It has been a week since I last had a chance to write but I am in the thick of the term now so I am all business. The great news is I am getting a chance to research some really awesome stuff like how food affects our genes. I am so totally excited about a relatively new field of study called nutrigenomics which basically boils down to how food (nutrients) effect the expression of your genes.
Let’s say that you have the gene for breast cancer. Nutrigenomics studies why that is turned on in some people and not in others based on many factors, mainly what you eat. Yes, what this means is that your genes are not the end of the story. You can alter whether or not certain genes express themselves based on what you put on your dinner plate. Not only that, the way that you choose to eat will affect your children’s gene expression and all generations to follow.
Here is the scary news, processed food became popular after WW II in an effort to find ways to keep food from spoiling. This means that for many of us, our parents and grandparents were exposed to processed food. Those of us that are 40ish or under probably have two generations before us that have eaten processed food and by the time we were born we were probably on a diet that was mainly processed. This is BAD news because processed food is void of real nutrients and filled with manipulated chemicals that are unfamiliar to our body.
Here is the great news, now we know better. Our genes are not set in stone so even if the last 30 or 40 years have been a bust, you can alter your genes by changing that now. Great news to all of you parents, you can change your kids gene expression (epigenetics) and their kids just be taking processed food off of the table. Below, you will find a brief paper that I wrote today with some solid science relating to nutrigenomics if you want a little more. Empower yourself and change the course of your wellness!
How does nutrition effect the expression of genes?”
The relatively new field of nutrigenomics is beginning to unravel bits and pieces of information that compose the story of how nutrition effects gene expression. Food is a complex mixture of chemicals. Some of these chemicals provide energy via metabolic pathways and some are bioactive in controlling gene expression or regulatory pathways (Kamut et al., 2007). While there is still so much that is unknown, researchers have begun to see connections between epidemiological patterns in early childhood nutrition and adult chronic disease which may be explained by the chemical interactions between genes and nutrients (Waterland et al., 2004). However, one study by Jim Kamut, 2007 states that “One of the great challenges facing the field of nutritional genomics is the development of methods that can quantitatively assess nutrient intake in individuals. Coupled with analyses of nutrient intakes are analyses of metabolites (metabolomics) generated through metabolic processes, which could differ because genetic makeups may have different responses to the same diets.”
Per a study titled Nutrigenomics: Nutrient-Gene Interactions, by Siddeque et al., scientists have known for some time that prokaryotes respond to changes in nutritional status, however, the control of gene expression in multi-cellular beings involves complex interactions of hormonal, neural, and nutritional factors. The study also states that there are three main effects of nutrients on gene expression which adds even more dimension to this complex study:
1. Direct interactions: Nutrients, sometimes after interacting with a receptor, behave as
transcription factors that can bind to DNA and acutely induce gene expression.
2. Epigenetic interactions: Nutrients can alter the structure of DNA (or of histone
proteins in chromatin) so that gene expression is chronically altered. 328 Siddique et al.
3. Genetic variations: Common genetic variations such as single-nucleotide polymorphisms
(SNPs) can alter the expression or functionality of genes.
Siddeque added “All of these mechanisms can result in altered metabolism and altered dietary requirements for nutrients.”
One major point of interest surrounding epigenetics and nutrition is the interactions that may effect disease and disease heritability. In his 2004 paper, Early Nutrition, Epigenetic Changes at Transposons and Imprinted Genes, and Enhanced Susceptibility to Adult Chronic Diseases, Robert Waterland, et al. states “Certainly, “nutrient– gene interactions” in humans enable various nutrients to transiently influence the expression of specific subsets of genes. In addition to these phenomena, however, it is becoming increasingly evident that by interacting with epigenetic mechanisms, which regulate chromatin conformation across entire genomic regions, transient nutritional stimuli at critical ontogenic stages can wield lasting influences on the expression of various genes. Moreover, such epigenetic changes, if they occur in the gametes, may be heritable.” He continues “Epigenetic effects are mediated by methylation of DNA or by methylation, acetylation, or biotinylation of histones, or by both means. Such epigenetic modifications can result in changes in gene expression that can last throughout a person’s life and can even persist across generations.” This means that the choices that our grandparents made knowingly r unknowingly may be affecting our likelihood for disease development. Waterland adds “Extensive human epidemiologic data have indicated that prenatal and early postnatal nutrition influence adult susceptibility to diet related chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cancer. These epidemiologic data are bolstered by numerous studies in animal models clearly showing that subtle nutritional influences during development can influence adult metabolism. Understanding the specific biologic mechanisms underlying such phenomena should enable early life nutritional interventions, or even corrective therapies, aimed at preventing chronic disease in humans.”
There is still so much to be discovered about the interactions between nutrients and gene expression. However, one point is becoming very clear, the choices that we make at the grocery store and in our kitchens have lasting effects on our health and the health of our offspring. I would guess that over years to come, we will gain a clearer understanding about the depth and importance of those decisions. The most enlightening aspect of this research to me is that we can control some aspects of our health. Our wellness is not a destiny that we are handcuffed to but an experience that is constantly adapting to our environment and our choices.
Kaput, J. (2007). Nutrigenomics – 2006 update. Clinical Chemistry & Laboratory Medicine, 45(3), 279-287.
Siddique, R., Tandon, M., Ambwani, T., Rai, S., & Atreja, S. (2009). Nutrigenomics: Nutrient-Gene Interactions. Food Reviews International, 25(4), 326-345.
Waterland, R. & Jirtle, R. (2004). Early Nutrition, Epigenetic Changes at Transposons and Imprinted Genes, and Enhanced Susceptibility to Adult Chronic Diseases. Nutrition 20(1), 63-68.