How Nutrition Affects your Genes

Epigenetics are Epic Genetics

Your mother always used to say “you are what you eat” right? Not even she knew how truly profound the implications of that simple expression are. To say you are what you eat does not even go far enough. It starts in your genes, and ends in your jeans. New research actually indicates that in some sense you are doing more than creating what YOU will become. According to recent science, what you eat could be determining what your children and grandchildren will be like.

An example of research that proves this point is what are called the Agouti mice. These mice show the power of the epigenome. “Epi” refers the the idea that the gene signaling process is “above” or “in addition to” the actual physical gene. This epigenetic process is what determines how a cell will express the codes inside the genes. In other words, it decides which ones will be turned on or off. It is like the “software” to the DNA which is the “hardware”.  These are actual chemical signals, like a language. The only way our body sends these signals is by having available materials to generate them.

Genes and Food

There is a lot of technical and scientific information about DNA methylation (regulating DNA expression through chemical signals). There are also other intricate processes that could be brought into the discussion. This is not a site for scientists and special jargon, and really, words can be either be used to confuse or inform. This site is for basic understanding of complex processes, and we try to explain in a way anyone can understand.

Food is a combination of chemicals which provide information. It is also stored energy and specialized materials used by the body for anything from growth to fighting disease. This information is distributed to cells for them to build cellular components, renew themselves, and orchestrate all the complex functions taking place each moment of every day. Each food has a specific role. This is why eating a good variety of food, particularly vegetables, a person is providing specific tools the body needs. It uses these tools to regulate the expression of the genes contained in the nucleus of each cell.

Individual cells all require these tools to create healthy tissue and allow the whole body’s systems to function at the highest level. They also serve to combat and even prevent disease. As an example of this various studies support the role of the different colored vegetables and fruits actually having varied therapeutic  effects upon the body systems.

Really, the different colors actually code the foods as containing certain nutrients called phytonutrients or phytochemicals for vital body functions. “Phyto-” just means “from plants”.

Food Colors and Their Meaning

White fruits and vegetables

White fruits and vegetables contain nutrients such as beta-glucans, Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), Secoisolariciresinol Diglycoside (SDG), and other lignans which are estrogen-like phytochemicals that act as antioxidants. These phytonutrients also boost immunity activating natural killer B and T cells. They help reduce the risk of colon, breast, and prostate cancers, and balance hormone levels, reducing the risk of cancers related to hormone level imbalance. Garlic and other members of the onion family are high in allicin, a phytonutrient that lowers cholesterol and reduces blood pressure.

Purple and Blue vegetables and fruits

Purple and Blue vegetables and fruits contain phytonutrients like lutein, zeaxanthin, resveratrol, vitamin C, fiber, flavonoids, ellagic acid, and quercetin. Similar to the previous examples, these phytonutrients support retinal health, lower LDL cholesterol, boost immune system activity, support proper gastro intestinal function, and help with the absorption of calcium and other minerals. They also fight inflammation, reduce tumor growth, act as an anticarcinogens in the digestive tract, and limit the activity of cancer cells. By supporting GI function, all these phytonutrients in all these foods reduce inflammation. This is because much of it is caused by a “leaky gut” which leaches toxins into the body. This then causes your body to attack tissues in the joints which causes inflammation and even arthritic pain.

Red Fruits and vegetables

Red Fruits and vegetables contain phytonutrients such as lycopene, ellagic acid, quercetin, and hesperidin, as some examples. These nutrients help with prostate and urinary health, lower the risk of prostate cancer, slow or mitigate tumor growth, reduce blood pressure, reduce harmful LDL cholesterol, rout out harmful free-radicals, and strengthen soft joint tissue tissue in cases of inflammation and even arthritis. Studies have shown that people who have high concentrations of lycopene in their diet are also less susceptible to heart disease, lung disease and various other forms of cancer.

Yellow and Orange fruits and vegetables

Yellow and Orange fruits and vegetables contain beta-carotene which is converted to Vitamin A, zeaxanthin, flavonoids, lycopene, potassium, and vitamin C. These nutrients particularly beta-carotene, help reduce age-related macular degeneration and susceptability to cataracts. They also reduce the risk of prostate cancer, reduce LDL cholesterol and blood pressure, promote collagen formation and healthy joints, also fighting harmful free radicals, encourage alkaline balance, and work with magnesium and calcium to build healthy bones.

Green vegetables

Green vegetables have chlorophyll, fiber, lutein, zeaxanthin, calcium, folate (vitamin B one most people are deficient in), vitamin C, calcium, and Beta-carotene. These phytonutrients can minimize cancer risks, lower blood pressure and LDL cholesterol levels, and create better gastrointestinal function. This supports healthy bacteria in the intestines. They also support the eyes with nutrients that help retinal health and vision, fight harmful free-radicals, and boost general immune system activity. They can help prevent osteoporosis, kidney stones, and high blood pressure. Vitamin B is active in supporting brain function.  Vitamin D also helps with this being produced by the body when exposed to sunlight. Legumes have high amounts of protein for energy and muscle and organ building materials.

The Tip of the Iceberg

All this is just the tip of the iceberg. Continuing research into this burgeoning area of science continues. As it does, the relationship between biochemistry and the medical community is growing closer and closer.  Modern medicine is starting to use nutrition as actual medically sound therapy for diseases as serious as cancer. I have personally worked along with doctors here in Southern California to integrate nutritional therapy into their practice. Doing so has resulted in easily duplicatable results in patients. We have met with much success changing blood glucose levels and even altering body composition and inflammation. All this just through modification of diet. Even the Surgeon General has issued a report indicating lifestyle choices will affect length of life and quality of life including many chronic conditions.

Further studies have indicated that the diet of a parent can influence the genetic expression in a child, and even a grandchild. The fact is we can alter the quality and possibly the length of our life and that of our offspring with life changes. These changes include diet as well as our environment and activities. What we eat and what we do will program our genes in one of two basic ways. Either they function well and stimulate positive gene function, or they allow disease and chronic disorders to flourish in our system. Quite Obviously not everyone has the same genes. So the epigenome will express different conditions for different people depending on their individual predisposition.


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