DNA + Diet = Heart Health

Researchers find a gene variant that may protect some people from cardiovascular disease

Tufts scientists have discovered a new gene mechanism that appears to protect some people against cardiovascular disease, especially if they eat more polyunsaturated fat. The findings, published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, contribute to efforts to develop diets that complement genetic makeup.

The authors, including first author Kris Richardson, a postdoctoral associate in the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging’s  Nutritional Genomics Laboratory, analyzed data from more than 27,000 men and women enrolled in 10 epidemiological studies. They observed a type of microRNA that slows down production of the enzyme LPL, which helps metabolize triglycerides in the blood.

Illustration: Betsy Hayes/iStockIllustration: Betsy Hayes/iStock
The researchers did not see this microRNA activity in the carriers of the gene variant, said senior author José Ordovás, director of the genomics laboratory and a professor at the Friedman School.

“Without that interference, people with the variant would presumably have more LPL available to break down excess triglycerides and prevent them from being deposited in the arteries, which could eventually lead to atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular diseases,” he said.

The authors noted lower triglyceride levels and higher concentrations of HDL, the “good” cholesterol, in those who had the gene variant. Carriers tended to have even lower triglyceride levels if their diets contained more polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are considered a healthier fat.

This article first appeared in the Summer 2013 issue of Tufts Nutrition magazine.

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