Real Food, Real Choices and the Human Genome Project

Real Food, Real Choices and the Human Genome Project

Many years ago when the $3 billion Human Genome Project was begun it was promoted as a key to healing the ubiquitous chronic diseases that plague the people of industrialized societies. It was thought at the time that understanding the genetic code of our species would allow us to develop more perfect "magic bullets" to rid us of these troublesome chronic disorders. At this point we see that promise as unrealized. The Human Genome Project has given us lots of useful information, but it has not provided the key to solving diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, etc.

In my opinion, the most useful knowledge obtained through this project is the growing understanding that we have an epigenome. It turns out that we have many genes that control the processes involved in the chronic disorders. Some of these genes turn up the processes and some of these genes turn down and/or stop the processes that create diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, etc. The epigenome controls which of these genes are activated. And the epigenome is controlled to a large extent by our behavior and choices. In other words, what we do, how we feel and what we think determines the genetic activity that drives our bodies’ chemical processes. Essentially this means that we exert far more control over how our bodies work than we previously realized.

Up to this point most Americans didn’t really think they could do anything about what their genes did. "It’s genetic" meant there was nothing that could be done to influence the situation. Now we are realizing that we can have a lot of influence about which of our genes are turned on, or expressed. And it turns out that dietary fats are a great example of this.

It’s been known for quite some time that certain fats enhance inflammation, one of the things most Americans have too much of these days. Many people are not aware of it, but levels of inflammation in the body, as measured by C-reactive protein, correlate much more accurately with heart attacks than do cholesterol levels. In fact over 60% of people who are experiencing an initial heart attack have perfectly normal or even low levels of blood cholesterol. But they very consistently have elevated levels of C-reactive protein. Omega-6 fats, largely from processed and refined vegetable oils, promote inflammation and our "modern American" diets are full of these oils. Omega-3 and Omega-9 fats work to counter inflammation and should be in about a 1:1 ratio with Omega-3’s. In many processed foods (like frozen dinners, packaged foods, fast food, chips, snack foods, etc.) that ratio is more like 20:1, with the "20" being Omega-6’s. It’s no wonder many of our chronic disorders have inflammation either at the root of the problem or as a major component. We are actually turning on the genes we carry for type II diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease by grabbing a quick bite at the drive through and by snatching that bag of chips to tide us over until dinner.

It turns out that the food that is full of Omega-3’s and that dials down our inflammation is the stuff that our Great-Great-Grandmothers cooked 100 years ago. Cookbooks from that time are full of recipes using lots of butter and cream, lard and beef tallow. And heart specialists in that era could go through their entire professional career and never see someone with a heart attack. Now we are moving a little in that direction with fish oil supplements, but we’re trying to balance an entire diet of pro-inflammatory fats with a few supplements. Why not just eat the food that dials down inflammation instead?

That food is the stuff that comes from the farmers directly to us without going through a factory first, just like with our ancestors. Whole milk, butter, cream (not ultra-pasturized), meat from animals who have lived outside and eaten grass, not who were raised on grains and confined indoors. Chickens and eggs from birds who get to peck the ground and find the insects that make the egg yolks dark orange. Wild fish who swam around and ate what they chose.

Science is giving us more and more information about how our bodies are exquisitely tuned into the natural world around us. We’re finding out that the sounds of nature are deeply healing to our nervous systems. We’re discovering that the vegetables and fruits that grow near us carry a lot more of the specific nutrients we need than the food grown thousands of miles away. We exist in a network of life that supports us and nourishes us if we let it. We can tune into the support and nourishment of this network with our forks!

This is real food. This is what our bodies are designed to eat and this is what nourishes us toward true health and happiness. This is the food that lets our epigenome enhance our experience of being alive. And it tastes wonderful, because our taste buds are designed to appreciate it. It turns out our bodies are a lot smarter than our brains on this one.

Resources and works cited:

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