This simple word typically elicits two responses:
- 1) Some of you are rolling your eyes right now, cursing your Great-Great-Aunt Betty for the unfortunate, “big-boned” genes that you’re stuck with today.
- 2) Others of you are thanking your brilliant ancestors for the phenomenal genes they’ve passed down, and you’re planning on at least 95 years of fantastic health.
But, is it that black and white?
Can those of us that are lucky enough to have “good genes” afford to eat Doritos and fried wings ’til the cows come home? Do others of us that aren’t so lucky (ahem…myself!) have to starve ourselves on raw veggies and chicken broth for the rest of our lives to simply avoid the tube around our waist?
No and no.
Get this – only 2% of our genome is comprised of the 3 million base pairs and 21,000 genes that make us who we are today. The remaining 98% is dubbed “junk DNA,” because scientists thought it was just that – junk.
Yet, with more than 30 papers published in several journals recently, scientists have discovered that this junk DNA is ever-changing in BOTH the short-term and long-term!
This “junk DNA” is biochemically active, and contains gene switches that control when our genes turn ON and OFF, and how much protein they make, which affects all cells and organs in our body.
Think of a light switch. Certain signals to our DNA can turn certain genes on or off, depending on the signal.
The genes you were born with are not your destiny! This is fantastic news!
Case in point, a study published in 2005 analyzed the DNA of a set of 3-year-old twins and a set of 50-year-old twins.
The 3-year-old’s genes were very similar, as noted by the color yellow in the graph.
The 50-year-old twins, however, had very different genetic expression, as noted by the different green and red colors.
This demonstrates that how we live and how we interact with our environment can determine which genes are expressed, and which are repressed.
Let’s take someone born with “good genes,” for example. We’ll call him Burt. Burt eats fast food, burns the candle at both ends, and often walks barefoot on lawns just treated with herbicides (a bit extreme, but you get the picture at least).
No matter how incredible of genes Burt has, based on his environmental decisions, his DNA will turn off some of those “good genes,” and turn on signals that may lead to inflammation, disease, etc.
On the flip side, let’s take a woman named Patty, who was born with genes predisposed to diabetes.
If Patty eats tons of unprocessed, organic whole foods, stays away from sugar and refined foods, gets her 8 hours each night, exercises, and has a great network of family and friends, she can change that so-called permanent outcome.
Patty’s genes for diabetes can be turned OFF, and genes for better insulin sensitivity and optimum health can be switched ON.
5 Ways to Rewire Your Genes
So, how do we change for the better? Maybe, despite good genes, you haven’t been living exactly healthfully, and you know the holiday food rush is here (Eek!). Or, maybe you are fighting an uphill battle with tough genes, and are desperate to change your destiny.
Enter a new field of study, called “nutrigenomics.”
Jumping off our little lesson about “junk DNA,” nutrigenomics is the study of the effects of food and its molecular interaction on gene expression.
Thus, how we eat directly affects this genetic expression. Read on to discover a few things directly in your control to change your genetic fate for the better!
And it can begin with your next bite of food!
1) Turn OFF poor genetic expression by cutting out the sugar.
And when I say sugar, I do mean the typical sugary foods, but also other foods that rapidly turn into sugar – bread, pasta, cereals, chips/crackers, and other baked goods. (See here for better breakfast ideas.)
Sugar and these high glycemic carbohydrates flood us with high levels of blood sugar that our bodies have to work extremely hard at to clear up, because at high levels, sugar is a toxin.
And because our bodies can only store away so much of this blood sugar in our cells, liver and muscles, the remainder ends up stored as fat.
Beyond the fat storage, which we all know is tied to metabolic disease, the overload of blood sugar affects our genes for the worse:
- Insulin resistance (which leads to diabetes)
- Sexual dysfunction
- Weakened bones and muscles
- Depressed immune system
- Slowed neural communication (ever wonder why there’s been an increase in A.D.D. diagnosis in children? Sugar…)
- Stiffens collagen, which leads to premature wrinkling and arthritis (for all the ladies!)
Plus, it is linked to heart disease. The famous Nurses’ Health Study, which assessed over 75,000 women aged 38 – 63 years in 1984, measured the women’s frequency of consumption for 10 years and calculated their respective glycemic load.
The results? 761 cases of coronary heart disease (CHD), and carbs with a high glycemic index were strongly associated with an increased risk of CHD. And, those with a Body Mass Index (BMI) greater than 23 also had a stronger correlation with CHD.
What about kids?
A study published last year surveyed 2,157 adolescents, and found that teenagers eat large quantities of sugar… More than HALF A CUP of table sugar per day, in fact!
Researchers found that teenagers who consumed the largest amounts of sugar – 30% of their diet – were significantly more likely to have lower HDL (“good cholesterol”), higher LDL (“bad cholesterol”), and higher triglyceride blood levels (another heart disease indicator) than those who consumed sugar as 10% of their calories.
2) Turn OFF poor genetic expression by cutting out the vegetable oil.
Yes, we think anything with the word “vegetable” is supposed to mean healthy.
Yet vegetable oils are some of the most processed, refined, and inflammatory food stuffs, and are to blame for a lot of our country’s downward health spiral this past century.
Due to their chemical structure, vegetable oils – i.e. canola, cottonseed, soybean, sunflower, safflower, rice bran, corn, grapeseed oils – impair vitamin absorption and are prone to oxidation, which can cause inflammation in the body (including lining our arteries and forming plaque).
Vegetable oils, which really weren’t in use until the turn of the century, are used by manufacturers because they’re cheap and they give food a more solid texture and an increased shelf life.
Similar to sugar, vegetable oil consumption is linked to:
- Insulin resistance
- Sexual dysfunction
- Heart disease
A study in 1965 examined 80 heart disease patients over two years, with one group consuming 80g of corn oil (vegetable oil) and minimal animal fat, another group consuming 80g of olive oil and minimal animal fats, and the other control group had no instruction for dietary changes.
After two years, the control group with the highest fat (and animal fat) intake had the best mortality outcomes, with 75% alive and with no heart incidents.
The worst was the corn oil group, where more than 25% had CHD incidents and deaths, two people developed diabetes, and it was concluded that:
“Corn oil cannot be recommended as a treatment of ischemic heart disease.”
Believe it or not, when heart disease was at a minimum in 1900, the average consumption of butter was 18 lbs./person per year, and vegetable oil was 11 lbs./person per year.
Currently, heart disease is the #1 killer in America.
And we’ve decreased our butter intake like the government told us to down to 4 lbs./person per year, and our vegetable oil consumption has skyrocketed to 59 lbs./person/year!!
That’s because almost every processed food, packaged food, fast food, and restaurant foods are laced with these vegetable oils. Start looking at food labels and sneaking peaks into restaurant kitchens (you’ll see the mysterious yellow oil they use!), and I promise you’ll see what I mean.
And look at the correlation with heart disease…
3) Turn ON good genetic expression by eating your medicine.
And by medicine, I mean whole foods; unrefined, minimally processed, natural foods that grow in the ground or have a mother.
Vegetables (greens, especially!), fruits, low-glycemic starches (beans, quinoa, oats, sweet potatoes, etc.), nuts/seeds, meat/poultry/eggs, minimal full-fat dairy, and healthy fats are medicine.
I want to highlight two of these groups:
A) Vegetables are especially alkalizing to our blood, which helps our body’s pH stay at its happy, slightly alkaline state of 7.35. We’ve all read and heard about it – the colorful array of plant foods are high in phytochemicals and antioxidants, which help fight free radicals and oxidative damage from, say vegetable oils and sugar, and help promote thriving health!
Vegetables protect the brain, help fight cancer, improve bone health, help weight loss and maintenance, and improve heart health. Plus, they are low in sugar, which helps keep blood sugar steady and keeps those good genes switched on.
Variety is key to getting a wide variety of nutrients from different sources, and both raw and cooked forms are beneficial for good enzymes, nutrients and digestion.
To help consume at least 3-5 servings a day (more is better!), try eating greens every day, such as spinach, salad greens, Swiss chard, broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, kale, etc. I promise you’ll rethink your scarred childhood memories of eating brussels sprouts when you try them sautéed with onions and fried in bacon grease!
Also, try eating a variety of colored vegetables every day – carrots, peppers, beets, tomatoes, cauliflower… These pack powerful cleansing punches for the body, and can be combined in salads, soups, and even pureed with other foods (i.e. potatoes, etc.).
B) Healthy fats are extremely necessary for the body’s optimum health.
Get this – fat makes up 50% of the brain, 53% of breast milk, and 50% of our cell membrane structures! Fat is our body’s preferred fuel source – hence the ability to live 40 days without food.
Without it, our nervous systems become taxed, and our body has less energy and structure to our very cells.
In our fat-phobic culture, I’m seriously going to start a fat-loving revolution because it’s that important to thriving health.
Scared of high cholesterol and heart disease tied to saturated fats? Don’t be. It’s all a myth.
A meta-analysis done in 2010 involved over 347,000 subjects and follow-up of 5 – 23 years. And…
“No significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD [was found].”
Great sources of nature-made fats include:
- Olives and olive oil
- (Organic) butter (strengthens the immune system, full of heart-protective, bone-protective antioxidants!)
- Coconut oil and milk
- Bacon and lard
- Grass-fed beef
- Wild-caught fish (salmon!)
- Pasture-fed chickens & eggs (YUM)
- Flaxseed oil (not to be used while cooking, though)
They DON’T include man-made fats like margarine, and the vegetable oils mentioned about that are highly reactive to heat and high in inflammatory compounds.
4) Turn ON good genetic expression by eating organic!
The less the chemical exposure, the better. In a world where 42 BILLION pounds of chemicals are made or imported daily, that’s a really hard thing to dial down.
Chemicals change our genetic expression for the worse – mutating genes, overloading our livers, and promoting harmful, inflammatory processes.
Check out my article here to read about the benefits of eating organic, such as a higher antioxidant content, better sustainability for the environment, and less chemical exposure.
Even the President’s Cancer Panel, which monitors and executes activities of the National Cancer Program and reports DIRECTLY to the President, printed a report that suggests the following:
“Exposure to environmental contaminants can result in harm to health because they may alter or interfere with a variety of biologic processes, including hormone production and function, DNA damage, and gene expression or suppression.”
“Exposure to antibiotics, growth hormones, and toxic run-off from livestock feed lots can be minimized by eating free-range meat raised without these…”
“Exposure to pesticides can be decreased by choosing… food grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers”
Yes, organic is expensive. And more time-consuming.
But, we pay the farmer now, or we pay the doctor later.
And, by golly, there are ways around it!
5) MOVE your bod for the best genetic expression!
We weren’t designed to sit in cubicles and stare at computer screens all day… Which is why I used to be that girl, sitting on an exercise ball and standing while talking on the phone in the office.
We are designed to MOVE! It is not an option, in fact, because it is that vital to healthy blood flow, energy, weight loss and maintenance, heart protection, mood, stamina, and sex life.
- Short spurts of sprinting (during hunting)
- Heavy lifting (while carrying animal carcasses and/or children + climbing trees)
- Moving a long time at a slow pace (nomadic roaming, gathering, etc.)
You don’t have to put on a loin cloth and go around grunting to get the benefits. Start with walking, and move to these small ways to exercise that add up to big benefits in the realm of optimum gene expression and health.
So, there you have it.
You can literally start turning off unhealthy genes that lead to unbecoming fates, and switch on healthy genes for a quality life RIGHT NOW.
Because that’s what it’s all about, right? The intangibles of feeling well, being well, and doing well with and to others during this incredible journey.