We have made amazing strides in recent years in understanding the human genome. Many researchers have been surprised to discover that the DNA sequence doesn’t adequately explain why some of us are more susceptible to diseases such as cancer and diabetes. Instead they have found that the nutrition available to our grandparents can have a profound affect on our health and longevity via what are known as epigenetic changes.
Epigenetics translates literally to “upon the genes.” For example, a common epigenetic change is where a chemical compound known to us nerds as a methyl group is added to the DNA. It doesn’t change the basic code but it changes whether that particularly gene is expressed. Many studies have shown that cancer patients have much lower amounts of these methyl groups on their DNA than the average population.
Besides the availability of food, environmental exposures also lead to epigenetic changes. Higher exposure to pesticides and other chemicals is associated with fewer methyl groups on the DNA. This is leading some scientists to propose that epigenetic changes is one way that pesticides and pollutants contribute to cancer, diabetes, autism, and even attention deficit disorder.
To avoid these negative epigenetic changes that may affect not only your health but also that of your children and grandchildren, it is important to make lifestyle changes to reduce your chemical exposure. Eat organic foods as much as possible. I especially make sure that meat and other foods containing fat are organic because pesticides can be stored in fats. Other chemicals that can influence our epigenetics are the phthalates found in many personal care products and BPA in many plastic food containers, so it is important to use clean body care products and safe food packaging.
Because pesticides can persist in the environment for decades, it is important to consider detoxification even with a clean diet. It is particularly beneficial to support our glutathione pathway, the enzyme system that neutralizes many toxins including some common pesticides. N-acetyl cysteine is an amino acid that helps us make glutathione and is one of my favorite supplements for detoxification. Finally, exercise both helps us detoxify and has been shown to improve our epigenetic markers.