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Epigenetics


To better understand how nutrition can dramatically affect health, an understanding of the new field of epigenetics is important. Epigenetics proves that environmental factors, including nutrition, can impact genetic expression. This is revolutionary because it was previously thought that this could only occur with mutations -- alterations of the genetic material itself by such things as radiation.

DNA, our genes, are now understood to be like an automobile. The driver is the environment (including nutrients) to which we expose the DNA. How we treat and feed ourselves can not only affect an individual's health, but the health of offspring as well. Disease is not just "one of those things" we have no control over; it is directly related to our choices and those of our parents.

The food part of our environment delivers not just calories, macronutrients, and micronutrients, but information. Food ‘speaks' to our genes, providing a snapshot of the state of affairs of the world in which we live. At the genetic level, the newscast provided by foods has a significant impact on what portions of our genome will be expressed, the phenotype (the outward expression of genes) we will display, how we age, the ability to live up to our genetic strengths, and what diseases we develop. (Integrative Medicine, Vol. 8, No. 5, 2009, page 49)


The DNA molecule has, until recently, been thought of as the ultimate blueprint of life and genetic potential. Epigenetics has changed this thinking. Here is a section of a DNA molecule as it more realistically exists in the body. Note that it is surrounded and associated with complex protein molecules. These molecules, which can be affected by nutrition and the environment, serve as regulators and switches that either permit or inhibit the expression of the genes in DNA. This particular protein complex is called an Enhanceosome and it triggers an immune response to viruses. If the associated protein is altered, the immune response will not take place and viral disease would result. To help understand the scope of protein's importance, consider that if uncoiled and placed end to end, the DNA in a human would stretch to the sun and back 70 times. This is dwarfed by the prodigious protein that is associated with DNA and with other biochemical and structural functions, and highlights the importance of protein in the body and in the diet.

 

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