Friday, November 18, 2005

The Influence of Food

Yesterday New Scientist had a fascinating article, The food you eat may change your genes for life, that adds one more perspective to the article I wrote about Gerald Shulman's research findings, Insulin Resistance In Your Cells?

In my previous article I talked about the critical importance of nutrients in our diet - and we get those nutrients from our food. This new article highlights the importance of the food we eat in our health and how the wrong food can mean long-term damage to our genes, sometimes even before we're born.

The article begins with a review of previous research into environmental factors that influence gene expression - in mice and rats - such as foods eaten by pregnant pups and the outcome of offspring and the care of the offspring, neglect or cared for. In new research, the team of researchers showed that a food supplement can have the same effect on well-reared rats at 90 days old - well into adulthood - as neglectful care did in previous research.

The researchers injected L-methionine, a common amino acid and food supplement, into the brains of well-reared rats. The amino acid methylated the glucocorticoid gene, and the animals' behaviour changed. "They were almost exactly like the poorly raised group," says Szyf, who announced his findings at a small meeting on environmental epigenomics earlier this month in Durham, North Carolina.

The researchers believe the reverse may also be true since other research has shown that poorly raised rats - those "stressed" and behaving badly - have been successfully "reversed" to more normal behavior using a chemical called TSA.

Rob Waterland from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas...says Szyf's ideas are creating a buzz, as they suggest that methylation can influence our DNA well into adulthood. A huge number of diseases are caused by changes to how our DNA is expressed, and this opens up new ways of thinking about how to prevent and treat them, he says.

Indeed it does, and on a more fundamental level than just behavior, but on our health! When we eat the "right" foods - that is those that provide our essential nutrients - we are providing the critical things our body needs to function. When we fill our body with non-nutritive things, like trans-fats, high fructose corn syrup, preservatives or chemicals, we're doing the opposite - we're robbing our body of its ability to thrive.

Yes, it will still function, but that function will be impaired - even if we don't feel it happening at first - and create problems over time. Which brings the question - can such damage be reversed? Can we undo years of poor eating habits?

In my opinion, the vast majority of damage caused by a poor diet can be reversed - it takes time, but the body has an amazing ability to heal itself when given the right tools. Those tools are nutrients, and those we get from our food. Choose the right foods and stay away from those foods that are harmful to health and your body can heal itself in time. And, even if the damage doesn't completely reverse, at least you know you're not doing more damage in the long term when you do modify your diet to be nutrient-dense.

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