Harvard Heart Letter

Fruit and veggie diet may offset genetic risk for heart disease

The old adage that you can't change your genes may be true, but research suggests that lifestyle choices can modify some of the influence your genes have on your health. Case in point is one study that determined that a "prudent" diet — especially one replete with raw vegetables and fruits — can noticeably reduce the elevated risk of heart disease that comes with a specific genetic variation.

Analysis of DNA information made available since the mid-1990s has helped researchers identify variations in small snippets of DNA that increase a person's risk for heart problems. Because genes come in pairs (alleles), a person with potentially harmful variations in both alleles is presumably at even greater risk than someone with a single variation.

Researchers reviewed the eating habits of more than 8,000 people of five ethnicities who had an added risk of heart disease bestowed on them by a gene variation called 9p21. Among those who followed the most prudent diets — especially those who ate the most raw fruits and vegetables — the 9p21 genetic variation did not confer an increased risk for heart attack. In contrast, those with double doses of 9p21 who followed the least prudent diet were twice as likely to have a heart attack as those with no copies of the genetic variation who followed the most prudent diet (PLoS Medicine, published online Oct. 11, 2011).

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