No, it’s not an April Fool’s joke… but that headline from the Evening Standard is slightly (but not totally) misleading! Here’s what it is about.
Research is indicating long term vegetarianism (as in over generations, not a few years) can apparently lead to genetic mutations which make these people more vulnerable to inflammation.
This in turn can increase the risk of cancer, heart disease and other inflammatory-related problems by up to 40%.* The study, published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, compared DNA from the primarily vegetarian population of Pune, India, to that of meat eaters in the US.
What’s the problem? The researchers, from Cornell University, believe the mutation makes it easier for vegetarians to absorb essential fatty acids from plants. On the face of it, this would seem to be a good thing… BUT these vegetarians also ‘more rapidly metabolise plant fatty acids’, including the more pro-inflammatory arachidonic acid.
This, then, is just another way in which we influence the expression of our genes (epigenetics).
Here’s a much more detailed look at the study.
*NOTE: 40% is relative, not absolute. $0% of a small quantity is a small quantity, but is large where large figures are involved.
NOTE: You could get someone without this genetic mutation who is also more at risk from inflammatory disorders just because of what they eat (such as lots of vegetable oils, grains and sugars), and someone with it who is less at risk because of what they eat (such as leaving out grains and cooking with ghee).
Of course, stress and other factors also lead to inflammation and the switching on/off of different genes.
However, knowing the enemy means you can be informed and prepared and act accordingly.