One morning I checked my Twitter feed and found an interesting link to new research on genes and health. As usual, I began clicking links from one article to another going on an amazing hunt for information. Most of us think of genes as the unchanging and stable part of us inherited from our ancestors. I learned that genes, a part of the DNA molecule, have small chemicals that attach in a process called epigenetics. When they attach to genes, they ‘mark’ the gene. These complex chemical compounds tell the genome what to do, and the marked gene is sometimes passed on as cells divide.
As explained by the National Human Genome Research Institute:
“The epigenome is made up of chemical compounds and proteins that can attach to DNA and direct such actions as turning genes on or off, controlling the production of proteins in particular cells. When epigenomic compounds attach to DNA and modify its function, they are said to have ‘marked’ the genome. These marks do not change the sequence of the DNA. Rather, they change the way cells use the DNA’s instructions. The marks are sometimes passed on from cell to cell as cells divide. They also can be passed down from one generation to the next.”
Where do these chemical compounds come from? Diet, lifestyle, and disease – do you live on nutrient deficient fast food? do you smoke? do you use pesticides? are you exposed to a high chemical load? have you taken medicines due to illness? All of this and more affects your epigenomes. Research indicates that your parent’s (and ancestor’s) epigenomes can also be passed to future generations.
A new study conducted on yeast was explored by The Daily Mail (yeast is used as a common model for fundamental cellular processes). The study was published in the journal Nature Microbiology. Dr Markus Ralser, a biochemist at the University of Cambridge and the Francis Crick Institute, London, who led the research, said: ‘Cellular metabolism plays a far more dynamic role in the cells than we previously thought. Nearly all of a cell’s genes are influenced by changes to the nutrients they have access to. In fact, in many cases the effects were so strong, that changing a cell’s metabolic profile could make some of its genes behave in a completely different manner.
The researchers found almost nine out of ten genes, and the proteins they produce, were affected by changes in cellular metabolism. Our cells need a steady supply of nutrients to survive and perform the necessary functions. You can influence your genes by your lifestyle and diet. If you smoke, quit. Avoid smoky places. Investigate natural insect control. Do not use RoundUp on weeds. Look at the chemicals in your home and your food. The nutrients and/or chemicals from what you eat affects your DNA and tells it how to function.
In the 1960’s the phrase ‘You are what you eat’ became very popular. It now seems it is much more accurate than we thought. This explains why changing the diet can improve the health of people with diabetes, heart disease, and so many other conditions. With research we know that cruciferous vegetables, such as cauliflower, broccoli, and cabbage, naturally support your body’s ability to fight tumors. The spice turmeric contains curcumin which is known to modulate genetic activity by destroying cancer cells and encouraging healthy cell functions. WebMD reports: Research with twins found that a Mediterranean diet filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low in saturated fat overcomes bad genes in regards to heart disease. Research will continue as we explore how certain foods affect our genes and our health. We have the power to affect our genes and our health by making healthy choices in diet and lifestyle.
The Daily Mail, Nutrients in Foods Can Change How Genes Behave
Medical News Today, Solid Foods Take Over Shaping of Gut Microbiota by 9 Months
National Human Genome Institute, Epigenomics
Nature.com, Nature Microbiology, February 1, 2016
Organic Consumers, You Are What You Eat