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.
But what about our fathers? Another study has demonstrated that food abundance of grandfather was associated with the reduced lifespan for his children and shortage of food for the grandfather was respectively associated with increased lifespan of his children. Could it be due to the fact that during some critical period for the development of the grandfather epigenetic mechanisms are "capturing" nutritional information about the environment to pass on to the next generation?
Nutrigenomics is a growing and exciting field. Learn more about it and read these exciting articles.