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You Are What You Eat

Unprocessed, plant-based diets rich in methyl groups can have a profound effect on our genes

Dr. Padma Garvey/Plant-Based Doctor Mom

You Are What You Eat

In 2003, the world of genetics was turned upside down.  Dr. Dana Dolinoy and other researchers at Duke University did some remarkable experiments that challenged the existing understanding of genetics.  We use to think that we are born with genes that we inherit from our parents, one set from Mom and one set from Dad.  We use to think that these genes were set in stone, that they did not change much, or at all, after we are born.  But the research done at Duke University proved that we were wrong. 

A particular strain of mouse, called the Agouti mouse has  a gene that gives it a yellow coat.  The Agouti gene also makes the mouse prone to obesity,  heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.  A mother Agouti mouse will have baby Agouti mice.  The researchers at Duke took two groups of Agouti mice and gave one group a really healthy diet, rich in soy and other foods that are called methyl donors and gave the second group a regular diet.  The group that got the regular diet had yellow, obese Agouti mice babies.  The group that got the really healthy diet, especially while pregnant, produced thin, brown babies that had lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer!!  The weird thing was that all the mice babies, yellow and brown, had the same exact genes for a yellow coat.  The difference was that the healthy babies had their Agouti genes turned off.  The researchers then took two groups of yellow Agouti mice and gave one group a regular diet and a toxin called BPA and the other group got a super healthy diet, rich in soy and other methyl donors and BPA.  BPA stands for bisphenol A and is a chemical that is used in producing plastics like the plastics in baby bottles, soda bottles, etc.  It is so ubiquitous that it has even been detected in the water supply.  Many worry that it is an environmental toxin that may be linked to some health problems.  The group of mice that got a regular diet and BPA had yellow obese babies that had high rates of health problems.  The group that got the super healthy diet and BPA had thin, brown babies that were healthier!!  Again, all the mice had the same Agouti gene but the group that got the healthy diet had the gene turned off. 

Apparently our bodies use foods rich in chemicals called methyl groups to turn genes on and off.  While pregnant, a woman’s diet can turn genes on and off in her developing fetus……..and can do the same to the genes in her fetus’ future children!  Some of us may be suffering from health problems that can be traced to our grandmother’s diet.  Even after we are born our diets can influence our genes, particularly genes that promote cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.  Depending on our diets, we can turn on and off the genes in our body.  All this makes you reconsider a few things.  First, family history may not be as important as we once thought.  A family history of breast cancer or heart disease does not mean you are doomed to suffer from these problems.  We can, in fact, alter our chances of getting these problems by changing our diets.  Second, prenatal nutrition is profoundly powerful.  We need to avoid certain chemicals that are found in processed foods as these can have a negative effect on our children and grandchildren.  In addition, prenatal nutrition should include and abundant amount of methyl-rich foods. 

A methyl-rich diet tends to be a plant-based diet.  Diets rich in fresh fruit, vegetables, particularly green, leafy vegetables, soy, and nuts are an excellent source of good nutrition.    It is no surprise that people who eat these diets traditionally had lower rates of many health problems.

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