A genetic variant which significantly raises the risk of heart disease can be modified by eating plenty of fruit and raw vegetables so that the carrier’s risk of heart disease is brought down to the same level as those without the faulty gene, researchers from McMaster and McGill universities, Canada, reported in the journal PLoS Medicine.

The long-held belief that you cannot change the genes you inherited from your parents does not appear to hold true, the authors explained.

The 9p21 genetic variants, the strongest marker for heart disease, were found to be modified when large quantities of raw vegetable, berries and fruit were consumed.

Joint lead-researcher, Dr. Jamie Engert, said:

“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.”

The researchers gathered data on over 27,000 people from various ethnic ancestries, including Arab, Latin American, Chinese, South Asian and European. They studied what effects diet might have on the functioning and behavior of the 9p21 gene. The authors say that theirs is one of the largest gene-diet interaction studies ever carried out on cardiovascular disease.

Plenty of raw vegetables and fruit can modify faulty genes linked to heart disease

They found that people with the high risk genetic variant which considerably raises heart disease risk, ended up having the same risk of heart disease as the rest of the population if they followed a diet rich in raw vegetables, fruit and berries.

Joint lead-researcher, Sonia Anand, said:

“We observed that the effect of a high risk genotype can be mitigated by consuming a diet high in fruits and vegetables. Our results support the public health recommendation to consume more than five servings of fruits or vegetables as a way to promote good health.”

Lead author, Dr. Ron Do, wrote:

“Our research suggests there may be an important interplay between genes and diet in cardiovascular disease. Future research is necessary to understand the mechanism of this interaction, which will shed light on the underlying metabolic processes that the 9p21 gene is involved in.”

The scientists said that they do not yet know exactly why and how the diet modifies the gene.

The authors concluded in an Abstract in the journal:

“The risk of MI (myocardial infarction) and CVD (cardiovascular disease) conferred by Chromosome 9p21 SNPs appears to be modified by a prudent diet high in raw vegetables and fruits.”

Written by Christian Nordqvist