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Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
3:19 AM Wed, Nov. 21st

FROM THE DIETITIAN’S NOTEBOOK: ‘You Are What You Eat’: Epigenetics

Two new exciting bio-sciences: Epigenetics, which refers to modifications made to DNA (genetic material) that can turn genes “on” or “off.” These modifications do not change the DNA itself, but instead, affect how cells “read” genetic information; and Nutrigenomics, which is the study of how foods affect our genes and how individual genetic differences can affect the way we respond to certain nutrients in the foods we eat. These two new sciences are getting a lot of attention these days, especially Nutrigenomics because of its potential to prevent, mitigate, or treat chronic diseases such as cancer, through small, easy-to-use dietary changes.

In a groundbreaking study reported in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, researchers have found that special components located within commonly consumed edible plants (including ginger, carrots, grapes and grapefruit) are able to communicate directly with animal cells in the gut. This is accomplished through regulating the expression of their genes (turning them off or on), which can provide significant therapeutic health benefits. This beneficial cross-kingdom conversation appears to be due to the actions of tiny RNA genetic molecules found in food that are capable of altering gene expression within humans.

Enabling the RNA molecules to do their job of communication between the cells of plants and the cells of humans and other animals are small plant vesicles known as exosomes, which carry RNA, fats and proteins between plant and animal cells, yet are not destroyed by digestion. As a result, this intercellular communication vehicle provides new beneficial properties such as helping to regenerate damaged tissue, promoting anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities, and aiding in reprogramming the receiving cells of the host.

The study researchers go on to point out, “It is well established that a plant-derived diet has great influence on regulation of mammalian host cell homeostasis (well-being), in particular, cells in the digestive system.”

This study helps to expand the relevance of “food as medicine” in the practice of medicine and in the prevention of chronic diseases. Furthermore, we know that whole foods carry very strategic forms of biologically beneficial information essential to the support of our genetic and epigenetic “physical blueprint.”

Many health experts believe that our present reliance on a diet of over-processed foods has resulted in a profound incompatibility with the types of beneficial foods eaten by our ancestors. It’s interesting to note that mammals, including humans, and over 250,000 species of plants co-evolved together over the past 200 million years. Therefore, the very molecular fabric of our bodies evolved to intimately depend on the presence of various essential food components from the natural world, the loss of which can significantly undermine the integrity of our well-being.

Another example of “food is medicine” is the fact that pomegranates are rich in bio-identical estrone (female hormone), which can help to support complex hormonal pathways in the body. Turmeric is another example of a plant with over 600 health benefits, and which is also able to influence the expression of thousands of genes all at one time.

Bottom line: The quality and types of foods you eat are just as important in terms of your “biological destiny” as the DNA found within your specific genome (complete set of your genetic information).

A final Word to the Wise from Thomas Edison: “The doctor of the future will give no medication, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.”