Everyone says you are what you eat, but, for some reason, the majority of the world’s population seems completely oblivious to this fact. Yet pure science and simple experiments have managed to definitively prove what naturopaths have been saying for centuries: What you eat changes you, down to your very DNA. As it turns out, our diet can influence what genes are more active or suppressed. Basically, it can determine whether genes associated with conditions like obesity, type 2 diabetes or heart disease are hyperactive or functioning within parameters.
It’s particularly easy to ignore that our diets directly affect our health when the foods around us taste so good. General practitioners who don’t take food into consideration when treating their patients certainly don’t make it any easier. In this context, new studies that point to the relevance of food in connection to our DNA are an essential step forward.
We don’t even know the half of it
The nutrients that the human body receives in utero, as well as the ones it feeds on after being born, invariably affect our genes. The prevalent opinion is that our genes determine how nutrients are broken down and then absorbed by cells. Scientists thought that all information other than the pure genome is deleted when a new embryo is formed. However, in 2013, when the human DNA was completely mapped, a lot of variables were still missing. This much was clear because the genome on its own could not explain all of the physiological processes we are currently familiar with.
Obviously, more things were going on with our genome than we were able to see. Until now, the separate field of epigenetics was associated with the changes that our DNA undergoes as a result of outside forces, i.e. our diet or the environment we live in. The separation of the fields was necessary because scientists thought that the genome itself does not change – only its surroundings do. Now, evidence shows that the characteristics of these surroundings, chemicals and enzymes, can irrevocably affect our bodies as they develop.
For instance, in mice, the risk for chronic diseases and radical differences in weight and metabolism are greatly affected by the mother’s diet during pregnancy. A study conducted in 2006 concluded that, even if the mother is obese and has an increased chance of developing certain diseases, such as diabetes or cancer, the majority of her offspring are born healthy and with normal health risks, provided that her nutrition is appropriate during gestation. Thus, almost no disposition for chronic diseases or body constitution was inherited as a result of her DNA but rather as a result of eating habits during pregnancy. In human beings, a well-balanced diet has a definitive impact upon our genetic disposition to certain diseases.
The domino effect
Recent studies have proven that an unbalanced diet has a domino-like effect upon the health of the entire organism. In order to maintain ourselves as disease-free as possible, it’s imperative that we have a diet with equal intakes of carbohydrates, protein and fat, according to researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. When either of these categories dominates over the other, the nutrients we get from food become the prevalent chemicals our DNA has in its surroundings. A good example is that of a diet that contains 60% or more carbs. Lab research has found that, in these circumstances, the genes associated with cardiovascular diseases and diabetes start to speed up their processes.
Sometimes, the changes that occur as a result of eating habits are simply astounding. Dr. Markus Ralser, a biochemist from the University of Cambridge, indicates that almost all of a cell’s genes are directly influenced by the nutrients it has access to. All it takes is for a few substances to go missing, and the regular metabolic profile becomes altered in a significant way. Although researchers have yet to exactly pinpoint which food does what, experienced nutritionists have formed a few hypotheses based on the amount of nutrients each food item has.
It’s never been this obvious that current medical practice has a lot to integrate in the fields of nutrition and genetics. Until things change for the better, it’s up to the people who stay informed to take action and ensure that their health, along with that of their families, is headed in the right direction.