Your Genetic Destiny is in your Food
Updated: Feb 2
Our energy levels, health, wellbeing and disease risk are linked to the combined interaction of both nutrition and genetics.
We all know that lifestyle and environment influence our health, but an even greater influence is the relationship between our food and our genes. We have learnt to simply accept that we are stuck with our genes and that our health and pattern of diseases are down to inheritance with very little or nothing we can do to change that! Yes genetic inheritance does play an important role in defining our risk to certain diseases, but we need to understand that our genes are controlled by the way in which we communicate to them and therefore we can alter their behaviour!
... genes are controlled by the way in which we communicate to them
Science has discovered that all our genes store incredible potential for good health. However, this potential is often not realised due to the mismatch between what our genes’ need and what they are being given. In short, our genes’ behaviour is due to the types of foods we choose to eat which trigger our genes to be either switched “on” or “off”.
Most genetically associated diseases need two combined factors: an environment such as perhaps a nutrient deficiency plus a gene sequence that malfunctions. In essence this means the chemical environment can alter the way the genetic material expresses itself and delivers its message to the cell.
For example, women who inherit the genes BRCA1, and BRCA2 have a higher statistical risk of developing breast cancer. But having these genes does not mean you will actually get breast cancer
Only 5% of cancers are due to “bad genes’ whilst 95% are due to an interaction between genes and diet, lifestyle and environment factors
Breast cancer has increased dramatically in the last 100 years or so, in the 1920’s breast cancer amongst 60 to 80 year-old women was a fraction of what it is now. Surely this indicates that something is not adding up, and that there must be another factor involved! Indeed, we know BRCA1 and BRCA2 are genes responsible for encouraging the growth of hormone-sensitive breast tissue and can be overexpressed when exposed to a variety of hormone disrupting chemicals. Therefore, both factors, environment plus gene, are needed for breast cancer to occur.
Science has established that our genes are adaptable in nature through a number of possible variations in expression that can be turned “off” or “on”. This suggests that by changing our environment, in particular our diet (as molecular nutrition has a direct role), we can rapidly change the outcome regarding our health and even longevity. In others words, our gene expression can be reprogrammed by manipulating our environment.
The most direct way to influence genetic expression is through altering our nutritional environment. As far back as 1999, Dr Jeffrey Bland, author of Genetic Nutritioneering, outlines in detail the ground breaking work of modifying inherited traits and living a longer and healthier life. He describes how nutrients found in foods engage in complex interactions with our genetic machinery and that food and beverage choice play a very real and significant role in determining aspects of our gene expression.
What does this mean exactly? Well it means that over the course of our lives, altered gene expression signals a message to our body and tells it how to perform. A poor quality diet leads to poor physiological function, reduced energy and, most alarming of all, an increased risk of diseases, especially age related diseases such as Diabetes type 2, and Cardiovascular diseases.
Each one of us carries different genetic sensitivities to nutrients, therefore, a diet that is optimal for one person may not be even close to adequate for you
Alcohol can Alter Gene Expression
A modest amount of alcohol is metabolised in the liver by the enzyme, alcohol dehydrogenase, but consuming larger amounts of alcohol force the genes to express a different detoxification enzyme (cytochrome P450 1e2). This enzyme releases oxidants that can damage the liver as it metabolises the alcohol. Liver damage seen as a result of excessive alcohol drinking is caused, in part, by the altered gene. However, there is some protection against the damaging effects of oxidants that are released after alcohol consumption, antioxidants such as Vitamin E, which combat the process of altered gene expression.
Inflammatory Reactions and Gene Expression
Citrus fruits have been found to change gene expression by activating detoxification enzymes which turn “off” inflammatory reactions. For example, limonite found in grapefruit can inhibit the formation of cancerous tumours by stimulating the gene expression of the detoxifying enzyme glutathione S-transferase. Furthermore, the pith of oranges changes gene expression that reduces the risk on breast cancer. Curcumin in turmeric, quercetin in onions and ginger all reduce the gene expression that is associated with inflammation. Omega 3 fats change gene expression away from inflammation and towards regenerating cartilage. (see more blogs on Inflammation Overload 1,2 & 3)
Immune Function and Gene Expression
It has been found that inadequate amounts of vitamin E, zinc and carotenoids (found in fruit and vegetables that are coloured orange/red) lead to reduced immune function.
Adequate levels of vitamin E, zinc and carotenoids seem to “talk” to the genes to help improve immune defence
For example, older individuals who have become zinc deprived over their life time have genes that modified their expression as a consequence of zinc insufficiency and they frequently have a poor sense of taste and smell. In adolescents a zinc inadequacy in the diet can be seen as acne and in the elderly as increased risk of infection.
These are just a few examples of the tremendous effects of how eating the right foods can change our gene expression and enhance and promote health. As technology continues to develop in mapping changes in gene expression the list of benefits will grow highlighting that food choices can literally programme our future health and wellbeing.