Are Your Genes Causing Your Carb Addiction?

Written By Brady Wirick

Before we dive in, I want to emphasize a key point. While it is a very real possibility that your carbohydrate addiction might be genetic, by no means is that an excuse to throw your hands in the air in frustration and say “Oh well. It’s genetic and there’s nothing I can do.” Our genes can be turned off and on throughout our lives depending on the environment and the food we eat. Now, with a little bit of hope, please read on!

In the complex web of genetics and nutrition, one intriguing player is the MAOA gene, known for its role in metabolizing neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. Recent discussions suggest a potential link between variants of this gene and carbohydrate cravings. This connection sheds light on why some individuals might feel a more intense desire for carb-rich foods, underlining the importance of balanced, whole food meals and the inclusion of nutrients like tryptophan and riboflavin in our diets.

Understanding the MAOA Gene

Monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) is an enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Variations in the MAOA gene (called single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNP’s, pronounced “SNIPS”) can affect the levels of these neurotransmitters, potentially influencing mood and behavioral patterns. Intriguingly, these variations might also impact how we experience cravings, particularly for carbohydrates. Thes snips can make MAOA either overactive or under active.

An Overactive MAOA Gene

An overactive MAOA gene, which leads to higher levels of the enzyme monoamine oxidase A, can affect neurotransmitter levels in the brain, particularly serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. This can have several psychological and physiological impacts. Here’s a list of potential signs and symptoms associated with an overactive MAOA gene:

Mood swings: Frequent, rapid changes in mood may occur due to the destabilization of neurotransmitter levels.

Anxiety: Elevated or persistent anxiety can result from disrupted neurotransmitter regulation.

Depression: Despite the breakdown of neurotransmitters typically being associated with mood regulation, paradoxically, too much MAOA activity might lead to depressive symptoms.

Sleep disturbances: Issues with falling asleep or staying asleep can be related to the imbalanced neurotransmitter levels.

Aggression or impulsivity: Some studies suggest a link between high levels of MAOA activity and increased aggression or impulsive behaviors, although this is complex and influenced by many factors.

Reduced stress tolerance: Difficulty managing stress effectively can be exacerbated by the quick breakdown of neurotransmitters that help regulate stress responses.

Fatigue: Physical and mental fatigue may be more pronounced due to the overall impact on the body’s stress and mood regulation systems.

Headaches: Regular occurrences of headaches might be linked to altered neurotransmitter dynamics.

Cognitive disturbances: Difficulty concentrating or remembering, possibly due to the rapid degradation of neurotransmitters involved in cognitive processes.

An Under Active MAOA Gene

An under active MAOA gene leads to lower levels of the enzyme monoamine oxidase A, which can cause an accumulation of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine in the brain. This imbalance can lead to various psychological and physiological symptoms. Here’s a list of potential signs and symptoms associated with an under active MAOA gene:

Mood disturbances: Excessive levels of neurotransmitters can lead to mood disorders such as depression or bipolar disorder.

Aggression: Elevated neurotransmitter levels, particularly dopamine, have been linked to increased aggression and violent behavior.

Impulsive behavior: An inability to regulate impulses effectively, potentially due to the increased action of neurotransmitters like dopamine.

Anxiety: High levels of neurotransmitters can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and may lead to panic attacks.

Sleep disorders: Difficulty maintaining normal sleep patterns, which might include insomnia or excessively fragmented sleep.

Addictive behaviors: Increased susceptibility to addictive behaviors, possibly due to the enhanced reward feedback linked to elevated dopamine levels.

Mania or hypomania: Periods of extremely elevated mood and energy, which can occur in disorders like bipolar disorder.

Cognitive disruptions: Problems with attention, concentration, and memory might arise from neurotransmitter imbalances.

Headaches: Persistent headaches or migraines could be more common due to the altered chemical environment in the brain.

Emotional sensitivity: Heightened emotional responses to daily stressors, which may be overwhelming due to the increased neurotransmitter activity.

The Carb Craving Connection

Carbohydrates play a crucial role in managing our mood and energy levels. They are the body’s primary source of energy and help produce serotonin, which enhances mood and well-being. People with certain variants of the MAOA gene may have a predisposition to crave carbohydrates more than others. This craving is a biological response aimed at boosting serotonin levels in the brain to compensate for the altered neurotransmitter metabolism caused by MAOA genetic variations.

The Role of Balanced, Whole Food Meals

To manage these cravings effectively and maintain overall health, the focus should be on balanced, whole food meals. Eating a whole food diet that is free from sugar, glyphosate (round up), and inflammatory oils you can literally activate your good SNIPS or deactivate your bad SNIPS!

Such meals provide a steady supply of energy and nutrients, which can help stabilize blood sugar levels and prevent the rapid spikes and dips that lead to further cravings. Incorporating a variety of foods, including complex carbohydrates like organic whole grains, vegetables, and fruits, along with adequate proteins and fats, ensures a well-rounded diet that supports metabolic health and neurotransmitter function. With said balanced diet, you can actually activate the good

Importance of Tryptophan and Riboflavin

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that serves as a precursor to serotonin. Foods rich in tryptophan such as turkey, eggs, cheese, nuts, and seeds can naturally help boost serotonin levels, potentially mitigating the urge to reach for sugary, refined carbs. Similarly, riboflavin (vitamin B2) is crucial for the metabolism of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. It plays a vital role in transforming tryptophan into niacin (vitamin B3), which is necessary for serotonin production. Foods like almonds, mushrooms, spinach, and whole grains are excellent sources of riboflavin and should be regular staples in our meals.

Practical Tips for Incorporating Nutrient-Rich Foods

Plan Balanced Meals: Ensure each meal has a good mix of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. For example, a dinner plate could include grilled chicken, quinoa, and a variety of steamed vegetables.

Stay Hydrated: Often, our bodies can mistake dehydration for hunger. Keeping hydrated can help manage cravings and overall appetite.


While the link between the MAOA gene and carb cravings is still a developing area of study, it highlights the significant impact of genetic factors on our dietary behaviors. By focusing on a diet rich in tryptophan and riboflavin, and maintaining balanced, nutrient-rich meals, we can better manage these cravings and support our overall health and well-being. Understanding our genetic predispositions can empower us to make more informed choices about our eating habits, leading to a healthier lifestyle overall.

If this sounds like you and you’d like to explore this further, please reach out to us to discuss options for genetic testing (or if you’d like us to review the genetic testing you’ve had done).

You can schedule a strategy call by calling 208-218-8622 or by clicking here.


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