Tuesday, July 28, 2015

We are what we eat: how our diet can affect our genome

As I did my PhD in the diabetes research, I am more than anyone conscious about nutrition. Balanced diet is a basis of healthy life. We all know obvious things: avoid fat, preservatives, junk food, salt, reduce meat, etc. But today I would like to speak about something else. Today I would like to speak about how what we eat can affect our genome. Let’s talk about epigenetics. 

Epigenetics describes the cellular processes that determine whether a certain gene will be transcribed and translated into its corresponding protein. In the end it all breaks down to simple chemistry. Your DNA is nothing more than a chemical molecule which can me modified by adding to it an extra chemical group e.g. a methyl group. These small chemical modifications however can have a great impact. Modifications in our DNA will affect the way our proteins are being synthesized. Subsequently, this can affect our whole body metabolism and trigger numerous diseases such as obesity and cancer.

There is accumulating evidence in the scientific literature that the nutrients consumed by us can have a greater impact on our health than we assumed. We all know how women should not smoke tobacco and drink alcohol during pregnancy, avoid raw and smoked meat and fish. But there is much more than that! For instance, if we take mice with complete lack of methylation on agouti gene (prone to diabetes and cancer) and feed them during pregnancy with methyl rich diet (choline, folic acid, betaine and vitamin B12 supplements), they will very likely give a healthy offspring. This experiment demonstrates the importance of womb microenvironment and it’s influence on our health.