Thursday, October 13, 2011

Can Eating Greens Affect Your Genes?

We all know that biology is not destiny, but what is the interplay of genetic makeup (nature) and environmental factors (nurture)? One recent study from McGill University and McMaster University suggests that at least in one case, a person may take conscious action to deter the damaging expression of a gene.

The gene in question is called 9p21, and its variants are known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), a major cause of death and illness worldwide. Considerable research has been done on how environmental factors like exercise, smoking, and diet affect a person’s risk of developing a CVD, but this study offered a novel contribution by looking specifically at the 9p21 gene, home to a cluster of four different SNPs already known to be closely associated with risk of developing a CVD.

The study (full report available here) examined variants in the 9p21 gene among more than 27,000 individuals representing five distinct ethnicities – European, South Asian, Arab, Latin American, and Chinese – and compared them to the nature of individuals’ diets to assess correlations about risk for CVD. Specifically, researchers compared the gene variants among individuals who had experienced an acute, non-fatal heart attack with those who did not have any sort of cardiovascular disease, a type of study called a retrospective case-control. The study found that individuals with the high-risk genotype who consumed a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables had roughly the same incidence of heart attack as individuals with the low-risk genotype.

The study marks one of the largest-scale research projects ever conducted about the interplay of diet and genetics, and its intercultural subject pool suggests that the findings hold across at least several different ethnicities. People cannot change their genetic makeup by interacting with environmental factors, but this study suggests people can mitigate the risk of developing a cardiovascular disease by sticking to a healthy diet.

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