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Do you know anyone, or do you yourself, say “Oh it’s in my genes, so it’s out of my control.” But what if your genes don’t actually have to determine your destiny, and you could control the way they are expressed through healthy diet and lifestyle choices? In this article I lay out the mind-blowing research on epigenetics. This is yet another way for you to take control your health.
WHAT IS EPIGENETICS?
When we are born we inherit certain genes from our parents which are made up of DNA. Many believe that our genes control what health issues we experience and we have to live with that outcome forever. Certainly, we cannot change our genetic code, but we can change the way they are expressed, by switching them on or off. This is called gene expression or epigenetics. The term epigenetics was invented by the biologist Conrad H. Waddington in the 1900’s. Epigenetics is an emerging field of science that studies alterations in gene expression caused by factors other than changes in the DNA sequence. (Epigenetics: The Death of the Genetic Theory of Disease Transmission)
In his research, Cellular Biologist Bruce Lipton, PhD proves that environment determines the fate of the cells, not the genetic blue print.
“I placed one stem cell into a culture dish, and it divided every ten hours. After two weeks, there were thousands of cells in the dish, and they were all genetically identical, having been derived from the same parent cell. I divided the cell population and inoculated them in three different culture dishes.
“Next, I manipulated the culture medium—the cell’s equivalent of the environment—in each dish. In one dish, the cells became bone, in another, muscle, and in the last dish, fat. This demonstrated that the genes didn’t determine the fate of the cells because they all had the exact same genes. The environment determined the fate of the cells, not the genetic pattern. So if cells are in a healthy environment, they are healthy. If they’re in an unhealthy environment, they get sick.”
A cell membrane is covered with thousands of receptor proteins which interpret different signals from the environment, and then relay that information back to the cell. This process controls how genes are read and expressed. The genes chosen to be activated are the direct result of signals from the environment.
“Our genetics hold the gun, our environment pulls the trigger”.
– Dr. Michael McGregor, Founder of nutritionfacts.org
You can have a genetic predisposition to a condition. For example you may have a family history of diabetes, heart disease, obesity etc. This means you are at a higher risk for these health issues, but it doesn’t mean it is your fate.
WHICH ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS EFFECT GENE EXPRESSION + HOW YOU CAN TILT THE SCALE IN YOUR FAVOUR
Diet plays an obvious role in influencing epigenetic changes in the body. Numerous studies in humans, animals, and cell cultures have demonstrated that macronutrients, micronutrients and phytochemicals such as flavonoids and carotenoids, regulate gene expression in a variety of ways. These chemicals in food directly impact metabolic reactions that determine everything from hormonal balances and immune competence to detoxification processes and the utilisation of macronutrients.
Only 5-10% of all cancers are due to genetics, whereas the remaining 90-95% are caused by environmental and lifestyle factors.
In his book, The China Study, Dr. T Collin Campbell proves that in experimental animal studies, animal-based protein (casein) turns on tumour development when fed above a total dietary protein level that supports optimum health (above 10-12% of calories). What we eat every day has been shown to have a major influence on both the development and prevention of cardiovascular disease.
Your gut microbiome plays a role in activating gene expression. What you eat very quickly effects the balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut. A diet rich in fibre from plants regulates bowel movements thereby reducing the exposure of microbiome to toxins. The gut microbiome metabolise the phytochemicals found in high fibre foods which positively effect gene expression.
So which foods should you focus on for optimal health? Consuming a variety of antioxidant-rich foods like berries, citrus fruits, herbs, tomatoes, vegetables, leafy greens, and nuts help us to maintain optimal health. Garlic, onion and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli contain anti-carcinogenic compounds which may help prevent disease.
By eating a whole food diet based on fresh fruits and vegetables you are creating a healthy gut microbiome and naturally supporting your body’s ability to prevent disease. As Dr. T Collin states in his book “The China Study”, eating a whole food plant based diet will also provide you with an adequate amount of protein which doesn’t work to turn on cancer genes.
Beyond regulating the immune system, assisting proper bone development, and preventing disease, Vitamin D seems to have an underlying role in gene expression. Vitamin D effects gene expression through genetic and epigenetic processes, and contributes to the suppression of tumour growth in various cancers.
Adequate exposure to ultra violet rays from the sun is the best and most natural source of Vitamin D. I recommend baring as much of your skin as possible to sunlight every day for 15-20 minutes. If you live in a place where the sun doesn’t shine very often, I suggest supplementing with a high quality, plant based Vitamin D supplement to be on the safe side.
THOUGHTS AND EMOTIONS
In his book “The Biology of Belief”, Dr. Bruce Lipton talks about how the chemicals produced from your brain effect the blood’s chemistry. This in turn determines the cell’s environment. In simple terms, your thoughts and emotions have a direct and significant impact on your cells.
A study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology revealed that meditation has an effect on gene expression. Particularly, it reduced levels of pro-inflammatory genes. Inflammation in the body creates an acidic environment and lays the foundation for disease to thrive. Therefore practicing meditation (e.g. time alone, going for a walk etc.) every day is a great way to cultivate peace and mindfulness. This helps you live in the present moment and respond well to stressors which come up in your life which helps prevent inflammatory disorders.
Remember, you have control of your health – you are not a victim to your genes. By leading a healthy lifestyle you are programming your genes to express in a way that may prevent disease and support you in being the healthiest version of yourself.