Fruit and veg may reduce genetic heart risk - BUPA

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A diet rich in fruit and vegetables may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) in people genetically predisposed to the condition, according to research published in the journal Public Library of Science (PLoS) Medicine.

The researchers looked at the diets and genetic make-up of around 30,000 people. They were particularly interested in people who had a genetic variation called 9p21. This genetic variant is associated with an increase in CVD risk. They found that the people with 9p21 who ate a diet high in fruit and vegetables, particularly raw vegetables, had a reduced risk of CVD when compared with those with the same genetic risk who ate low amounts of fruit and vegetables. Essentially, the gene variant 9p21 was influenced by the healthier diet.

Dr Virginia Warren, Assistant Medical Director, Bupa, commented: "This research confirms what we already know about variation in weak genes and the risk of common forms of heart disease, and supports the recommendation that we should all be eating our five-a-day. However, it's likely that a combination of several weak genes and different environmental factors increase a person's risk of CVD. This research has only explored a few weak gene variants and a small number of environmental factors. Nevertheless, this study is important as it's one of the first pieces of research to look at the interactions between weak genes and environmental factors.

"We know that having a family history of CVD puts you at an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Both genetics and lifestyle may play a role here as families not only share their genes, they may also share a lot of their health habits. There is very little you can do about your genes, but you can make lifestyle changes to improve your heart health, for example not smoking, eating a well-balanced diet and exercising regularly."

The researchers looked at two different groups of people to see what effect diet had on their genetic make-up. In the first group, the researchers compared the diet and genetic make-up of people who had been admitted to hospital after a heart attack, with a group of people who were of the same age and sex but had no history of heart disease (control group). All 8,000 people had a genetic profile carried out and were asked to fill out a food questionnaire. The questionnaire examined which category their diet fell into, either Oriental, Western or prudent (a diet made up of raw vegetables, fruits, green leafy vegetables, nuts, desserts and dairy products).

The researchers looked at a second group of people to confirm the findings from the first group. In this part of the study they looked at the genetic make-up and diet of almost 20,000 people from Finland. These people were followed up for 10 years to see how many went on to develop CVD, including heart attack and stroke. The researchers used a different type of questionnaire that analysed over 130 types of food.

There were several limitations with this research. The information collected and analysed for each group of people was carried out in different ways. This makes it difficult to compare the data. For example, in the first group, only heart attacks were looked at, whereas in the second CVD as a whole, which includes heart attacks, stroke and heart disease, was looked at. Also, using food questionnaires is not always reliable as it depends heavily on people remembering and disclosing what they eat. Finally, the first group included a wide range of people from different ethnic backgrounds including Europeans, South Asians, Chinese, Latin Americans and Arabs. However, the second group included only people living in Finland.

In both cases, other lifestyle factors such as smoking and the amount of exercise each person did were taken into account.

14 Oct, 2011

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