I have been learning quite a bit about epigenetics of late. By no means am I an expert at this point, however I am impressed with the science. I think mostly for me, it supports the basic philosophy — of course in a most whittled down summary — that what you ingest affects and shapes the human genome.
What is Epigenetics?
Wikipedia describes it in the most easy-to-understand terms, so I am choosing to give you this lay, if not totally comprehensive definition:
In the science of genetics, epigenetics is the study of cellular and physiological phenotypic trait variations that result from external or environmental factors that switch genes on and off and affect how cells express genes.
Essentially the genome can be altered slightly by environmental factors and these changes can be passed down through generations. The study of epigenetics is now extending to new breakthroughs in autism and cancer research. Additionally, over the past decade or so, the science has resulted in big information emerging in food science – how what we eat directly affects our very cells and whether negative or positive cell growth occurs. ScienceinSchool references the academic research on the food we eat:
Many components of food have the potential to cause epigenetic changes in humans. Curcumin, a compound found in turmeric (Curcuma longa), can have multiple effects on gene activation, because it inhibits DNA methylation but also modulates histone acetylation. Figure 4 shows further examples of epigenetically active molecules. Epidemiological studies, however, suggest that populations that consume large amounts of some of these foods appear to be less prone to certain diseases.
I am excited about this aspect of the research particularly, because I absolutely believe that mushrooms changed my own health and Turmeric is so essential for optimal brain health. Currently it seems, the central focus is on fruits and vegetables, especially the foods with histones which are natural tumor suppressors. Mercola.com points to the academic data from the medical community on broccoli, for instance:
Dr. Jean-Pierre Issa at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center says… histones can “hug” DNA so tightly that it becomes “hidden from view for the cell.” If a tumor suppressor gene is hidden, it cannot be utilized, and in this way too much histone will “turn off” these cancer suppressors, and allow cancer cells to proliferate. Certain foods, such as broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, garlic, and onions contain substances that act as histone inhibitors, which essentially block the histone, allowing your tumor suppressor genes to activate and fight cancer. By regularly consuming these foods, you are naturally supporting your body’s ability to fight tumors.
Science is so fascinating! The fact that we can all play a part in our own cell activation is more than exciting for me. Eat well now vs. take a pill later… It’s option 1 – every time!