Nutrition and lifestyle changes have a great effect on your gene. It is a common misconception that what gene you inherit from your parent is permanent.
As we know that gene determines everything, your body structure, and intelligence. Moreover, a person inherits genes from their parents, and parent lifestyle affects children’s genes.
So, the genes are always evolving, and the lifestyle and environment changes may awaken individual genes and/or suppress future genes.
Before we move into details, let’s understand some terms like Epigenetics and Gene Expression.
What is Epigenetics?
Since the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003, much has been discovered about epigenetics.
Epigenetics is the study of hidden influences or changes in gene activity without changing the primary DNA sequence.
Changes in the epigenome (cellular material of the gene) can be triggered during pre-natal life by various environmental factors affecting the mother (nutrition, stress, xenobiotics, nursing behavior) and, to a minor extent, the father.
When the epigenome of monozygotic twins (derived from the single ovum) was analyzed, the findings revealed that as the twins grew older and lived different lifestyles, changes to the epigenome were different for both twins. However, they had the same DNA sequence.
When scientists studied different sets of twins, the results revealed the twins that lived apart the longest showed the greatest differences in their epigenome. This research supports a strong correlation between the environment and how it can affect the human genome.
The primary way in which genes are blocked or prevented from being expressed is through a process called methylation.
Methylation is the biological transfer of a methyl group (a carbon atom with three hydrogens attached to it). It is much like the passing of a baton from one runner to another in a relay race.
Our genes’ hidden influences are the on-off switches that control each gene’s expression and how they work.
The discovery of DNA methylation has led researchers to explore further how this process works at the gene level.
This could lead to the prevention of many devastating diseases and allow people to change their diet and lifestyle.
Are we stuck with the genes we inherit
Most people believe that if they inherit a certain gene for a particular disease such as cancer, they are destined to get it.
The discovery of epigenetics has disputed this theory. This new knowledge that our genes have an on/off switch gives many people the ability to take charge of their own health and future generations’ health.
Although we inherit genes from our parents and grandparents that can make us more susceptible to some diseases, we can also change these genes’ expression with the choices we make.
How nutrition affects Gene Expression?
Dr. Weston Price, a dentist and a pioneer in nutritional research, has proven the connection between nutrition, disease, and gene expression.
In the 1930’s he was researching indigenous diets of the primitive people. His research has led him to theorize that if we eat our natural ethnic diet of unprocessed foods, our mental, physical, and dental health will be optimal.
He discovered, as soon as people strayed from their indigenous diet, the disease became prevalent. The parents’ diet was also shown to affect the health of their children.
When parents adopted a processed food diet, the children showed signs of dental caries, structural abnormalities, and had immune system problems.
Dr. Weston A. Price, in his book “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration,” also written that he found evidence indicating that when the parents adopted a more modernized diet of processed foods, that it affected the germ plasma, causing defects in the fetal structure as well as the brain.
The data indicates that instead of dealing entirely with hereditary factors, we are dealing in part with distortion due to the inhibitions of a normal hereditary process.
Role of nutritional deficiencies in Gene Expression
A breakthrough in research came when Drs. Joseph and Mary Goldberger discovered that the disease Pellagra was not genetic or caused by an infection but was caused by a nutritional deficiency of B3 (Niacin).
Scientists are now aware that nutritional deficiencies actually cause many diseases otherwise considered to be related to bad genes. Vitamins and minerals are key players in modulating gene expression.
Some of the key vitamins that play a role are B6 (pyridoxine), B12 (cobalamin), and folic acid. They do this by masking certain parts of the genes that should not be expressed.
The mineral zinc helps by regulating how the genetic message is translated into protein synthesis in the cell.
Over the years, altered gene expression signals a message to your body, telling it how to perform, Dr. Bland illustrated in his book “Genetic Nutritioneering.”
Ensuring your diet contains the appropriate vitamins and minerals is important in maintaining health by ensuring your genes are regulated. Along with these vitamins and minerals, another important nutrient is found in plants called phytochemicals, also known as phytonutrients or antioxidants.
These plant-derived nutrients can modify gene expression when consumed in the diet. These nutrients are found in green leafy and root vegetables, fruits, raw nuts, and seeds.
They contain antioxidants such as phenolic compounds, bioflavonoids, saponins, terpenoids, and certain pigments known to prevent cancer. Researchers have identified a host of active substances in these anticancer plant foods that modify gene expression and help protect against diseases, as per Dr. Jeffrey S. Bland.
Research shows the importance of nutrition, beginning from the germ plasma (of both parents) to pre-natal through all the years of our lives.
The bottom line
Although certain genes are inherited from one generation to the next, that does not mean we are destined to succumb to the disease associated with that particular gene.
With this new wealth of knowledge regarding epigenetics, many changes are expected to occur in the future of medicine. Nutritional science is embracing the opportunity to increase research on gene-diet interaction.
This new era of nutrition recognizes the complex relationship between the individual’s health, its genome, and the life-long dietary exposure. Moreover, it also leads to the realization that nutrition is essentially a gene-environment interaction science.
Future generations will take their genetic information that shows the susceptibility to certain diseases or conditions and make nutritional interventions and other lifestyle changes to prevent the disease from occurring.