A new study published in Molecular Biology and Evolution suggests that consuming a long-term vegetarian diet may alter human DNA and make people more susceptible to some cancers and heart disease.
This, according to researchers, is because DNA makes vegetarians more susceptible to inflammation by boosting arachidonic acid, a substance linked to cancer and inflammation. The study suggests that because of this, vegetarian populations have a 40% increased risk of developing colorectal cancer.
The research is a bit surprising, as a vegetarian diet has long been associated with a variety of health benefits. Vegetarianism has been shown to decrease the risk for Type 2 diabetes, and help people with disease management. Research also suggests the antioxidants reaped from fruits and vegetables cut the likelihood a person will develop cardiovascular disease. These are just a few of the purported health benefits of a plant-based diet.
Cornell University researchers compared hundreds of genomes from a mainly vegetarian population in Pune, India to traditional meat-eaters living in Kansas and discovered a significant genetic difference.
Tom Brenna, Professor of Human Nutrition at Cornell, explained that his team found people with a long ancestral line of vegetarianism are more likely to have genetics predisposed to rapidly metabolize plant fatty acids.