question on genes being on or off

what determines if our disease genes are on or off?

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Nutrition determines in large if our disease genes are on or off.

Nurture is reversible; nature is not.
—Matt Ridley
Almost every week scientists announce the discovery of new genes
that may influence our long-term risk of disease. The headlines and
news stories tell us about genes that cause heart disease, Alzheimer’s
disease, breast cancer, prostate cancer, arthritis, diabetes, obesity,
depression, schizophrenia, osteoporosis, and dozens of other diseases.
As if we didn’t already have enough to worry about, we now have to be
concerned with whether we might be carrying any number of genetic
time bombs.
We hear also that gene research may eventually lay the groundwork
for new types of medical treatments. But until that time comes—
and it will be years away at best—it’s easy to feel victimized by our
heredity. After all, we have been told for decades that our genes predetermine
our health risks—genetic fatalism, so to speak—and that we
can’t do anything to change the genes our parents gave us.
Or can we?
The premise of Feed Your Genes Right corrects much of what you
have previously heard.Your genes, of course, are the biological programs
Your Genes Depend
on Good Nutrition
that govern much of how your body functions or, as the case may be,
malfunctions and causes disease. But to the surprise of many scientists,
recent research has revealed that your genes are not rigid, unchanging
determinants of your health. Rather, you can improve your genetic
heritage and the way your genes function. Quite simply, you can offset
disease-causing genetic defects and age-related genetic damage with
certain eating habits, nutritional supplements, and other lifestyle
As incredible as this may sound, the ability to modify the behavior of
your genes forms a key concept in nutrigenomics, the scientific field that
looks at how genes and nutrition interact. A large body of research
clearly shows that the normal functioning of your genes depends on a
good diet and a healthy lifestyle. By applying this research, you can foster
healthier genes, slow your aging process (that is, feel and even look
younger), and lower your risk of virtually every disease. Feed Your Genes
Right explains exactly how you can do this, with easy-to-follow advice.
Is Nutrition All That Important?
People often seem surprised to hear that all of the foods they eat (not
just fats and carbohydrates) affect their physical health, aging process,
stress responses, and appearance. The truth is that the nutrients you
consume are literally the building blocks—the bricks and mortar—of
your body. Good nutrition provides a solid foundation for health. In
contrast, poor eating habits make for a shaky foundation at best.
The importance of nutrition in health is hardly a new idea. More
than two thousand years ago, Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine,
wrote that food was our best medicine. Today many people
understand that some foods, such as fish and vegetables, are healthy
and reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, whereas sugary soft
drinks, doughnuts, and candy bars are unhealthy because they set the
stage for obesity and diabetes.
What has changed since Hippocrates’ time is our comprehension of
the exact details and the full extent of how nutrition affects our health.
Until relatively recently, researchers had a fairly general understanding
of how some nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, affect health. Scientists
have now gained a new and profound knowledge of the specific
ways that foods and individual nutrients affect the activity of genes
and, consequently, the health of the entire body.
With this growing understanding of how nutrients and genes interc01.
act, it is now possible to determine whether you might need extra
amounts of certain vitamins and minerals to stay healthy. Knowledge is
power, of course, and you can use this knowledge to overcome genetic
weaknesses and to reduce, slow, and sometimes reverse age-related
genetic damage. The payoff? You can greatly improve your health,
regardless of the genes you were born with. In a very real sense, you do
not have to rationalize that a particular health problem “runs in my
family,” because you do not have to let the health problem run in you.
Your Genes Are Flexible, Not Fixed
Our genes consist of a microscopic double strand coil of deoxyribonucleic
acid, better known simply as DNA. How are genes and DNA different?
DNA is the equivalent of a biological dictionary. Genes use
DNA to form an entire set of instructions guiding the behavior of each
and every cell in our bodies.
This genetic program functions like the instructions written in a
computer’s operating system, or the underlying program that runs your
computer. Our genetic program governs the entire organization and
operation of our bodies, ensuring that nearly all people are born with
arms, legs, lungs, a heart, and other organs.We often look like our parents
because they were the source of our genes, passing along genetic
programs that determined our hair, eye, and skin color.
However, your genes do far more than program your appearance.
They orchestrate the creation of everything in your body, including
fifty thousand proteins and tens of thousands of other biochemicals.
Although many of your physical features (such as eye color) are fixed,
the genes in charge of your day-to-day biochemical processes are not.
Contrary to what many people have believed, genes are not destiny.
Your genes provide tremendous flexibility in your long-term health,
and you can use that flexibility to your advantage.
Your genes are always responding, in good or bad ways, to what you
eat; to your emotions, your stresses, and your experiences; and to the
nutritional microenvironment within each of your body’s cells. If you
maintain a particularly healthy genetic environment, your genes will
function normally and you will age relatively slowly and be more resistant
to chronic, degenerative diseases. If you maintain a less-thanhealthy
genetic environment, such as by smoking or eating large
amounts of unhealthy foods, you will age faster and be more susceptible
to disease.
The Promise of Feed Your Genes Right
By now you should realize that you do not have to live with health
problems that make you feel less than your best and increase your risk
of premature aging and disease.You also may be curious about the specific
recommendations for feeding your genes right and improving your
As you read Feed Your Genes Right, you will discover how
• some inherited genes may be predisposing you to a variety of
diseases that doctors commonly miss;
• age-related damage to your genes increases your risk of serious
diseases, such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer,
as well as saps your energy levels;
• nutritional deficiencies create biochemical bottlenecks, preventing
genes from fulfilling their normal and intended functions;
• foods rich in sugars and refined carbohydrates boost levels of
insulin, a hormone that alters gene activity and increases your
risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer; and
• certain cooking habits can damage your DNA and accelerate the
aging of your body.
But as the title suggests, Feed Your Genes Right is not just about
what can go wrong with your genes and health. Instead this book
emphasizes what you can do to protect your DNA and offset both
inherited genetic weaknesses and age-related genetic damage. Most of
this book explains how
• healthy, nutrient-dense foods, such as fish and vegetables, provide
optimal nourishment for your genes and turn off many
disease-promoting genes;
• some foods, such as kiwifruit, blueberries, and raspberries, actually
help prevent and repair DNA damage;
• B vitamins help your body make and repair DNA and regulate
the behavior of your genes, something that becomes especially
important after age thirty;
• antioxidants, such as vitamins E and C, protect DNA from thousands
of dangerous molecules each day;
• selenium, an essential nutrient, turns on genes that fight cancer
cells; and
• vitamin-like nutrients, such as coenzyme Q10 and carnitine,
counteract DNA-damaging molecules and boost your energy
The take-home message of this book is really very simple: you can
slow down your body’s aging process, reduce your risk of chronic and
catastrophic diseases, maintain high energy levels, stay sexually active,
preserve a more youthful appearance, and remain mentally sharp as
you reach middle and old age.You can do this by providing your genes
with the best nutritional environment for their normal—and even
The key to accomplishing all of this, simple as it might sound, is eating
nutritious foods, taking certain vitamins and other types of supplements,
engaging in moderate physical activity, and limiting the harmful
negative stresses in life. I’ve succeeded in doing these things myself, and
I have known people in their seventies and eighties who look and feel
decades younger than they really are by doing the same.
The Feed Your Genes Right Quiz:
Assessing Your Health and Risk of Disease
Your risk of disease is influenced by a variety of factors, including the
genes you inherit from your parents and how your genes are shaped by
the dietary and environmental factors unique to your life. This quiz
assesses some of the risk factors affecting the health and function of
your genes. Simply circle yes or no, depending on whether the statement
applies to you.
Your Inherited Risk Factors
I am more than forty years old. Yes No
My father died of a heart attack before the age of fifty. Yes No
My mother died of breast or cervical cancer before the
age of forty. Yes No
Some serious diseases, such as arthritis, cancer, diabetes,
heart disease, obesity, or others, seem to run in my family. Yes No
I was born with a recognized birth defect, such as a cleft lip or a
cleft palate, or I have been diagnosed with a genetic condition. Yes No
Explanation:Yes answers point to a risk of disease related to either
inheritance or age-related genetic damage.
Your Current Health Status
I am a little overweight. Yes No
I am considerably overweight and so is (was) at least one of
my parents. Yes No
My energy levels are not as high as I would like, and I often
feel too tired to do the things I would like to do. Yes No
I have been diagnosed with glucose intolerance, insulin
resistance, Syndrome X, or diabetes. Yes No
I have been diagnosed with some type of cardiovascular
disease or cancer. Yes No
I regularly take two or more different medications for
conditions my doctor has diagnosed. Yes No
The older I get, the more forgetful I seem to become. Yes No
Explanation:Yes answers indicate that your genetics, cell function,
and metabolism have been compromised, most likely because of
dietary or lifestyle habits. The more yes answers, the more seriously
your genes and health have already been compromised.
Your Stress Levels
I am under a lot of stress at home, at work, or while commuting. Yes No
I have a lot of resentment or anger about things that are not
the way they should be in my life. Yes No
I have not been in a long-term relationship for at least several
years, or I am in a relationship that I do not find enjoyable
and satisfying. Yes No
I tend to have a lot of “down” days or often feel depressed. Yes No
Explanation: Yes answers reflect a high level of stress, which can
lead to an imbalance in brain chemistry and altered gene function in
brain cells.
Your Dietary and Exercise Habits
I usually skip breakfast, or I just have something like coffee
and a doughnut. Yes No
I do not like eating vegetables, and I do not eat them regularly. Yes No
I eat a lot of my meals in fast-food restaurants. Yes No
I make most of my meals at home by heating something from
a box in the microwave oven. Yes No
I smoke cigarettes. Yes No
I drink spirits (hard liquor) or beer every day. Yes No
I am too busy or too tired to exercise regularly. Yes No
Explanation: Yes answers indicate that you are not providing a
sound nutritional or lifestyle environment for your genes. Even if you
are currently free of disease, you are experiencing accelerated genetic
damage, which will set the stage for serious chronic disease.
To Finish the Quiz
Add up your yes answers. If you did not circle any yes answers at all,
you are in great shape, have good eating habits, and have good family
genetics. If you circled just a few yes answers, you may be thinking that
it’s nearly impossible to achieve a perfect score—and that this quiz is
stacked against you. But it is not. Rather the quiz is designed to show
how many heredity, dietary, and lifestyle factors can work against you
and the health of your genes. Every person inherits some types of
genetic weaknesses and acquires additional genetic damage each and
every day of his or her life.
The Failure of Gene Therapy
You might be wondering whether it would be easier to wait for medicine
to develop high-tech gene therapies to correct any genetic weaknesses
you have or might develop as you age. The problem with that
line of thinking is that you may be dead before such research produces
any benefits for the majority of people.
The reason is that a lot of gene research has been misguided by
wishful thinking and oversold to investors and the general public. For
example, reports of a “breast-cancer gene,” a “heart-disease gene,” or
an “obesity gene” suggest that a single faulty gene causes each of these
diseases. If this were the case, it might be relatively easy to develop
gene therapies. But the “one gene, one disease” view is overly simplistic.
Only about 10 percent of women with breast cancer have one of the
so-called breast-cancer genes.The truth is that only a very small number
of people have “smoking gun” genes that predispose them to obesity,
diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, or other disorders.
Although you don’t read about it very often, genetic research has
clearly shown that degenerative diseases are actually “polygenic.”That
is, most diseases involve hundreds and sometimes thousands of genes
that go awry. Up to 5,000 malfunctioning genes set the stage for
cardiovascular disease, almost 300 wayward genes are involved in
asthma, and 140 faulty genes contribute to the problem of failing
memory. And with the complex interplay of 30,000 genes and 3 billion
units of DNA, it may very well be impossible ever to design truly
effective multigene therapies to treat common diseases.
Another problem is that despite billions of dollars of research, gene
therapies have so far been an abysmal failure. In most instances they
have simply failed to work, and sometimes patients have developed
cancer or died from mysterious causes. For example, many researchers
have used genetically modified viruses to deliver disease-treating
DNA. In some human experiments, these viruses missed their target
and instead attached to the wrong gene, causing leukemia. The consequences
of manipulating genes are often unpredictable, largely because
of their inherent complexity.
The massive research effort to identify genes and turn gene therapy
into a marketable product has for the most part ignored how genes—
just like the rest of your body—depend on proper nourishment. Many
scientists have been forced to accept the fact that thirty thousand genes
cannot by themselves account for the phenomenal complexity of the
human body. It is now becoming clear that vitamins and other nutrients
directly and indirectly serve as cofactors in gene activity, strongly influencing
how genes function.
Granted, foods and nutritional supplements are low-tech and considerably
less glitzy than the latest much-touted medical discovery.
They may even strike some people as being like quaint folk remedies.
But the science behind nutrition and genetics is solid, and nutrition has
the advantage of helping without causing harm. The most sensible
approach is actually a generic one: for the majority of people, it is to eat
foods and take supplements that enhance normal gene function and
reduce gene damage throughout the body.
In the next chapter, we will look at some of the ways that DNA
becomes damaged, as well as at DNA’s ability to repair itself.

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