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Feb 7, 2012

Heart Disease Genes Can be Altered by Dietary Choices


Have you always believed that you are doomed to develop cardiovascular disease because stroke, heart attack, or hypertension “run in your family?”  Maybe your mom suffered from diabetes  and your father had a massive heart attack, and now you feel it’s soon to be your unfortunate fate. 
We do know that a family history of stroke, heart disease, diabetes, or other cardiovascular illnesses do influence one’s risk of developing similar disease, and researchers have discovered genes that can significantly raise risk for cardiovascular disease.  However, exciting research has also indicated that we also may have great power at altering our apparent “fates” by changing the expression of these types of genes.  We may not be doomed after all, even if we have a strong family history of cardiovascular disease. 
The key to this seems to be as simple as consuming a diet rich in raw fruits and vegetables.  Researchers at McMaster and McGill universities published a study in the journal PLoS Medicine, revealing from their findings that one of the genes playing a major role in heart disease can be altered through consumption of substantial amounts of fruits and veggies.
One of the principle investigators of the study, Dr. Jamie Engert, noted, “We know that 9p21 genetic variants increase the risk of heart disease for those that carry it.  But it was a surprise to find that a healthy diet could significantly weaken its effect."
In a study that included over 27,000 individuals from across the world, this represents one of the most expansive gene and diet interaction studies ever performed on cardiovascular disease.  Researchers looked at the connection between what individuals ate and influence on their 9p21 genes.  Results of the study indicated that those eating a diet centered upon raw veggies, fruits, and berries and who also held the genes putting them at high risk for heart disease were NOT at elevated risk of heart attack compared with individuals lacking the high risk gene.  In other words, a healthful diet including plenty of fruits and vegetables can cancel out some of the negative effects of having genes predisposing one to heart disease.

Further research is necessary to determine the underlying mechanisms responsible for this effect, but this study is yet more proof that we are beings of incredible power!  Even if we have been handed some distinct disadvantages when it comes to our genetic heritage, the choices we make on a daily basis have much to do with whether we set ourselves up for health or disease. 

Dr. Shana McQueen