A diet rich in fruits and vegetables is one of the best ways to feel healthier and lower your risk for chronic disease, especially heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer. Produce is a rich source of phytonutrients – natural, power-packed chemicals that reduce inflammation and protect cells from damage. Now there’s evidence that fruits and vegetables exert some of their disease-preventive effects by changing gene expression – and that’s one more reason to fill up your dinner plate with produce.
Health Benefits of Vegetables: Can They Change Your Genes?
Certain genes put people at higher risk for medical problems. If you have a family history of medical conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis or some types of cancer, you are at greater risk for those diseases yourself. Fortunately, you can lower the risk in many cases by simply changing our lifestyle.
Researchers looked at the genes of more than 8,000 people with a variety of different ethnicities, some of whom had had a heart attack in the past. They discovered in this group a particular gene called 9p21 was linked with a greater risk for heart problems and heart attacks, but, fortunately for these folks, genes aren’t destiny. In this study, participants who ate at least 2 servings of fruits and vegetables each day offset their higher genetic risk and had no greater risk of heart attack than people without the gene. The take-home message? Simply adding more produce to your plate may offset “bad heart genes.”
This finding goes along with research showing that whether or not a gene is expressed is influenced by environmental factors like diet. Even if you’re at high risk for heart disease or other health problems based on your family history, those “bad” genes may not be expressed if you lead a healthy lifestyle by watching your diet and exercising. The bad news is you can’t control the genes that are handed to you by your parents, but you may have some control over whether they’re expressed or not. It’s more evidence that lifestyle and diet are important in determining your risk for health problems and disease.
The Bottom Line?
Know your family history and what you are at higher risk for. Then make the appropriate lifestyle changes you need to lower your risk by avoiding bad habits like smoking and adding good ones like exercising and eating a healthy diet. Regardless of your family history, eating more vegetables and fruits offers health benefits. Make them a regular part of your diet, regardless of your genetics.
Life Extension Magazine. “Study Finds Good Diet Overcomes Bad Genes”
PLOS Medicine. “The Effect of Chromosome 9p21 Variants on Cardiovascular Disease May Be Modified by Dietary Intake: Evidence from a Case/Control and a Prospective Study”