Updated: Mar 5, 2018
The expression of your genes is modifiable. The way you change their expression is by changing the chemical environment in which they exist: from the foods you eat to the air you breathe. The epigenome reacts to your diet and factors from your environment throughout your lifetime. Good health implies a successful epigenetic adaptation to your environment. Poor health occurs when your environmental load surpasses your genetic capacity to adapt. Your state of health is a result of the interaction between your inherited adaptive capacity (your genes) and your environment. If your environment is problamatic e.g you eat badly; live in a heavily polluted place; don't exercise and suffer from acute prolonged stress then it is likely that your total environmental load will exceed your particular genetic ability to adapt and you will suffer from resulting health issues.
We don't just have one genetic programme running which is pre-disposed at brith. We have millions of possible genetic expressions which are determined by a huge range of epigenetic factors. We can influence these factors by changing the chemical environment in which our genes exist. You are the result of both nature (your DNA) and nurture (your environment). It is incredibly important to understand how this works in order to protect your health.
Environmental contaminants and DNA methylation
There are many harmful environmental factors that affect our health today. One of the most harmful being pesticides that are sprayed onto non-organic food crops to protect them from insect damage. We ingest these toxic chemicals on a daily basis when we eat non-organic food. Even though these toxins are everywhere and we cannot really escape them, there are certain foods that reduce their damaging effects. Foods that are high in antioxidants will help to counteract the damage caused by oxidants and free radicals.
If your body cannot methylate properly, the toxins that we are subjected to from our environemnt build up in our bloodstream and eventually cause disease. Methylation is a chemical reaction that occurs in every cell and tissue in our bodies. It is when proteins attach chemical tags called methyl tags to the bases of the DNA molecule. The methyl groups turn the genes on or off, which can be good or bad for our health depending on the gene being affected.
One cause of faulty methylation is damage due to free radicals or oxidants generated in the environment by sources such as sunlight, pollution, radiation, fried food, poor diet, smoking etc. By the time you grow old there'll be several million oxygen lesions per cell.
During faulty methylation methyl dimmer switches can land on and shut down certain cancer fighting genes increasing our risk of developing cancer. However, it's been proven that certain nutrients can prevent deleterious methylation. For example, EGCG (epigallocatechin-3-gallate), the main polyphenol (a type of antioxidant) found in green tea, can help prevent cancer. For this study click here. Researchers proved how EGCG:
Inhibits faulty methylation and,
Reactivates cancer-fighting genes
We can also get antioxidants from foods containing vitamins A, C and E. An imbalance between oxidant exposure (cell damage) and our antioxidant supply (cell protection) can disrupt the methylation process, causing diseases including cancer. You need to keep your DNA methylation on target by eating antioxidant rich foods and also boosting your intake of vitamins B6, B12, folic acids and other key nutrients which I will cover in future blog posts. By doing this you will be equipping your body with the best chances of defence against harmful environmental factors and supporting your body's natural defences against toxins and free radicals which are everywhere in today's modern world.