In Your Genes? So What!

The science of epigenetics is really what The Bright Side is all about, because it gives our choices an element of importance, it gives us an element of control, and that is good news! The science of epigenetics is our key to health and vitality, because unlike the science of genetics which relegates our role in our health to an “afterthought”, because after all: “it’s in our genes”, epigenetics ..

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

The world of health is filled with poorly examined assumptions. It isn’t all that long ago, for example, that pasta was considered a health food. When I was growing up in the 1960’s and 70’s, margarine was known to be a healthier choice for your bread or potatoes or corn on the cob than butter. Recently the so-called “Central Dogma” has been promoted as the cause of both health and disease. The “Central Dogma” is a biochemical theory, first described by Francis Crick in the 1950s that basically states that once something is programmed genetically, it can’t be changed. In other words, once something is “in your genes”, that’s it.

GenesThere are no other points, according to the “Central Dogma”, of control for the production of proteins, for the production of chemicals, for the production of of YOU.

Now, whether or not the fact that Francis Crick was one of the guys who discovered DNA (at least that’s how the story goes), whether his role as discoverer, is important for his championing of DNA as the final determinant of how our lives and bodies show up is really besides the point. The fact is that until very recently it was the opinion of medical professionals, scientists as well the average person on the street, that our diseases are in our genes and that’s that.

If something is coded genetically cancer, for example, than cancer it is and cancer it will be. Doctors recommend the removal of organs typically the ovaries or the breasts, because of the supposed likelihood of the appearance of cancers based on genetic history. Christina Applegate’s preventive double mastectomy of a couple of years ago is just one of the more famous recent examples.

Well fortunately the days of the preeminence of the genome are quickly coming to an end. What is being recognized today by more and more health care professional as well as their patients is that the structure and components of our environment have a large role to play in what kinds of expressions are produced by our genes. It’s all part of a science called EPIGENETICS, as in superior to or above genetics. Epigenetics was mentioned in Time Magazine as one of the top ten medical discoveries of 2009 and it basically frees us from the tyranny of our genes. In other words, no longer do we have to be held hostage to our genetic history. No longer to we have to be so terrified of our DNA that we feel that our only recourse against genetic disease is to have our organs removed.

The science of epigenetics is really what The Bright Side is all about, because it gives our choices an element of importance, it gives us an element of control, and that is good news! The science of epigenetics is our key to health and vitality, because unlike the science of genetics which relegates our role in our health to an “afterthought”, because after all: “it’s in our genes”, epigenetics states that what is produced, expressed at the genetic level is connected to the lifestyle choices we make. By the choices of the foods we eat, the supplements we take and even by the thoughts we think and the emotions we feel. All these factors are predominant influences in what shows up as our bodies and as our chemistry for better or for worse, because they all effect our genes.

Dr. Bruce Lipton who was one of the earliest proponents of the theory of epigenetics actually has pictures in his book “The Biology Of Belief” of black mice who were made albino by manipulation of the mother mouse’s diet. In other words what type of offspring was produced from a genetic perspective were changed by an epigenetic manipulation, in this case the mother’s diet. This well-reported and multiply verified phenomenon should be as significant to humanity as Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation was to American slaves in the mid 19th century. This new scientific reality is in essence humanity’s emancipation from genetic slavery. It does however make our choices much more important. Epigenetics in effect makes us as conscious, volitional choice-making beings responsible for our health.

And that’s the Bright Side, that’s the good news. Yes, your genes are control points for who and what we are, for the color of our skin and eyes and hair, for the production of mutations and malfunctions as well as for the extraordinary biochemical miracle the living body produces on a nanosecond basis. But, they are not fundamental. Rather, they are flexible. And they are flexible to or responsive to superior control points. In other words there are control points above genetics, epi-genetic and many of these epigenetic points are nutritional molecules. In fact gene activity depends on a wide variety of nutrients which can function as on-off switches. What this really means is that we can literally feed our genetics, for better or for worse. The latest scientific literature shows that genetics is not a hard-wired, fixed and rigid system, but rather a flexible and responsive biochemical milieu that adapts to environmental and chemical changes during the lifetime of it owner.

This is especially true with nutrition and has given birth to a new science called “nutrigenomics”, the study of the effects of nutrition and foods on genetic expression. There’s even a peer-reviewed medical journal called “The Journal of Nutrigenetics and Nutrigenomics”. Just to give you a little taste (so-to speak) of what I’m talking about, recent articles studied the effects of biotin starvation on fuel metabolism genes. Another article discusses the effects of dietary flavanoids (fruits and vegetables) on inhibiting cancer promoting genes.

What seems to have happened is that as our abilities to manipulate foods has evolved over the last 100 years or so, the rising incidence of diet related diseases has sparked scientists to study the effects of foods on health. Given modern medicine’s fascination with genetics, it was only a matter of time before someone thought to examine the effects foods could have on genes. What was discovered was that nutrients literally act as signals that give cells information about what is being eaten and that information is then transferred to the genes and appropriate responses are taken. That means genes will be turned on or off.

Now, when you think about your food as genetic signals, does that at least change our opinions about what we’re eating? Now, while clearly information that relates food to genetics is just now being exposed, many observers have suspected a correlation for years. As early as the 1960s it was reported that pregnant women who were deficient in folic acid were giving birth to babies who had genetic-based birth defects. Today all pregnant woman know that they better be taking extra folic acid to prevent babies being born with Spina bifida, a horrific birth defect where infants are born with the spinal cord exposed. However the nutritional aspect of genetic health was not fully realized until the human genome project was completed and scientists began to dig deeper into the mysteries of DNA.

What was found was that the old saying “you are what you eat” has a special relevance for genetics. In large part, your genes are what you eat. What’s really scary about this is that our genes are basically the same ones that our caveman ancestors had. And those were genes that were designed to thrive on diets that were filled with protein, good fats, lots of vitamins and minerals and anti-oxidants. That’s why many of the diseases that we suffer from today are the result of the foods we’re eating. Our genes were nurtured on different foods. When our bodies are being fed by substances that our genes don’t recognize, which is what a 21st century diet is filled with, genetic health is immediately compromised. In essence, our genes are getting chemical signals that they don’t recognize.

That’s one of the reasons that diets that are high in processed foods and refined sugars and artificial sweeteners can have such negative effects on our overall health. As familiar as a hamburger and fries and a soda are to our families, they’re complete strangers to our genetics. Just calories themselves can create genetic changes as for most of humanity’s time here on planet Earth starvation was a much more common genetic fact than satiety. Last week we talked about strategies for encouraging satiety in order to overcome holiday eating. That was based on outwitting our genetic tendencies. So, what are some other DNA enhancing strategies we can use to improve our genetic health.

Well, one of the most important areas to work on when it comes to enhancing DNA health is energy as well as protection from the sparks that can fly off in the production of energy. Energy is made in specialized structures that live in cells in the thousands and nutrients that play supportive roles in energy production and protection can be very helpful in allowing genes to function optimally. One of the most important of these nutrients is Coenzyme Q10 which is involved in carrying bits of energy from one part of a chemical reaction to another part. It’s an energy shuttle or an energy carrier and deficiencies, which are somewhat common can cause defects in energy production which can lead to weakness and fatigue. Because CoQ10 in the body is made with the same chemistry that cholesterol is made with, deficiencies are a common side effect of the statin drugs. If your taking Lipitor or Mevacor or Zocor, you want to make sure that you’re supplementing with one or two hundred milligrams of CoQ10 every day.

Folks with DNA defects in the mitochondria can suffer from energy production problems and Coenzyme Q10 has been used successfully to treat many patients with these genetic disorders. In fact everyone would probably be smart to use CoQ10 on a daily basis. Even though healthy people can make CoQ10, a little extra jolt of this non-toxic supplement has been shown to improve muscle function, heart function, blood pressure, memory and even crow’s feet around the eyes when it’s applied topically. There’s at least two studies that show that folks with muscular dystrophy can benefit and there’s some literature that shows that patients with post polio syndrome may benefit as well. Alpha Lipoic Acid is also involved in energy production genetics. It suppresses the activity of factors that turn on inflammation genes so it can play an important role in improving inflammatory disorders like arthritis or autoimmune diseases. It increases and protects the genetic activity of the mitochondrial DNA resulting in more energy and it plays a critical role in the chemistry of sugar metabolism.

Diabetics would do well to be taking 200mg of Alpha Lipoic Acid every day and in fact everyone should probably be taking it on a regular basis. It’s also found in meat and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts). Because aging involves damage to mitochondrial DNA, Alpha Lipoic Acid has general anti-aging benefits as well. Recently Dr. Bruce Ames, who is considered one of the premier genetic scientists in the world, has reported that Alpha Lipoic Acid in conjunction with another nutrient, Acetyl-L-Carnitine dramatically improved and in fact reversed declining energy levels in laboratory animals.

This combination has also been shown to work in improving the activity of fat metabolism and may have weight loss implications. Acetyl-L Carnitine and its parent compound Carnitine are also found in beef and pork products and to a lesser extent dairy and fish. Acetyl L-Carnitine is carried into the brain where it helps support the manufacture of brain chemicals, so it would be wise to include it in a general anti aging protocol, maybe 1 or 2 grams a day is a good place to start. There are also nutrients that help support the manufacturing of genes, as well as their repair.

Prominent among these substances are the B-vitamins, without which, the building blocks for genes wouldn’t exist. And the B-vitamins are involved in turning genes on and off thru a process called methylation. Scientists have actually shown that fixed genetic traits like eye color and skin pigmentation can be manipulated by depriving or supplementing mothers with the B-vitamins. We talk about the B-vitamins a lot on this program and these are just more reasons to make sure your body is saturated with these substances. They’re water soluble so don’t worry about getting too much because you’ll simply excrete what you don’t use. It’s difficult to get large amount of the B’s from food, unless you’re eating farm fresh, because these substances are unstable and break down over time, especially if they’re exposed to heat or to light or to oxygen.

That’s why supplementing is important. And in liquids not pills. Powdered B’s dissolved in water are so effective that many people notice immediate clarity and boosts in energy. I like the Youngevity Beyond Tangy Tangerine, which has a got a whole host of other nutrients in their too. Then there’s the Essential Fatty Acids. Remember, in nutrition the word “essential” means it’s not made in the body so it must be obtained in the diet or supplementally. EFA’S are genetically active and in fact have been shown to reduce the incidences of several genetically dependent cancers. Specifically forms of both prostate and breast cancer were genetically modified creating reductions in their incidence when subjects were given Omega-3 fatty acids from fish. Other studies have demonstrated the effects of dietary fats on liver genes.

So clearly appropriate fat intake is an important part of genetic health. Then there’s Vitamin E, which protects genes anti oxidants can disable genes in cancer cells. Selenium supports cancer suppression genes. Then there are the phytonutrients in plants, fruits and vegetables. Sulfides in garlic and onions, phytates in beans and grains, glucarates in tomatoes and citrus fruits, lignans in flax and seseme, and other seeds, isoflavones in legumes, indoles in broccoli and cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables, ellagic acid in grapes and berries, Bioflavanoids and carotenoids found in algae and seaweed and almost all fruits and vegetables have been shown to modify gene expression and to protect against degenerative and age-related diseases. Human detoxification enzymes can be genetically modified to improve their performance and increase their numbers, AT THE GENETIC LEVEL! That means better detoxification of poisons. Vegetables are loaded with these substances. The cruciferous vegetable are especially important in this regard, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, but all plant materials contain some phytonutrients that up the production of detoxification and anti-cancer genetics.

More and more we are seeing that nutrient intake plays a large role in the activity of what was until now thought to be a largely independent realm of biochemistry. In fact many scientists and nutritionists the diets of the future will probably be individually designed to maximize the health of specific genetic profiles. For now however, nutrigenomics is just another instance and example of how critical nutrition is maintain health and wellness even if something is in your family history or, “in your genes”.