A Mediterranean diet pattern may reduce stroke incidence as well as glucose and cholesterol levels in individuals carrying a gene that is associated with development of diabetes, according to a new study published in Diabetes Care.

Researchers from the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University and the Biomedical Research Networking Centers in Spain set out to investigate whether the Mediterranean diet could interact with a gene known as Transcription Factor 7-Like 2 (TCF7L2), which has been associated with increased diabetes risk and possibly cardiovascular disease.

The scientists gathered information from over 7,000 men and women who were participants in the PREDIMED study, a large randomized clinical trial of dietary intervention in persons at high risk of cardiovascular disease, to evaluate whether the Mediterranean diet prevents cardiovascular diseases compared to a low-fat diet.

After analyzing data on the diet and cardiovascular events, the researchers found that individuals who carried two copies of the gene and adhered to the Mediterranean diet had a reduction of stroke incidence, lower blood glucose levels and lower cholesterol levels. The participants with a low adherence to the diet were almost three times as likely to have a stroke compared to people with one or no copies of the gene variant according to the researchers.

José M. Ordovás

“Our study is the first to identify a gene-diet interaction affecting stroke in a nutrition intervention trial carried out over a number of years in thousands of men and women,” said senior author José M. Ordovás, director of the Nutrition and Genomics Laboratory at the USDA HNRCA at Tufts University and a pioneer in the field of nutrigenomics. “The food they ate appeared to eliminate any increased stroke susceptibility, putting them on an even playing field with people with one or no copies of the variant.” Ordovas said.

The authors noted that these findings could lead the way in beginning to develop genetic tests to identify people who may reduce their risk for chronic disease, by making meaningful changes to the way they eat.

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