A new study finds that a diet high in fruits and vegetables can reduce the danger of heart disease among people at highest risk.
Scientists found healthier eating can turn off the risk gene and mitigate the risk of heart attack.
Researchers studied a large group of more than 27,000 people whose genetic makeup, or genotype, includes a unique gene associated with an increased risk of heart attack. The scientists wanted to know whether diet could modify this gene variant, known as 9p21.
Co-author and McMaster University epidemiologist Sonia Anand says they found it could. “Among people with the high risk genotype, their risk of heart attack was about 30 percent increased. However, when they consumed a diet high in raw vegetables and fruits, this risk returned to 1.0 or that of someone who doesn’t have the high risk genotype.”
The research - one of the largest gene-diet interaction studies ever conducted on heart disease - included people from five ethnicities - European, South Asian, Chinese, Latin American and Arab - who were already taking part in heart studies.
The results, published in the journal PloS Medicine, show that a minimum of two servings a day of raw fruits, vegetables and berries seemed to protect people against the adverse effects of the bad gene.
Although, Anand says, more is better. “My advice is to consume as many servings of fruits and or vegetables per day as a way to prevent heart disease, especially if you may have a family history of early disease or a genetic risk factor for heart disease.”
Health officials have long recommended this heart-healthy diet to protect against heart disease and other chronic diseases like stroke and cancer, but Anand says that only a minority of those people act on it. “Perhaps genetic information will motivate a larger section of society to actually make positive behavior changes.”
The next step in Anand's research is to study the mechanisms that trigger or silence the gene-diet interaction. A better understanding of how it works could point the way to new treatments for people with genetic heart attack risk.