The vegetarian gene that protects the brain and heart

The brain and nervous system are high in two fatty acids long-chain polyunsaturated: arachidonic acid (omega-6) and docosahexaenoic acid (omega-3, DHA). Food of animal origin, especially oily fish, is the main source of these important for the body in general and for the brain fatty acids. When the supply is scarce, these essential compounds must be synthesized metabolically from plant precursors. According to a study by Cornell University, the physiological demand of arachidonic acid and omega-3 EPA and DHA, in countries where the diet is mainly vegetarian is probably favored a gene that helps a much more efficient synthesis of these key metabolites. To read more interesting topic like this you can also visit

the-vegetarian-gene-that-protects-the-brain-and-heartThe importance of these lipids lies in its ability to provide optimum fluidity of cell membranes, presenting an antagonistic effect to cholesterol, making themmore rigid. Furthermore, they are essential to cell communication and intracellular signal transduction, acting through genomic and non – genomic pathways. A genomic level not participates as modulators of the inflammatory response, inhibitors of platelet aggregation and the proliferation and differentiation of some cell types.

Using data from the 1000 Genomes Project, the research team has shown that maintaining a vegetarian diet for many generations throughout evolution, may have promoted a higher frequency of a mutation. This mutation is an insertion or deletion of a DNA sequence able to regulate the expression of two genes, FADS1 FADS2, key to streamline the synthesis of fatty acids omega 3 and 6 from their shorter counterparts in food vegetables.

FADS1 and FADS2 are essential enzymes to convert omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in products necessary for brain development and controlling inflammation. People who follow a diet based on meat and seafood have less need to increase FADS1 and FADS2 enzymes for proper nutrition, since the process of conversion of omega-3 and omega-6 is simpler and requires fewer steps.

This “vegetarian” gene evolved in populations that have followed one based on plants for hundreds of generation’s diet. The adaptation allows these people to process more efficiently omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and convert them into compounds essential for the early brain development.

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“With little animal foods in the diet, long – chain polyunsaturated fatty acids are to be produced metabolically from shorter plant precursors, called PUFA. In l will vegans their contribution are based almost exclusively on endogenous synthesis. The physiological demand for arachidonic acid and omega-3 EPA and DHA in vegetarians is likely to be favored by genetics to achieve a synthesis more efficient, “the researchers say.

Published in Molecular Biology and Evolution, this is the first work of evolutionary research that draws a higher frequency of a particular mutation. Research shows that in a largely vegetarian population like Pune, India, the frequency of this mutation is 70%. While people with traditional American life style, mainly from Kansas, which include meat in their diet, the mutation does not reach 20 percent.

The researchers analyzed the frequencies of “vegetarian” gene in 234 Indians, mostly followed a vegetarian diet, and 311 individuals in the United States. They found that the “vegetarian” gene was present in 68 percent of Indians and only 18 percent. Utilized the 1000 Genomes Project data, similarly, saw the “vegetarian” gene was in 70 percent of south Asians, 53 percent of Africans, 29 percent of east Asians and 17 percent of Europeans. “Northern Europeans have a long history of consumption of milk and absorb enough long chain fatty acids, so they do not have to increase its ability to synthesize from its precursors” they say.

Fish gene

Interestingly, deletion of the same sequence could also have been adaptive in populations that include a lot of fish in their diet, such as the Inuit of Greenland, and they get from it fatty acids. While allele (variant gene) vegetarian has an insertion of 22 bases (DNA bricks) in the gene “fish”, this DNA sequence has been removed. “Our study is the first to connect an insertion allele with vegetarian diets, and removal with a marine diet,” said the researchers. This finding is further evidence that “we are what we eat”.

However, in populations with these genetic adaptations based on food, “an unbalanced diet in omega-6 and omega-3 may contribute to the increase in chronic diseases.” And, ifarachidonic acid is essential for the brain, some of their intermediate metabolites are involved in the inflammatory response. In fact, arachidonic acid is a key target in the pharmaceutical industry, as it relates to certain heart disease, colon cancer and other diseases related to inflammation in high-risk groups.

Depending on the number of copies of this mutation now discovered (0, 1 or 2 copies of the insert) and their influence on fatty acid metabolites, may be given guidelines more precise and healthy nutrition, as proposed by the nutrigenomics. Changes diet, with introduction of foods rich in fatty acids, in populations like India, where most people have this mutation, or in areas of Africa where food is basically vegetarian and contain the same genetic variation may contribute to increased chronic diseases. “One implication of our study is that we can use this genomic information to tailor our diets to our genome, to achieve a personalized nutrition,” they conclude.

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