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You Are What You Eat: Your Diet Alters How Your Genes Behave

Genes are often thought of as a constant in the health equation; something you inherited from your mother and father and were more or less “stuck” with for the rest of your life. This, however, is selling yourself, and your genes, short.

While your genome, or the assembly of your DNA, does not change, your epigenome does — in response to a variety of factors, not the least of which is your diet. As explained by the National Human Genome Research Institute:1

“The epigenome is made up of chemical compounds and proteins that can attach to DNA and direct such actions as turning genes on or off, controlling the production of proteins in particular cells.

When epigenomic compounds attach to DNA and modify its function, they are said to have ‘marked’ the genome. These marks do not change the sequence of the DNA. Rather, they change the way cells use the DNA's instructions.

The marks are sometimes passed on from cell to cell as cells divide. They also can be passed down from one generation to the next.”

What is fascinating about the epigenome is your power to influence it on a daily basis via the foods you eat.

Your Diet Alters How Your Genes Behave

The genes in virtually all of your cells may be influenced by the nutrients available to them, according to a new study conducted in yeast cells. Yeast cells are simpler to study than animal models, but they display similar genes and cellular mechanisms to humans.

The study revealed that nutrients released from food led to changes in the way the genes function.2 The behavior of genes and the protein molecules produced were influenced by the availability of nutrients to the cell.

Proteins, in turn, provide structure or carry out chemical functions of the cell. Study author Markus Ralser, Ph.D., a biochemist at the University of Cambridge and the Francis Crick Institute, London, told the Daily Mail:3

“Cellular metabolism plays a far more dynamic role in the cells than we previously thought … Nearly all of a cell's genes are influenced by changes to the nutrients they have access to.

In fact, in many cases the effects were so strong, that changing a cell's metabolic profile could make some of its genes behave in a completely different manner … The classical view is that genes control how nutrients are broken down into important molecules …

We've shown that the opposite is true, too — how the nutrients break down affects how our genes behave.”

It’s not the first time diet has been shown to alter your genes. For instance, certain foods, such as broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, garlic, and onions contain substances that act as histone inhibitors, which essentially block the histone protein.

This allows your tumor-suppressor genes to activate and fight cancer. By regularly consuming these foods, you are naturally supporting your body's ability to fight tumors.

Curcumin, the active ingredient in the spice turmeric, is also known for its ability to modulate genetic activity and expression — both by destroying cancer cells, and by promoting healthy cell function.

For instance, research published in Biochemical Pharmacology found that curcumin inhibits the activation of NF-kappaB, a regulatory molecule that signals genes to produce a slew of inflammatory molecules (including TNF, COX-2 and IL-6) that promote cancer cell growth.4

Further, research using identical twins has shown that diet trumps genes in terms of the level of health you achieve.

Eating excessive quantities of sugar and grains may be especially damaging, as research shows carbohydrates directly affect two key genes in your body that govern longevity and youthfulness.5


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