Last week, this blog presented the concept of epigenetics and how our life choices can affect the expression of our genes. Not only do our choices affect us, but they may also affect the genetics of our offspring.
Along our sequences of DNA are the recipes for optimal human survival. Humans have different requirements for living than a lion or a bumblebee, yet all animals follow the same biological laws. According to biological law, the nutrients necessary to thrive as humans, or any animal for that matter, can be found on the genes.
Learning from our ancient ancestors.
So what are these genetic requirements and what exactly do we as humans actually need? Much can be learned by looking at the diet of humanity’s ancestors. Although our ancestors may have died from acute diseases, chronic disease did not exist. Hygiene may have been poor in these early humans, but they did practice ideal movement and nutrition.
The evolution of the human diet over the past 10,000 years from a more paleolithic diet (a form of eating before the agricultural revolution) to our modern diet has resulted in profound changes in feeding behavior. We have shifted from diets high in vegetables, fruit, quality, lean meats, and seafood to foods that are high in processed sugars, sodium, hydrogenated fats and low in fiber. These dietary changes have negatively affected dietary parameters, resulting in an increase in obesity and chronic disease, such as cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes, and cancer.
The top killers in the U.S. are chronic diseases, with heart disease leading the way (National Center for Health Statistics, 2017, n.p.). Although modern medicine has found ways to combat many acute diseases, we are still lagging on ways to combat chronic diseases. Five of the top ten leading causes of death in the U.S. are chronic disease related, with the top three being only chronic disease (heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease). According to the research 95% of cancers are preventable! Including breast, cervical, colorectal, lung, oral, prostate, skin and testicular. The contribution of genetic factors and environmental factors towards cancer risk is 5–10% and 90–95% (Preetha, 2008, n.p.).
Disease Prevention Tools.
Diet is one of the most critical, yet often overlooked, prevention tools we can use towards chronic disease. The foods we consume can affect the expression of our genes through DNA methylation. According to Rettner (2013), DNA methylation is the addition of a methyl group, or a “chemical cap,” to part of the DNA molecule (n.p.). In theory, a cancer gene can be “turned off” from attachment of a methyl group. Where are many of these methyl groups found? Fruits and vegetables of course!
Familiar nutrients like folic acid, B vitamins, and SAM-e are key components of this methyl-making pathway. Diets high in these methyl giving nutrients can rapidly alter gene expression, especially during early development when the epigenome is first being established (Anand, 2008, n.p.). Thus, you can literally prevent cancer cells from reproducing with every vegetable you eat!
Many times the reason that offspring develop the same diseases as their parents is not because of genetics, but because offspring tend to grow up in the same environment and learn the same behaviors as their parents. Kids learn how to eat, how to move, how to think from their parents.
Genetics and family history can no longer be an excuse for people with chronic disease or chronic pain. If a parent is unhealthy, the odds are their offspring will be unhealthy as well. If you want to interrupt the cycle of disease in your family, change the environment your family is living in and start to notice the changes.
What to do about it.
Rather than focusing on calorie intake and weight loss, shift your focus to a more genome centric lifestyle. Focus more on foods that our body and genes require. In doing so, your results may not be instant, but the impact will be sustainable and long lasting. You will begin to notice your clothes fitting looser, your cravings subsiding, increasing energy levels, and quicker immune responses. Most importantly, you can improve quality and length of life by preventing chronic disease.
Next week, we’ll get into more detail about what our bodies need in order to live a genome centric lifestyle. Below are links to learn more about the genome centric lifestyle as well as articles and research that support it.
Anand, P., Kunnumakara, A. B., Sundaram, C., Harikumar, K. B., Tharakan, S. T., Lai, O. S., . . . Aggarwal, B. B. (2008, September). Cancer is a Preventable Disease that Requires Major Lifestyle Changes. Retrieved August 26, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2515569/
Genetic Science Learning Center. (2013, July 15) Nutrition & the Epigenome. Retrieved August 21, 2018, from https://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/epigenetics/nutrition/
Jew, S., AbuMweis, S. S., & Jones, P. J. (2009, October 26). Evolution of the Human Diet: Linking Our Ancestral Diet to Modern Functional Foods as a Means of Chronic Disease Prevention. Retrieved August 26, 2018, from https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/jmf.2008.0268
Kummer, C. (2013, December 30). Your Genomic Diet. Retrieved August 26, 2018, from https://www.technologyreview.com/s/404465/your-genomic-diet/
Munro, D. (2015, February 03). U.S. Healthcare Ranked Dead Last Compared To 10 Other Countries. Retrieved August 26, 2018, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/danmunro/2014/06/16/u-s-healthcare-ranked-dead-last-compared-to-10-other-countries/#2a805e7576fd
National Center for Health Statistics. (2017, March 17). Retrieved August 26, 2018, from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm
Preventable Cancers. (n.d.). Retrieved August 26, 2018, from https://preventcancer.org/education/preventable-cancers/
Rettner, R. (2013, June 24). Epigenetics: Definition & Examples. Retrieved August 26, 2018, from https://www.livescience.com/37703-epigenetics.html