Research against eating meat has been mounting steadily over the past few years, as beef and other types of meat have been linked to cancer, heart disease, and a number of other conditions. Yet a new study reports that even vegetarians aren’t even safe from looming threats of cancer and heart disease.
According to a recent study conducted at Cornell University, a long-term vegetarian diet can change a person’s DNA, making them susceptible to the inflammation that increases the risk for both heart disease and colon cancer.
For the study, the researchers looked at the Indian population, where a majority of people consume a plant-based diet. Of this population, 70% of people had a higher frequency of a specific gene mutation, which was found in only 20% of meat-eating Americans.
Called rs66698963, the mutation is found within the FADs2 gene. The mutation allows vegetarians to absorb omega-6 fatty acids from plants, aiding overall health and nutrient absorption. However, this mutation also increase the amount of arachidonic acid in the body, a type of omega-6 fatty acid that in excess leads to disease-causing inflammation.
For vegetarians, the mutated gene instead converts fatty acids in plant-based foods into arachidonic acid. That means that when vegetarians consume omega-3 containing inflammation-fighting foods such as walnuts, the body is unable to to utilize these nutrients.
Previous research has shown that vegetarians have a 40% higher risk of colon cancer compared to meat eaters. The study helps to explain this trend.
Additionally, the researchers believe that their findings may be a contributing factor to the increased incidence of chronic disease in certain developing countries.
While it seems neither vegetarians nor heavy meat eaters are safe these days, the key to perfect health might just be good old balance. Nutritional experts recommend eating two-and-a-half cups of fruit and two-and-a-half to three cups of vegetables per day, paired with a lean protein packed with omega fatty acids, such as salmon.