PCRM President Reports Findings About the Dopamine Receptor Gene
Some people have a particularly hard time giving up unhealthy foods. While compiling preliminary results from PCRM’s diabetes study, lead researcher Neal Barnard, M.D., made an intriguing discovery about the interaction of genes, food, and health that may help explain why.
Nearly half the diabetes patients participating in the study carried the DRD2 A1 gene, a variant that results in fewer dopamine receptors on brain cells. Scientists have long theorized that people with this gene are more susceptible to overeating, smoking, and other unhealthful behaviors because these activities provide needed dopamine stimulation for their brains. This gene is prevalent in only about one-quarter of the general population.
Dr. Barnard also discovered that this gene seems to affect how well people do on their diets. Half the people in PCRM’s study are on a low-fat vegan diet; the other half are following the more traditional American Diabetes Association diet.
Dr. Barnard found that those with normal brain function on the vegan diet did dramatically better than those on the ADA diet. Those with the gene for fewer dopamine receptors got poorer results on both diets, although they did slightly better on the vegan diet.
PCRM’s research has shown that for many people—particularly those with normal brain function—it is easier to simply leave unhealthy foods aside, as a vegan diet does, rather than asking dieters to moderate their use, as the ADA diet does.
Dr. Barnard presented these findings at the American Diabetes Association scientific meeting on June 10 in San Diego. See the next issue of Good Medicine for a longer report.