x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Cravings and addictions: it's all down to genetics

Gene variations can dictate your cravings, including how quickly you metabolise the stimulant, and whether or not you become addicted to it.

I'd like to think that DNA has a significant but limited impact on human achievement. I obviously can't chalk up my every failure to genetic disadvantage, but if you've ever seen me try to dance, you'd understand my temptation to use lineage as a scapegoat. In that department, I may be half-Lebanese, but my Emirati genes won out. (I've heard rumours about the rare and mythical Emirati who can actually dance, but reports are sketchy.)

Besides my dad, I'm the only person in my family who drinks coffee. Last year, studies identified two genes responsible for determining patterns and habits around caffeine consumption. Gene variations can dictate your cravings, including how quickly you metabolise the stimulant, and whether or not you become addicted to it.

Since it's a taste - and maybe an addiction - that I appear to have inherited from my father, I have no qualms about using his favourite caffeine delivery vessel when I'm at home: a sturdy white porcelain travel mug with an indestructible stainless steel base. Taste in ceramics might have a genetic component, too: my favourite mug in Santa Fe is a replica of his, but with more visible wear. My poor coordination extends well beyond the dance floor.

Other members of my family eschew coffee and bond over highly specific concoctions, such as Chips Oman drowned in Crystal hot sauce. For an energy booster, my brother and sister favour Oronamin C, a fizzy neon-yellow brew that is bottled in generic, medicinal brown glass reminiscent of Ipecac syrup or some other form of childhood dread. It turns out that Oronamin C, made by the same people who brought us Pocari Sweat - with its naked implications of viscera and viscosity - has been around for 50 years and is the second best-selling vitamin drink in Japan after the equally ominous-sounding Lipidovan D.

I read recently that one in four people in the UAE would like to adopt a healthier lifestyle, an abstractly optimistic statistic compared with more concrete and sobering data about our world today. I take my coffee the way I take my news - straight and bitter: one in four female college students are survivors of rape or attempted rape, one in four Americans lack health insurance and one out of every four adults will experience mental illness at some point in their lives. No wonder we're losing sleep.

One of every four people is also a bruxer like me: someone who habitually and involuntarily grinds her teeth. Because of this, I'm probably a bad candidate for daily caffeine consumption. But for better or for worse, I dismiss it as a price I'm willing to pay. After wearing out my last dental night guard, or stent, I went to see an Abu Dhabi dentist about upgrading to a stronger one. I reclined while she took dental impressions, filling my mouth with cold putty-like alginate. "A mouthguard will help a little. But you're a perfectionist - it's genetic you know - and you need to learn to manage stress better." I don't like feeling cornered, but I especially don't like lifestyle advice from strangers, and my jaw tensed up. She had meant no harm, but I'd had too much coffee that day.

The grinding of coffee, gears and teeth is the sound of waking up in the morning - in my head, anyway. A high-tension lifestyle may be an unconscious attraction - or even genetic destiny, but I try to remind myself that change is possible, even before self-destruction deems it necessary.

 

Nouf Al-Qasimi is an Emirati food analyst who cooks and writes in New Mexico