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You are what you eat & drink!

October 19, 2011

What is an Epigenetic diet?

We recently posted an article that contained the word “Epigenetics” in relation to diet.  Here is a brief introduction into the subject.  More information can be found here,  here and here.

Epigenetics is: 

The study of heritable changes in gene function not controlled by changes in the DNA sequence.  Epigenetic phenomena play a significant role in development and evolution, and include histone modifications and DNA methylation.
In the late 40’s it was proposed that cells start life undifferentiated and then have the potential to develop different cell types. The DNA is the same in each cell but how is this done?    Epigenetics is the understanding of how the information is passed down through generations and that might not be encoded in DNA.

Can what we eat in our own lifetime affect the biological processes that control important genes such as those involved in cancer?

Tumour cells in cancers generally have comparatively low levels of DNA methylation. Methylation might switch off vital genes and contribute to the development of cancer.  Studies indicate a range of dietary ingredients from alcohol to zinc that might influence methylation and cancer susceptibility. For example, a diet low in folic acid has actually been linked to excessive methylation at certain genes.

A study of patients with stomach cancer linked methylation of an important gene to a person’s consumption of green tea and vegetables.  Other researchers have linked folic acid and alcohol intake to methylation at certain key genes involved in bowel cancer.  Methylation of a gene involved in head and neck cancer is also associated with low levels of folic acid in the diet.

So, if this theory is correct (and seemingly evidence is pointing that way) you could try foods that provide the building blocks for methylation of DNA in the body.  For example, leaf vegetables, peas and beans, sunflower seeds and liver are good sources of folic acid, as are fortified bread and breakfast cereals.

Red wine contains resveratrol and might help to prevent cancer and ageing.  But stick to one or two glasses as alcohol in higher levels might be counterproductive.  And cigarettes are bad news – they contain chemicals that damage DNA and can change epigenetic marks.

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