A vegetarian diet increases risk of cancer and heart disease so says a new study from researchers from Cornell University and published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution. Could this be possible? Let’s look at their findings and then explain further why this might be an important study.
The primary take away from the study is long term vegetarianism causes genetic mutations that increase the above mentioned risks. Populations with a primarily vegetarian diet for generations have seen DNA changes that make them susceptible to inflammation.
These mutations help the body adapt to be better able to absorb essential fatty acids from plants. Sounds like good news so far, but the unfortunate consequence is that this mutation also increases the production of arachidonic acid, a fatty acid, but not essential. Essential means that you must get it from your diet as the body cannot produce it. Arachidonic is not essential as it is synthesized from other fatty acids.
Arachidonic acid is necessary for health in the body, but too much of it is detrimental to your health. A vegetarian eating vegetable oils will find this gene increases arachidonic acid to unhealthy levels causing many inflammatory and other health conditions. This explains why previous research found a 40% increase in colorectal cancer in vegetarians than meat eaters contrary to popular belief.
This gene mutation also hinders the production of beneficial Omega 3 fatty acids which are protective against heart disease. The American diet has seen in the last 100 years a shift away from diets high in Omega 3 from foods such as fish and nuts to Omega 6 fatty acids from vegetable oils.
There should be a healthy balance between Omega 3, Omega 6 and arachidonic acids for human health.
Let’s take a broader look at this subject. It’s my belief that a vegetarian diet is not as healthy as the population has been led to believe. There are studies that suggest health benefits to it and other studies that link cancer, heart disease and many inflammatory conditions to this diet.
The reason is that plant materials contain carbohydrates which is simply another name for the many different types of sugar found in them. Sugar is known to be pro-inflammatory. A diet high in plants is high in glucose. That’s not good.
Couple this with a genetic mutation that promotes the production of arachidonic acid…known to increase inflammation…and you have a recipe for potential disaster.
The full study can be found at: http://mbe.oxfordjournals.org/