Eating fruits and vegetables for health is not a novel idea. Fiber, protein, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants — there’s not much room to argue against their benefits in a well-balanced diet. And now there’s even more evidence that regularly eating fresh fruits and vegetables makes a body less prone to some serious diseases.
The new research out of Cambridge’s Babraham Institute identified a side-effect of bacteria that work to break down vegetable matter inside the digestive system. These bacteria produce chemicals in the digestion process that may inform our genes how best to defend against serious infections and even cancer.
According to the research, published in a recent issue of Nature Communications, a chemical released inside the cells of the gut lining takes control of certain genes in the body’s genome by changing the location of key chemical markers.
These chemicals, short-chain fatty acids, appear to then enter cells and alter the gene’s activity and thus behavior at the cellular level by increasing the number of crotonylations. The scientists call this a “new type” of epigenetic marker that’s added to the genome when an enzyme called histone deacetylase 2 (HDAC2) is turned off — and all of this happens after the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.
In test subjects where HDAC2 levels in the gut were higher, healthy bacteria levels were significantly reduced. The higher the levels of HDAC2, the greater the risk of conditions including colorectal cancer.
The findings support not just the benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables in the diet, but also the consumption of foods that promote healthy gut bacteria, such as fermented foods and the avoidance of foods that can accelerate levels of “bad” bacteria, such as processed foods, animal products, and sugar.