Fruits, veggies may outmatch bad genes for heart disease

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(CBS) Mom always told you to eat your fruits and vegetables. Now a new study suggests eating generous amounts of them can counter the effects of a "bad gene" linked to heart disease.

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Previous research showed that having a copy of the so-called "92p1" gene can increase heart disease risk by 20 percent. Two copies? That ups risk by 30 to 40 percent, WebMD reported.

"In general, around 20% of people carry at least one copy of the bad gene," study author Dr. Sonia S. Anand, professor of medicine and epidemiology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, told WebMD.

For the study - published in the Oct. 11 issue of PLoS Medicine - researchers looked at the effects of a fruit and vegetable diet on 27,000 people from 5 ethnicities, some of whom had the 9p21 gene. The participants - who were of European, South Asian, Chinese, Latin American, and Arab descent - were put into groups that ate a diet that was high or low in fruits, berries, and vegetables. Among those with the high-risk gene who ate the diet with the least fruits and veggies, risk of heart attack rose 30 percent. Those who ate the produce-filled diet saw no increase in their risk. That suggests the diet weakened the impact of the 92p1 gene.

The study found that a "high-risk genotype can be mitigated by consuming a diet high in fruits and vegetables," Anand said in a written statement. "Our results support the public health recommendation to consume more than five servings of fruits or vegetables as a way to promote good health."

Heart disease is the number one killer in the U.S. for both men and women, claiming more than 616,000 lives each year.

What's the take-home message for people who carry the gene? No matter what hand you've been dealt for heart disease risk, it's not too late to do something about it.

"It means that perhaps our family history, or genetic risk, is modifiable," Anand told Time. "Despite not being able to change our genetics, if we are able to modify the effect or expression of our genes. That's exciting."