In today’s world we are seeing more and more people a risk of heart disease, obesity, and cancer, especially in the United States where the leading cause of death is heart disease with about 611,105 deaths each year. The Obama Administration has acknowledged the terrible fate of our nation’s health problem, and has helped alleviate some concerns by tackling the issue of child obesity in America. Many people believe that our poor health is a result of the amount of meat the average American consumes, and/or the quality of our food in general. Recent developments have now given us reason to believe that strict vegetarian diets are changing the human genome, individually increasing the risk of heart disease and colon cancer (Oxford University Press).
The belief that vegetarian diets are a healthier alternative is a common misconception among Americans. Using data from the 1000 Genomes Project, researchers have found a mutation associated with vegetarian diets all around the world, but higher frequencies of this deleterious mutation “rs66698963” was found in the Indian population. This likely because the traditional Indian diet primarily consists of legumes such as beans and lentils, dairy products, as well as other fruits and vegetables. This mutation is believed to be making insertions and/or deletions in genes that are responsible for making long chain polyunsaturated fats.
This mutation is favored in populations that are heavily vegetarian based and don’t have access to healthy dietary fats such as the ones found in fish. Without the essential fatty acids in their diet, their bodies have no choice but to produce these polyunsaturated fats themselves from the plants they consume, giving rise to more arachidonic acid. Pharmaceuticals commonly associate heart disease, colon cancer, and other inflammation related diseases with this acid. Further research of the “rs66698963” mutation may help develop medicine specific for patients depending on how many insertions or deletions there are in the particular genes of interest.
Molecular Biology and Evolution (Oxford University Press). "Are we what we eat? Evidence of vegetarian diet permanently shaping human genome to change individual risk of cancer, heart disease." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 March 2016.