based on health information from more than 450,000 individuals who have allowed their data to be recorded in the UK Biobank.
It included blood samples, questionnaires on diet and genetic data, among other things. “Now that so many people are involved in the study, it gives our conclusions a certain robustness. Even though the difference in the amount of body fat or blood pressure level is only minor depending on whether or not the person has this genetic variation or not, we are very confident that the results are accurate. Around 20 per cent of the European population has this genetic predisposition,” said Grarup.
This new knowledge about people with a ‘genetic sweet tooth’ is mainly important in connection with the development of drugs and future research. Since researchers are currently trying to determine whether it is possible to target or replace FGF21 using drugs in order to treat for obesity and diabetes. “Due to its connection with sugar, FGF21 constitutes a potential target in the treatment of for example obesity and diabetes. This research helps us to understand the underlying mechanisms of the hormone and to predict its effects and side effects,” said Grarup.