STUDY BY: Cornell University researchers
NEW YORK: Long-term vegetarian diet can lead to a genetic mutation that may increase the risk of cancer and heart disease in Indians, a new study by Cornell University researchers has claimed.
The gene identified by scientists helps those who eat plant-based diets to process omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids into compounds that help the development of the brain and control inflammation in the body.
The gene could cause a spike in the production of arachidonic acid, which makes the body prone to inflammation and has been linked to heart disease and cancer. This can be harmful if a person with the gene has a diet high in certain vegetable oils, such as sunflower oil, as the body will metabolise the fatty acids into arachidonic acid more quickly .
The discovery by researchers, including Kumar Kothapalli from Cornell University in US, provides the first evolutionary work that traces a higher frequency of a particular mutation to a primarily vegetarian population from Pune (about 70%), when compared to a traditional meat-eating American population, made up of most ly Kansans (less than 20%).
By using reference data from the 1000 Genomes Project, the researchers provided evolutionary evidence that the vegetarian diet, over many generations,The mutation, called rs66698963 and found in the FADS2 gene, is an insertion or deletion of a sequence of DNA that regulates the expression of two genes, FADS1 and FADS2. These genes are key to making long chain po yunsaturated fats, researchers said. Among these, arachidonic acid is a key target of the pharmaceutical industry because it is a central culprit for those at risk of heart disease, colon cancer, and many other inflammation-related conditions, they said.
The insertion mutation may be favoured in populations subsisting primarily on vegetarian diets and possibly populations having limited access to diets rich in polyunsaturated fats, especially fatty fish, researchers said.
“With little animal food in the diet, the long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids must be made metabolically from plant PUFA precursors,” researchers said. “The physiological demand for arachidonic acid, as well as omega-3 EPA and DHA, in vegetarians is likely to have favoured genetics that support efficient synthesis of these key metabolites,” they said.
Changes in the dietary omega-6 to omega-3 balance may contribute to the increase in chronic disease seen in some developing countries, researchers said.
(Courtesy: The Times of India)