Nutrition is important, right? People need to eat enough calories to maintain their metabolic rate, and eat a variety of foods to get all the necessary vitamins and minerals. They need to do this without ingesting extra energy, which would be stored as fat. Getting some antioxidants is beneficial as well. But there is so much more to nutrition than that. Recent studies have shown that the food we consume also affects how we express our DNA and how future generations’ DNA is expressed.
For those of you that might be a tad rusty on that, let’s do a quick refresher. All organisms operate based on a code in our cells, DNA. DNA is made up of individual parts called nucleotides. The combinations of nucleotide segments are called genes and these are the things that make all the different parts of the cell. DNA encodes genes which make up an organism’s genome. The important thing about all this, besides the fact that it is what allows us be alive (which, if you think about it, is a big deal), is that the genes in our cells can be turned on and off by environmental factors. What you eat, smoke, drink, slather on your body, breathe in, and touch can all change which genes are expressed and which are inhibited. This, in a nutshell, is how the epigenome works. Basically, your environment can help control your genome. Usually, the genome itself does not change, but how it is used can be.
An example of this has been shown in mice. A pregnant mouse was fed a diet of food containing a common chemical in plastics. The offspring’s genes were altered by the chemical resulting in them being obese and more likely to get diabetes and cancer. When the mother was fed the same diet with the addition of soy and folic acid, the offspring’s genes were normal and showed no signs of obesity. This experiment showed that the soy and folic acid, which are found in common foods, can counter the negative effect of chemical contaminants. In human studies, common things like smoking and tanning have also been shown to not only affect your own wellbeing, but the wellbeing of your children as well.
After reading this, you may be worrying about how your genes are being maintained. What effect did those pizza rolls from last night have on your genes? What the heck is in antiperspirant anyway? Never fear, Tri-Beta is here. The negative effect caused by chemical contaminants can be countered by eating foods that produce positive effects including spinach, whole grain products and drinking some good old red wine. The nutrients in these foods help inhibit the genes that manifest into unwanted conditions, like diabetes and cancer. If you have a family history for a certain condition, you may not be fated to get it. By being smart about what you put in your body, you can help prevent the chance of getting a disease that runs in the family. Eating healthy foods is definitely not a license to go drink lighter fluid. However, a reasonable diet can certainly help you in more ways than just maintaining a healthy weight. Maybe we are what we eat, but now you know that means more than what you originally thought.
Still worried about your genes? Want to talk to other, equally informed individuals about the consequences of artificial coloring? Join Tri-beta! Email us at email@example.com for questions, information on the club, and comments. Warning: we will not do your biology homework!