Diet and Genes
The maturing field of genetics is showing us what many clinicians have suspected for years — foods can immediately influence the genetic blueprint. This information helps us better understand that genes are under our control and not something we must obey. Consider identical twins, both individuals are given the same genes. In mid-life, one twin develops cancer, and the other lives a long healthy life without cancer. A specific gene instructed one twin to develop cancer, but in the other, the same gene did not initiate the disease. One possibility is that the healthy twin had a diet that turned off the cancer gene — the same gene that instructed the other person to get sick.
For many years, scientists have recognized other environmental factors, such as chemical toxins (tobacco for example), can contribute to cancer through their actions on genes. The notion that food has a specific influence on gene expression is relatively new. From the moment of conception, the genes our parents give us provide continuous molecular instructions to cells and tissues, and ASSESSING FUNCTION AND PREVENTING DISEASE 21 ultimately the heart, lungs, brain, muscles and the rest of the body. In doing so, your health is regulated by what would seem to be a predetermined set of plans. However, genes, along with their diverse set of detailed instructions, are significantly influenced by the very foods you eat, and at each meal. In fact, the whole process of aging — how well we age and how long we live — is controlled throughout our lives through the impact on genes by nutrition. The foods we eat can actually turn on or turn off specific genes, and with it, detailed instructions regarding specific diseases. The bottom line: A good diet turns off genes that cause disease, and a bad diet turns on disease-causing genes.
While we all have genes for diseases, they act like a light switch — they can be turned on, or turned off. The diet is like a finger controlling the switch. So what you eat — the quality and quantity of food at each meal — can dictate whether you turn on a particular genetic switch for diabetes, for example. The same is true for virtually all the problems that reduce the quality of life, and for the diseases that kill us. This also includes being overweight — whether your parents were overfat or not isn’t the issue but rather how and what you eat. Many people use “genetics” as an excuse for their health problems — “my parents had this problem,” “my grandfather had that problem.” This attempt to justify ill health is no longer valid. Unfortunately, this defense is propagated throughout our culture, with the media partly to blame. Headlines touting “research shows addiction is genetic” or “obesity gene discovered” is a distortion of the truth promoted to sell newspapers and magazines. Let’s look at the facts. We may be predisposed to addiction or obesity, predisposed to diabetes, heart disease, cancer or any other problems, but if we become addicted, fat, diabetic etc., we are to blame, not our genes.