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Eating fruits and veggies may help counter effects of 'heart disease' genes

The study provides more evidence of how important a diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables is for heart health.
REUTERS/Jim Young
The study provides more evidence of how important a diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables is for heart health.

There’s some possible good news for people with a certain genetic risk for heart disease: The findings of a new study suggest that eating lots of raw fruits and vegetables may help counteract that risk.

This may mean that environmental factors can trump genetic ones — at least in the case of this particular genetic risk.

The study also provides more evidence of how important a diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables is for our health, especially our heart health.

Heart disease is, of course, the leading cause of premature death in the United States, taking more than 630,000 lives each year.

Data came from two large studies
For the study, a team of Canadian researchers analyzed genetic and dietary data collected from participants in two large studies that were investigating risk factors for heart disease. First, they identified those participants who had a specific gene variant, 9p21, which previous research has linked to an increased risk of heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems. Then they crunched other data from the studies, looking specifically at dietary patterns and incidents of heart attack.

The researchers found that the risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular problems in the people with a 9p21 variant who ate a healthful diet rich in fruits and vegetables — particularly raw vegetables — was similar to that of people who didn’t have the variant. 

The effects were the same in all five ethnicities represented in the studies: South Asian, Latin American, Arab, Chinese and European.

Caveats
This new study has its limitations, of course — ones that may have skewed the results. For example, participants filled out questionnaires about the foods they ate, and such self-reports can be inaccurate. Furthermore, the researchers looked at only one type of gene variant. Other variants (as well as other, non-dietary environmental factors) may have influenced the rate of heart attacks seen in the study.

Still, the results are interesting. As Sonia Anand, professor of medicine and epidemiology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., and one of the study’s co-authors, told the Montreal Gazette: "It's the first demonstration on a large scale that we could turn off our genes with healthy behaviors."

The study was published in the October issue of the journal Public Library of Science (PLoS) Medicine, and can be downloaded in full from that journal’s website.

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