Know Your Heart's DNA

Heart disease gene can be modified by fruits and vegetables

(RxWiki News) It's long been suspected that there is nothing that can be done to lower your genetic risk of heart disease. Scientists have since found that one gene that is a strong marker for cardiovascular disease may be inherently modifiable.

The 9p21 gene can be modified by eating generous amounts of mostly raw fruits and vegetables, suggesting that those with the highest risk version of the gene can essentially eat their way into a lower risk group.

"Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables daily."

Dr. Jamie Engert, joint principal investigator of the study, a researcher in cardiovascular diseases at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre and associate member in the department of human genetics at McGill University, said it was already known that 9p21 genetic variants increase the risk of heart disease for those who carry it.  Yet he was surprised to find that a healthy diet could significantly weaken the gene's effect.

As part of the gene-interaction study, researchers genotyped more than 27,000 participants from five ethnicities including European, South Asian, Chinese, Latin American and Arab descendancy to determine the effect that their diets had on the 9p21 gene between 1999 and 2003. Of those, 1,014 of the participants had cardiovascular disease.

Those enrolled in the study completed questionnaires related to food to determine the impact that their diet may have on the gene.

Even after adjustments for factors including smoking and physical activity, the results suggested that those with the high risk genotype who ate a "prudent diet" consisting mainly of raw vegetables, fruits and berries, had a heart attack risk that was similar to those with the low risk genotype.

“We observed that the effect of a high risk genotype can be mitigated by consuming a diet high in fruits and vegetables,” said Sonia Anand, joint principal investigator of the study, a researcher at the Population Health Research Institute and a professor of medicine and epidemiology at the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster University. “Our results support the public health recommendation to consume more than five servings of fruits or vegetables as a way to promote good health.”

Investigators said future research will be necessary to understand the mechanism of the interaction, and to better understand metabolic processes that involve the gene.

The study was published in the current issue of the journal PLoS Medicine.

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Review Date: 
October 12, 2011