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Whether a person prefers sweets over savory foods is related to their genetic makeup, a 2017 study found. These genetic differences may also drive alcohol consumption and tobacco use, the research showed.

Researchers analyzed the genetic makeup of more than 6,500 people to determine if they carried a particular gene variant of FGF21 – a hormone produced in the liver – called rs838133. Then they asked the participants about their sweet preferences, alcohol consumption, and tobacco use.

They found that participants who had the rs838133 variant were nearly 20 percent more likely to eat more sweet-tasting foods compared to the other participants. Those who had the rs838133 variant were also more likely to consume alcohol or smoke tobacco.

Next, the researchers asked 86 lean, healthy people about their sweet preferences and then, after a 12-hour fast, measured their FGF21 levels. They found that FGF21 levels in participants who had a low preference for sweets were 51 percent higher compared to those who had a high preference for sweets.

These findings suggest that FGF21 influences eating behaviors, curbing the appetite for sweets in some people. Other research suggests that FGF21 also moderates alcohol consumption, but it does it via different pathways. Taken together, these findings suggest that FGF21 release serves as a means to protect the liver from damage. Learn how exercise promotes the release of FGF21, thereby reducing cravings for alcohol.

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