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Nutrigenomics: can what we eat have an impact on our genes?

The answer is yes! This is good news because it means we are not simply a result of our genes! I've always compared genes to a high-performance sports cars like a Ferrari. Just because you own one doesn't necessarily mean you're going to be racing down the road at 200 km/h. You need to press on the accelerator first! Put in extremely simple terms, genes are similar: they can be switched on and off so if you don't push the "pedal" they won't be activated. This is what is known as Epigenetics.

Some dietary compounds are known to control these ‘switches’, affecting many health conditions such as cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases, reproductive and neurological disorders and even cancer.

For example, curcumin (found in turmeric), epigallocatechin gallate (present in green tea), resveratrol (present in grapes and berries) and isothiocyanates (found in broccoli and kale) will help to down-regulate certain genes that cause inflammation in the body, as well as those associated with development of cardiovascular disease, some cancers, dementia, and type 2 diabetes . On the other hand, a diet high in sugar and processed foods has been shown to negatively affect those genes linked to cardiovascular health and memory.

Another example - a diet rich in bad fats (mainly man-made trans fats) can switch off the gene for leptin, a hormone that regulates our appetite, making us feel hungrier so we consequently eat more.

More general dietary patterns such as diets with a high Glycaemic load (GL) have also been associated with gene expression, for instance the association between a high GL diet and exaggerated polymorphism of the Adiponectin gene, contributing to insulin resistance and diabetes type II.

In a nutshell, your dietary choices can really make a difference to your overall health and the foods you consume can turn on or off certain genetic markers which play a major – and even life or death – role in your health outcomes.

Food for thought!

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