Plain language summary
Our genes are not fixed. They interact constantly with the environment through dietary and lifestyle factors, which affect whether genes are expressed or not. This is often referred to as epigenetic modulation. DNA methylation is an epigenetic mechanism that adds a methyl group to DNA, thereby modifying the function of the genes and affecting gene expression. Epigenetic alterations have been associated with conditions, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and immunological conditions. It is suggested that epigenetic marks are reversible and can be modulated by nutrient status and certain dietary components. The aim of the current study was to explore methylation changes in genes of peripheral white blood cells in a subset of participants from the PREDIMED-Navarra randomised controlled trial. 36 participants were allocated to three groups, all consuming a Mediterranean diet. In the first group, the diet was supplemented with extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), in the second group, with mixed nuts, and the third group, which served as the control group, were advised to consume a low-fat diet. Changes in DNA methylation were analysed from blood samples at baseline and at five-year follow-up. The authors observed methylation changes in several genes, related to metabolism, glucose and energy regulation, diabetes and inflammation, after the consumption of EVOO and nuts. They concluded that the beneficial effects of Mediterranean diets that include EVOO and nuts, may, at least in part, be mediated via epigenetic mechanisms. As these foods are high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, the quality of fat may be playing an important role in this mediation.