How many times have you heard, "It's in my genes" or "My parents had it?" The topic of genetics comes up when people talk about their current health or the future of their health because inherited genes influence our health. However, with epigenetics, a new branch of study on how our environment influences our genes, scientists question the belief that DNA predetermines our health, regardless of our choices.
About 30 years ago, modern science began to see a connection between nutrition and disease or good health. The human body is so complex that the simplicity of cause and effect could not and cannot easily apply. Since it takes so long for chronic physical responses to food intake to show up, it is more effective to look at regular dietary patterns than a single nutrient. Although, it is important to note that when the body lacks a certain nutrient it works to compensate for the deficiency which causes some processes in the body to work overtime and others to under perform.
Scientists that are exploring beyond genetics believe that emotions, thoughts, nutrition, stress management and lifestyle choices determine whether or not certain genes get activated. This puts us in charge of our future to age well or struggle with chronic disease.
Scientists think that the food we consume, particularly plant food, can positively alter our gene expression. A plant-based diet consists of colorful vegetables and fruits that are packed with phytonutrients and antioxidants. These are known to contain protective and healing qualities as well as anti-inflammatory properties.
Eating various fruits and vegetables provides protection against oxidative stress. Oxidative stress occurs in basic everyday breathing and thinking as well as during exercise or metabolic processes. It is also a result of exposure to pollution or chemicals in the foods we eat. All of these are known to harm the body's immunity and ability to self-heal.
Additionally, consuming more fruits and vegetables daily can help manage free radicals that promote inflammation and conditions such as heart disease. For example, if we don't consume enough B vitamins, which are found in foods such as spinach and beets, blood vessels can deteriorate, endangering cardiovascular and brain health.
Scientific studies are confirming how certain foods can positively influence our genes so we are no longer limited by our DNA. For this reason, we are encouraged to eat fruits and vegetables that are the colors of the rainbow.
Missy Corrigan is executive of community health for Sumter Family YMCA. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (803) 773-1404.