A vegetarian diet is good for you right? Wrong, if the findings of a new study are to be believed.
A long term vegetarian diet causes genetic mutations which increase the risk of heart disease and cancer, say scientists from Cornell University in the US.
People who’ve had mainly a vegetarian diet for generations were found to be far more likely to carry the warped DNA.
The researchers think the gene mutation makes it easier for vegetarians to absorb essential fatty acids from plants. But it also means that it increases arachidonic acid, which is known to increase inflammatory disease and cancer.
This finding also explains previous research that found vegetarian populations are 40% more likely to suffer colorectal cancer than meat eaters, a puzzling result because eating red meat is known to raise the risk.
The researchers compared the genomes from people in Pune, India (who are vegetarians) with the meat-eating people of Kansas and found a huge genetic difference.
“Those whose ancestry derives from vegetarians are more likely to carry genetics that more rapidly metabolise plant fatty acids,” said Tom Brenna, Professor of Human Nutrition at Cornell.
“The mutation appeared in the human genome long ago, and has been passed down through the human family.”
To make things worse, the mutation also prevents the production of beneficial Omega 3 fatty acid which is protective against heart disease.
So Prof. Brenna has a simple recommendation: “The message for vegetarians is simple. Use vegetable oils that are low in omega-6 linoleic acid such as olive oil.”
Read the research for yourself in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.