Your Genetic Code Is Not Carved in Stone
By Al Sears, MD
New research is revealing how your environment actually changes your genetics - and it's putting you in the driver's seat.
In November, the Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute released the results of their groundbreaking study. They found that a mother's diet during pregnancy not only affects her child, but also her child's offspring.
This means that the lifestyle choices a woman makes can affect several generations of children - a revolutionary idea that flies in the face of conventional wisdom.
For more than 150 years - since the time of Darwin - scientists have believed that any changes to an organism cannot be passed on to the next generation. According to strict Darwinism, if you were to change your diet, lose weight, and become super-fit, your children would not benefit from your efforts. But we now know there is something more at play: the "epigenome." The epigenome plays a powerful role in your health... and could make the difference between whether or not you "inherit" heart disease or diabetes or something else.
Scientists in an emerging field of research - epigenetics - have discovered that your genes are only 15 percent of the total genetic material you get from your parents. For example, your genes give you many individualizing traits like blue eyes or brown hair. The remaining 85 percent - the epigenome - is a scaffolding of proteins that surround your DNA's double-helix pattern.
As it turns out, this "scaffolding" functions as an interface that interacts with your environment. Based on the lifestyle choices you make, the epigenome has the power to turn genes on or off, changing the way your body translates your genetic coding into the proteins that make up YOU.
The Children's Hospital Oakland study, lead by Dr. David Martin, split genetically identical pregnant mice into two groups. The mice had been bred in a way that gave the scientists the ability to monitor a gene that determined both the color of their coats and their tendency to develop chronic disease. So, by tracking coat color, they were able to follow the effects of vitamin supplementation across two generations of offspring.
The first group of mice received a standard diet. The second group received the same diet, with the added benefit of supplemental vitamin B12, folate, choline, and zinc. When the babies were born, the females from both groups were mated and fed identical diets with no supplements. When the offspring gave birth, Dr. Martin's team discovered that the original mice that had the diet with extra vitamins passed the benefits on to both their children and grandchildren.
Findings like these have powerful implications in both directions. It means that, by making healthy choices, your efforts can have a positive effect not only on your children but on your grandchildren as well. On the other hand, a diet of fast food and sodas will not only wreck your own health, it could predispose future generations to chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
That helps to explain why so many schoolchildren suffer from high blood pressure and low HDL (good cholesterol). The poor dietary choices their parents made are coming home to roost.
This discovery gives us new insight into a long-standing debate between Charles Darwin and a guy you may never have heard of - French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck.
Darwin 's theory, which has been shaping the direction of modern science, can be summed up in a few words: Genes cannot be affected by the outside world. In other words, your lifestyle choices have no effect on your genetic code or how those genes are expressed.
But Lamarck believed that if an organism changes during its life in order to adapt to its environment, those changes would be passed on to its offspring - and Dr. Martin's study is one of several that are proving he was correct.
So, guess what? It looks like you're no longer a "victim" of your genetic programming. If, for example, if you decide to exercise vigorously to develop new muscle, it now appears that it's possible for you to pass on a predisposition to build muscle with exercise to your children... and perhaps even further down your line of descendants.
Conscious decisions to improve your health will interact with your epigenome. In turn, the proteins in your epigenome can turn off genes that would have otherwise expressed themselves as disease in your descendents.
Instead of the old model, think of your genetic code as a library. You have thousands of choices, but you never check out all of the books. The epigenome interacts with your environment and your choices to determine which books to "read."
You can actually "talk" to your genes to improve your health and prevent disease.
I hope you appreciate the power of that last statement. It means you no longer have to live in fear of disease - even if you have a family history of it.
Vitamins like E, C, and A send messages to your genes that normalize cell division. This alone can aid in preventing many forms of cancer.
For vitamins E and C, I recommend taking more than the U.S. government suggests. Start with 100 IUs of vitamin E and 2,000 mg of vitamin C daily.
Here are four other nutrients that powerfully support detoxification and proper genetic expression:
- Vitamin B12: 500 to 1,000 mcg daily
- Folic acid: 500 to 1,000 mcg daily
- Vitamin B6: 10 to 20 mg daily
- Betaine: 200 to 1,000 mg daily
Don't sit back and allow "bad genes" to ruin your health. Take action and make yourself and future generations healthier.
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