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Dr. Dean Ornish and his colleagues broke ground with their research showing that genes are not your fate. They found our lifestyle choices could turn on or off more than 500 genes that affect your health. Now new research in the emerging field of epigenetics is finding that a healthy diet and lifestyle may not only changes your genes and improve your health, but these choices will set up your children and grandchildren to have healthier lives.

Imagine if you could influence the genes you inherited

Consider heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. Nearly 610,000 Americans die from it every year—that’s one in every four deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Genetic predisposition and lifestyle choices are contributing risk factors for developing cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. So imagine if you could influence the genes you inherited that might place you at risk for such diseases? How would you change if you knew it would not only improve your own health, but also the health of future generations?

Reading Our Genes

A July 2016 study published by scientists at Tufts University in the journal Advances in Nutrition found that epigenetics (“epi” means above), a mechanism that directs our DNA, is far more influential on our health than we thought. By changing our our diet, epigenetics may affect how our genetic code (DNA) can influence our health and that of our children and grandchildren.

All of our cells have coding information in the form of DNA, but our genes alone don’t know what to do without direction. Epigenetic markers―think of them as sign-post tags―tell our cells how to read our genetic code. We pass our DNA and these markers onto our children. But while our genetic code stays the same throughout our life, epigenetic markers can change based on our life experiences.

Over the years, studies have shown how epigenetic alterations may influence our health from inflammation, obesity, and metabolic syndrome, to heart disease, diabetes, cancer and aging. This research has found that certain plant phytochemicals promote antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities. These phytochemicals can influence how our DNA determines our body’s response to stress, metabolism, and immune function. These responses, in turn, can affect whether or not we develop certain cancers and diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The Case for Healthy Lifestyle Choices

There’s little doubt that unhealthy lifestyle choices can alter how genes behave in a way that promotes disease. For example, when Dr. Ornish and his colleagues followed a group of men to learn how intensive diet and lifestyle changes affected prostate cancer, they learned that these changes affected certain genes that impacted the progression or regression of prostate cancer.

How Our Choices Affect Future Generations

What’s more, research has shown that the lifestyle choices you make now are so important because of how they affect your genetic legacy, including the prenatal impact they can have. A June, 2016 study published in Cell Reports found that a mother’s obesity can impair the health of at least three later generations by causing genetic abnormalities which influence obesity-related conditions, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

An earlier 2011 study published in the journal Circulation examined the role epigenetic changes play in heart disease and the impact of nutrition and environmental factors on inherited traits. The researchers found a poor prenatal diet, such as inadequate intake of protein or folate during pregnancy, can result in low-birth weight. These factors can influence the risk for metabolic and cardiovascular diseases later in life.

The takeaway? By making healthy choices now in what you eat, how much you exercise and how you manage stress and relationships, you may be able to leave a legacy of health. Now that’s a game changer.

Do you think about how your diet and lifestyle choices are affecting your future generations?


Contributed by

Carra Richling
Registered Dietitian

Eat well, be well!

Better Health Begins With You...

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