Scientists find a long-standing heart secret: why many Greek villagers have healthier hearts

Doctors examine the genes of Greeks with particularly healthy hearts
People in certain areas of the world live longer, healthier, or sometimes just happier. Of course, medical professionals are interested in the reasons behind these positive effects. Researchers have now found out why people from isolated mountain villages in Greece live longer and generally healthier.

The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute researchers found that residents of certain isolated mountain villages in Greece have a genetic variant in their bodies that reduces levels of unhealthy fats and cholesterol. The doctors published the results of their study in the journal "Nature Communications".

Residents often live healthily into old age
Despite a diet rich in animal fat and cheese, people in some mountain villages in northern Crete are less likely to suffer from cardiovascular diseases. So the experts wondered what is so special about these villages called Zoniana and Anogia. Few people leave or visit these isolated villages. The residents are generally known for living healthily into old age, the authors explain.

All types of cardiovascular diseases are particularly rare in the two mountain villages
Heart problems, heart attacks and strokes as well as all types of cardiovascular diseases in general are particularly rare in these villages. The diet of the residents doesn't seem to change that much either, even though they eat a lot of lamb and local cheese from Crete. Such a diet would normally be the source of many health complications, the scientists explain.

Does villager genetics protect them from heart disease?
Eating foods high in saturated fat increases the level of cholesterol in the blood. In turn, high levels of LDL cholesterol (LDL) in the blood increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. So the researchers asked themselves whether the genetics of the villagers protect them from heart diseases.

Researchers discover a new rare gene variant
The current study identifies a new genetic variant that appears to protect the heart. This variant leads to low levels of unhealthy natural fats and unhealthy cholesterol. These low levels are very important for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, the doctors explain. Such a genetic variant appears to occur only among the population of the two mountain villages. Of the thousands of Europeans who have undergone genome sequencing, only one person in Italy has the same gene variant, the authors explain.

Genome of the villagers has been closely examined
The scientists sequenced the entire genome of 250 villagers to get to the bottom of the puzzle. To do this, they took blood samples and extracted the DNA. They then analyzed the string of three billion letters that make up the human genome.

Further research could explain the role of genes in complex diseases
The results of current research could help to better understand the role of genetic variants in the development of complex diseases in the future. This can provide clues as to why some people develop heart disease and some don't.

Further isolated societies will be examined in the future
Scientists cannot explain why the identified variant is present in the villagers. The existence could be related to the way of life of the villagers. The isolated environment or the genes passed down through generations could also be the reason. Scientists plan to investigate other isolated societies, such as the Amish in the United States and the Inuit in Northern Greenland, to investigate any unknown health benefits from such isolated people. (as)

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