People living in the isolated mountains villages of northern Crete should have poor heart health because of their diet.
But researchers found the genetic secrets that protect them from cardiovascular disease.
The disease is associated with a build-up of fatty deposits inside the arteries and an increased risk of blood clots.
It can also be associated with damage to arteries in organs such as the brain, heart, kidneys and eyes and is one of the main causes of death and disability in the UK.
Although its exact cause was unclear, high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol, diabetes, a lack of exercise, being overweight and bad diets are known to increase risk.
Anecdotally throughout Greece, the residents of Anogia and surrounding Mylopotamos villages are known to be strong and live long and healthy lives, despite their diet.
The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, for the first time made a genetic portrait of the population by sequencing the entire genome of 250 individuals.
Researchers from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute then used the results to give a more detailed view of approximately 3,200 people for whom previous genetic information was known.
They found that a genetic variant known to protect the heart is 40 times more common in this small Greek population than in other European populations
It was a new genetic variant rs145556679* that was not previously known to have cardioprotective qualities.
The variant was associated with lower levels of both “bad” natural fats – triglycerides – and “bad” cholesterol – VLDL.
Previous studies found one copy of this genetic variant, known as R19X, in a single individual in Tuscany and a separate variant in the same gene was found to be associated with lower levels of triglycerides in the Amish founder population in the US.
Lead author Professor Eleftheria Zeggini said: “The Mylopotamos villages residents have the same rate of diabetes as the general Greek population, but…