Feed Your Genes

Keep­ing your DNA healthy is a rel­a­tively new idea, but it might be the key to avoid­ing many se­ri­ous dis­eases


Q What is epi­ge­net­ics and does it have any­thing to do with my health? — José V., Greenville, S. C. a: The word lit­er­ally means “in ad­di­tion to changes in the ge­netic se­quence.” One of the mar­vels of evo­lu­tion is that each hu­man is very sim­i­lar, yet unique. The rea­son we are unique is be­cause one of bil­lions of pos­si­ble sperm and one of maybe a few thou­sand eggs came to­gether to be­come each of us. So, the ge­netic blue­print for any given per­son will be a unique jum­ble of ma­ter­nal and pa­ter­nal genes that could mix and match in a nearly infi nite confi gu­ra­tion. That’s how we evolve— help­ful traits get passed along be­cause health­ier peo­ple usu­ally bear more healthy chil­dren, who in turn live and thrive to re­pro­duc­tive age.

How­ever, there are other pres­sures on our ge­netic code in­volv­ing fac­tors that turn genes “on” and “off .” Our ge­netic code is a tightly packed bun­dle pro­tected by a coat­ing called hi­s­tones. These can peel back to ex­pose bits of the ge­netic blue­print in re­sponse to very specifi c “re­quests” from chem­i­cal in­for­ma­tion de­liv­ered to the cell, call­ing for the build­ing of a cer­tain pro­tein, for ex­am­ple. Some­times these chem­i­cal re­quests can get mixed up, and

the wrong gene ( for ex­am­ple, a can­cer­caus­ing gene) can get turned on, or a re­pair en­zyme can be made de­fec­tively. Epi­ge­netic pro­cesses are nat­u­ral and es­sen­tial to many func­tions, but if they oc­cur im­prop­erly, there can be ma­jor ad­verse health and be­hav­ioral ef­fects.

Causes of Ge­netic Changes

A wide va­ri­ety of ill­nesses, be­hav­iors, and other health in­di­ca­tors are linked with epi­ge­netic mech­a­nisms, in­clud­ing can­cers of al­most all types, as well as cog­ni­tive, res­pi­ra­tory, car­dio­vas­cu­lar, re­pro­duc­tive, and au­toim­mune dys­func­tion. Known driv­ers be­hind epi­ge­netic pro­cesses in­clude heavy met­als, pes­ti­cides, diesel ex­haust, to­bacco smoke, flame re­tar­dants, poly­cyclic aro­matic hy­dro­car­bons, hor­mone dis­ruptors ( es­pe­cially soft plas­tics), phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, ra­dioac­tiv­ity, viruses, bac­te­ria, and ba­sic nu­tri­ents.

What can be done to re­duce the po­ten­tial for epi­ge­netic changes that can in­crease risk of dis­ease? Look­ing at the list of known driv­ers, liv­ing a clean life should come to mind. It’s re­ally that sim­ple. Of course in an in­creas­ingly pol­luted world, it’s dif­fi­cult to live a com­pletely clean life. But do­ing your very best will make a huge dif­fer­ence, es­pe­cially if you plan on hav­ing chil­dren or your chil­dren want to be par­ents.

Start with mak­ing a com­mit­ment to stop buy­ing food and drink in plas­tic con­tain­ers. We sim­ply must re­duce the de­mand for plas­tic, which is chok­ing up our de­tox mech­a­nisms on a per­sonal and plan­e­tary level. Buy a few stain­less steel wa­ter bot­tles and keep them in your car, in your gym bag, at work, and by your bedside. Re­cy­cle your old plas­tic Tup­per­ware and in­vest in re­us­able glass con­tain­ers. Al­ways keep cloth shop­ping bags in your car, and a small com­press­ible bag in your purse. Never take a new plas­tic bag at the store. Just stop.

Top Gene- Sup­port­ing Nu­tri­ents

Cer­tain sup­ple­ments and nu­tri­ents can am­plify our detox­i­fi­ca­tion ca­pac­ity. In order to clear tox­ins ef­fec­tively, the bow­els have to work well ( a sub­ject of many of these col­umns). You need to sweat reg­u­larly ( ex­er­cise or sauna— mix it up) and also have func­tional uri­na­tion. It’s nor­mal for urine to be a bit yel­low in the morn­ing, but mostly it should be nearly clear. If not, drink more wa­ter.

One of the ma­jor ways in which the en­vi­ron­ment can epi­ge­net­i­cally al­ter your DNA is via a process called methy­la­tion. Some peo­ple do not “methy­late” well and can be helped by tak­ing methy­lated vi­ta­mins, in par­tic­u­lar B vi­ta­mins. More is def­i­nitely not bet­ter. Look for a B multi with methyl­cobal­amin ( the ac­tive form of B ) in doses in the 1,000 mcg range, and methyl­fo­late ( not “folic acid,” which is syn­thetic) in the 500 mcg range.

Vi­ta­min C is also help­ful in lock­ing in good changes and re­pair­ing cell repli­ca­tion mis­takes. I pre­fer a buffered pow­der “to bowel tol­er­ance.” Cut back the dose if stools get loose. Glu­tathione is ar­guably the most po­tent an­tiox­i­dant pro­duced en­doge­nously, and is es­pe­cially po­tent for lung re­pair. The main pep­tide in glu­tathione is NAC, which is a fan­tas­tic and much more af­ford­able op­tion if you aren’t ill, but sim­ply want to main­tain good health. I rec­om­mend tak­ing 600– 1,200 mg of NAC at bed­time. Take the higher dose if you’re try­ing to clear an in­fec­tion, es­pe­cially if your mu­cous se­cre­tions seem sticky or dif­fi­cult to ex­pec­to­rate.

Many of us are also low on min­er­als be­cause of soil de­ple­tion, so a good mul­ti­min­eral sup­ple­ment can also help cells func­tion op­ti­mally. I pre­fer liq­uid mul­ti­min­er­als be­cause of their ex­cel­lent ab­sorp­tion.

What You Eat = Roughly 80 Per­cent of Your Health

Suf­fi­cient sleep, reg­u­lar ex­er­cise, and kind­ness can all fa­vor­ably change epi­ge­net­ics. For younger women, these epi­ge­netic im­prove­ments can be passed down to your chil­dren. You might be fa­mil­iar with the pop­u­lar epi­ge­netic study show­ing that when mother rats lick their pups, they leave epi­ge­netic marks on their ba­bies’ DNA. This, in turn, helps the pups grow up to be calm adult rats. On the other hand, pups who re­ceive very lit­tle lick­ing, groom­ing, or nurs­ing from their moms tend to grow up more anx­ious. It wasn’t their genes that dic­tated their stressed- out be­hav­ior, but their epigenome, which was shaped by the nur­tur­ing be­hav­ior of their mother early in life. Could this hold true for hu­mans? New re­search sug­gests that it might.

What goes into your mouth de­ter­mines about 80 per­cent of your health pro­file. Some peo­ple have “bet­ter genes” than oth­ers, but all of us are at risk of push­ing our genes in the wrong di­rec­tion if we per­sis­tently in­gest un­nat­u­ral chem­i­cals. If you truly de­sire health, choose the clean­est food and wa­ter pos­si­ble ev­ery day. It’s im­por­tant to frame these choices with a joy­ous de­sire to be the best pos­si­ble per­son you can dur­ing your time on the earth. Don’t think of mak­ing healthy food choices from a per­spec­tive of “de­pri­va­tion.” In­stead, make a com­mit­ment to self- care that is gen­tle, au­then­tic, and con­sis­tent.

Your unique self came to this life to be as clear, open­hearted, and healthy as pos­si­ble. If you’re read­ing this, you are luck­ier than most. Do the best you can for your­self. There’s noth­ing bet­ter than liv­ing your best life.

Most an­i­mals make their own vi­ta­min C. But our an­ces­tors lost this abil­ity some 25 mil­lion years ago, so we have to ob­tain it through diet or sup­ple­ments.

Emily A. Kane, ND,LAc, has a pri­vate naturopathic prac­tice in Juneau, Alaska, where she lives with her hus­band and daugh­ter. She is the au­thor of two books on nat­u­ral health, in­clud­ing Manag­ing Menopause Nat­u­rally. Visit her on­line at dremi­lykane. com.

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