Blame it on the genes! For the past 50 years we have been
told that our inherited genetic blueprint was the ultimate
dice game that Life randomly rolled out for us. For better
or worse, we were stuck with those genes.
We have all heard people say: “Cancer [or diabetes or
depression or heart disease, etc.] is in my family genes.” We
believed that our genetic inheritance put the final stamp not
only on our height, eye color, disposition, habits, weight and
predisposed illnesses but even the length of our life.
The gene theory taught us that organisms are hardwired
in their genetic make up, and that the environment has little if
any influence on the structure and function of the genes. It has
been an impressive and revered scientific theory. Fortunately
for us, however, there is more to the story.
Rewriting Your Genetic Expression
The new revelations in science reveal that we in fact influence
and alter the expression of many of our genes in very profound
ways. Rather than being hostage to our gene pool inheritance,
we actually have the power to alter our genetic destiny in many
This new buzz-word in the field of genetic science is called
epigenetics. It is now acknowledged that genes and DNA are
not the final arbiters of our biology. The startling message of
epigenetics is that our DNA is actually controlled by signals
from outside the cell.
New discoveries have found a major flaw in what was once
considered an immutable scientific truth. Dr Bruce Lipton, a
world-renowned leader in cellular biology and quantum physics
research, proved that our environment—not our DNA—
shapes the development of our cells.
This new field of epigenetics allows each of us to influence
how specific genes can be expressed. Although people enter
the world with a particular genetic code, the epigenetic theory
states that environmental influences determine whether gene
expression is either activated or silenced.
According to Dr Lipton: “Recent advances in cellular science
are heralding an important evolutionary turning point.
For almost fifty years we have held the illusion that our health
and fate were preprogrammed in our genes, a concept referred
to as Genetic Determinacy. Though mass consciousness is
currently imbued with the belief that the character of one’s life
is genetically predetermined, a radical new understanding is
unfolding at the leading edge of science.
“Cellular biologists now recognize that the environment—
the external universe and our internal physiology—and, more
importantly, our perception of the environment directly control
the activity of our genes. The quantum physics behind these
mechanisms provides insight into the communication channels
that link the mind-body duality of our body and the external
Epigenetic changes can be transmitted from one generation
to another, which is rather faster than the evolutionary
changes resulting from natural selection. Epigenetics turns on
its head the conventional wisdom of genetic determinism, the
belief that genes predetermine biological and behavioral traits.
The Environment and Our Genes
When it comes to our genes, we are all unique. The Human Genome
Project tells us that we are 99 per cent different due to a
number of gene variations. Simple genetic variations in humans
account for three million changes alone.
What kind of signals can have an impact on our gene expression?
They can include influences such as dietary choices,
lifestyle factors, environmental exposures and even our thoughts
and feelings. For instance, even though the common observation
is that obesity runs in families, genetic research actually
shows that the habits you inherit from your family are more important
than the genes you inherit. Obesity genes account for
only five per cent of all weight problems. So we have to wonder
what causes the other 95 percent of weight problems.
These are really important questions. The world of epigenetics
empowers us with the answers, allowing us to alter
our life and our world profoundly.
As it turns out, diet is one of the most studied environmental
factors producing epigenetic change. Nutrients in food
enter metabolic pathways and are transformed into molecules
which can be employed by the body.
Dean Ornish, MD, Clinical Professor of Medicine at the
University of California, San Francisco, and his colleagues recently
published a landmark study which demonstrated that
comprehensive lifestyle changes would alter our genes. The results
showed that a combination of improved nutrition, moderate
exercise, stress management techniques and increased
social support caused the expression of over 500 genes to
be changed in only three months—in effect, up-regulating or
“turning on” health-promoting genes and down-regulating or
“turning off” genes that promote heart disease, cancer, inflammation
and oxidative stress.2
The study proved that not all the genes we are dealt are
necessarily the genes we’re stuck with. And, may I emphasize
that all these changes occurred in just three months!
Another impressive study assigned two groups of adults;
one ate a low glycemic index (GI) diet, and the other ate a
high glycemic index diet.3 (Carbohydrates which break down
quickly during digestion and release glucose rapidly into the bloodstream
have a high glycemic index; carbohydrates which
break down more slowly and release glucose more gradually
into the bloodstream have a low glycemic index.) The study
found that, in just 12 weeks, the high GI diet group increased
the activity of 62 genes that lead to disease. These genes activate
your stress response, which lowers your immunity and
causes damage to your cells. However, those on the low GI diet
were found to have some rather astounding results. The low carbohydrate
diet decreased the activity of 71 disease-causing
genes, including hormone-sensitive lipase which is associated
with a resistance to obesity.
One of the telltale signs of aging is the length of our telomeres They are found on the ends of our chromosomes and control how long we live. Older people with shorter telomeres
have between a three and eight times increased risk of dying
from heart diseases and infectious diseases respectively. The
rate of telomere shortening is therefore critical to an individual’s
health and pace of aging.4
One study found that telomerase, an enzyme that repairs
and lengthens damaged telomeres, was affected by lifestyle changes.
Smoking, exposure to pollution, a lack of physical activity, obesity,
stress and an unhealthy diet increased oxidative burden and accelerated
the rate of telomere shortening. To preserve telomeres and reduce
cancer risk and the pace of aging, the opposite was also discovered.
The study found that a diet which included antioxidants, fiber,
soy protein and healthy fats (derived from avocados, fish and nuts)
as well as staying lean, active, healthy and stress-free through regular
exercise and meditation preserved telomere length.5
This was the first study proving that an intervention can increase
telomerase and thus telomere length. This stunning discovery proved
that we have the power literally to turn back the clock.
It turns out that every forkful of healthy food, every step on the
treadmill and even every positive emotion will optimize a gene expression,
turning up the good genes and turning down the bad ones!
A Strange Tale of Two Mice
In a classic experiment, scientists set out to see if they could
change the fate of a genetically altered breed of mouse, known
as the agouti mouse, so called because it carries a particular
gene, the agouti gene. This gene gives the rodents yellow-colored
fur and makes them ravenous and prone to obesity,
cancer and diabetes. The offspring of agouti mice are always
identical to their parents. They are also yellow, obese and susceptible
to life-shortening diseases.
However, in this experiment, the progeny looked very different.
These young mice were slender and brown. Moreover,
they did not display their parents’ susceptibility to cancer and
diabetes and lived to a ripe old age. The effects of the agouti
gene had been virtually erased.
Remarkably, this transformation was achieved without altering
a single letter of the mouse’s DNA. The only thing that
changed was the diet fed to the mothers. Starting before conception,
a test group of mother mice was fed a diet rich in
methyl donors, small chemical clusters that can attach to a gene
and turn it off. These molecules are common in the environment
and are found in many foods, including all cruciferous
vegetables, onions, garlic and beets, as well as supplements
containing folate. The methyl donors influenced the developing
embryos’ chromosomes and worked their way onto the critical
agouti gene. The mothers passed along the agouti gene intact to
their children, but due to their methyl-rich diet they had added
a chemical switch that silenced the gene’s deleterious effects.
Genes themselves need instructions for what to do, and
where and when to do it. These instructions are found not in
the letters of the DNA itself but on it, in an array of chemical
markers and switches—known collectively as the epigenome—
which lie along the length of the double helix. These
epigenetic markers and switches in turn help switch on or off
the expression of particular genes. Think of the epigenome as
a complex software code, capable of inducing the DNA hardware
to manufacture an impressive variety of proteins, cell
types and individuals.
More and more, researchers are finding that an extra bit
of a vitamin, a brief exposure to a toxin, even an added dose
of mothering can tweak the epigenome and thereby alter the
software of our genes in ways that affect an individual’s body.
According to Dr Randy Jirtle, the scientist who designed
the landmark agouti mice experiment: “Epigenetics is proving
we have some responsibility for the integrity of our genome.
Before, genes predetermined outcomes. Now everything we
do—everything we eat or smoke—can affect our gene expression
and that of future generations. Epigenetics introduces the
concept of free will into our idea of genetics.”6
The new science of epigenetics rewrites the rules of disease,
heredity and identity. In order to learn the language of
this new science of epigenetics, it is important to learn a few
Understanding Genes 101
Genes determine what features or qualities we have, and these
are called traits. Each person has the same set of genes—about
20,000 in all. However, we all have a different combination of traits
that make us unique. Traits can be physical, such as our height or
eye color. They can also be behavioral or relate to our chances of
developing certain health conditions.
The differences between people come from slight variations
in these genes. For example, a person with red hair doesn’t have
a “red hair gene” and a person with brown hair doesn’t have a
“brown hair gene.” Instead, all people have genes for hair color,
and different versions of these genes dictate whether someone will
be a redhead or a brunette.
Your body contains 50 trillion tiny cells, and almost every one
of them contains the complete set of instructions for making you.
These instructions are encoded in your DNA, deoxyribonucleic acid.
DNA is a long, ladder-shaped molecule. Each rung on the
ladder is made up of a pair of interlocking units, called bases,
that are designated by the four letters in the DNA alphabet: A,
C, G and T (adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine). A always
pairs with T, and C always pairs with G.
The long molecules of DNA in your cells are organized
into pieces called chromosomes. Humans have 23 pairs of
chromosomes in every cell. Each parent contributes one chromosome
to each pair.
Chromosomes are further organized into short segments
of DNA called genes. If you imagine your DNA as a cookbook,
then your genes are the recipes. Written in the DNA alphabet—
A, C, G, T—the recipes tell your cells how to function
and what traits to express. For example, if you have curly hair
it is because the genes you inherited from your parents are
instructing your hair follicle cells to make curly strands.
The combination of all your genes together is called your
genotype. Your genes interact with the environment to affect
your physical appearance, and this outward expression of
your genes is known as your phenotype. For example, identical
twins share exactly the same genotypes but they may appear
phenotypically different, looking less and less identical if
they experience different environmental factors such as diet,
climate or stress.
The Language of SNPs
Your body is constantly making new cells. To do this, cells
must make a copy of the DNA contained in them. Sometimes
they make small errors during this process, similar to a typographical
error. These errors are called single nucleotide polymorphisms,
or SNPs (pronounced “snips”), and they lead to
variations in the DNA sequence at particular locations.
SNPs are the most common type of genetic variation
among people. While many SNPs don’t seem to have any obvious
effects, there are others that can influence significant
differences in your health or physical appearance. They may
also help predict your risk of developing certain diseases, your
response to different medicines and your susceptibility to environmental
factors such as toxins. Specific SNPs can be modified
through diet, nutritional supplementation and lifestyle.
So, how can the average person learn more about which of
their SNPs are potentially increasing their risk of disease? And,
even more importantly, how can they know what foods, supplements
and other lifestyle factors will optimize their health and
The answer lies in the emerging science of nutrigenomics
and nutrigenomic testing.
Nutrigenomics and Nutrigenomic Testing
The future of health care will be determined by personalized
medicine. A one-size-fits-all diet or lifestyle no longer makes
sense in the light of epigenetics. As it turns out, it depends
on how you learn to talk to your unique genes through the
language of diet, nutrition, exercise and other lifestyle factors.
This is the science of nutritional genomics—nutrigenomics.
According to the Center of Excellence in Nutritional
Genomics: “The science of nutrigenomics seeks to provide a
molecular understanding for how common dietary chemicals
(i.e., nutrition) affect health by altering the expression and/or
structure of an individual’s genetic makeup. Just as pharmacogenomics
has led to the concept of ‘personalized medicine’
and ‘designer drugs,’ so will the new field of nutrigenomics
open the way for ‘personalized nutrition.’ In other words,
by understanding our nutritional needs, our nutritional status,
and our genotype, nutrigenomics
should enable individuals to manage
better their health and well-being by
precisely matching their diets with their
unique genetic makeup.”7
Learning the language of your specific
gene expressions will provide the
insight into how you can best support
and optimize your health with gene-targeted
nutrition, diet and key lifestyle
Following our own personalized
nutrigenomic road map has been made
possible through nutrigenomic testing.
This 21st-century diagnostic test actually
looks at a number of genetic variants
(SNPs) that can have an impact on how
effectively your genes are able to receive
and carry out vital instructions that affect
key physiological functions.
Nutrigenomic testing looks at your genes in a number of
important categories. The following areas are commonly available
in most nutrigenomic tests:
Lipid Metabolism: The selection of the genes involved in
lipid metabolism is targeted at genes involved in fat absorption
and fat transport as well as fat conversion and degradation.
Dyslipidemia can have various genetic causes which are influenced
by nutrition, alcohol, smoking and also gender-specific
effects. A practical example from this profile allows a person
to “turn down” the TNF-alpha gene involved in inflammation
with omega-3 fatty acids.
High Blood Pressure Risk: High blood pressure or hypertension
is the leading cause of strokes and heart attacks. Dietary
interventions to control high blood pressure are beneficial
when they match your gene variant.
Phase I and Phase II Liver Detoxification: Having an efficient
detoxification system which removes harmful toxins and
compounds is essential to gene repair.
This detoxification process occurs in two phases, I and II,
whereby harmful molecules are converted to less-dangerous
ones which can be removed from the body. Looking at the
genes in this panel will provide critical guidance regarding how
well your detoxification pathways are functioning, especially if
you have the SNPs which show impaired clearance of oestrogens
(a risk factor for breast and prostate cancer) and other
Oxidative Stress: Oxidative stress is a major cause of premature
aging and cell death. This panel assesses the major
enzymes involved in antioxidative defence and thus protection
from DNA damage.
Methylation and Homocysteine Risk: The ability to metabolise
folic acid properly is critical for prevention of strokes,
blood clots, migraines, autism, infertility, cancer, birth defects,
schizophrenia, etc. It directly affects DNA repair and the
immune system. Many people have up to a 50 to 70 percent
impaired ability to metabolize folic acid properly, which increases
their vulnerability to many physical and mental health
Osteoporosis Risk and Vitamin D: The prevention of osteoporosis
involves making changes to lifestyle and nutrition as
well as reducing inflammation. This panel identifies the capacities
of calcium uptake, the ability to metabolize vitamin D, and
the predisposition to enhanced inflammatory response.
Inflammation: Your genes are a source of inflammation.
This panel addresses specific genes that can induce inflammation,
a significant risk factor for most chronic illnesses.
Diabetes Risk: This analysis covers your personal genetic
risk assessment for diabetes type II.
Weight Management: This is a panel of genetic variants
whose activities are modifiable by nutrition. This enables a
gender-specific diet targeted either to suppress or to enhance
gene or enzyme expression.
Heavy Metal Binding: There are genetic variations determining
how effective the body is in releasing heavy metals.
Some gene types tend to bind heavy metals, which poses a
great risk to your health and requires specific detoxification
protocols for the long term to ensure proper removal of heavy
metals from the body.
The test itself is incredibly simple. It requires only about
5 mL of saliva, which is collected in a vial provided in the collection
kit. The kit is then sent to the lab for testing. This test
is only available through qualified health practitioners who are
trained to interpret the results and design a gene-appropriate
health protocol for each patient.
Who can benefit from nutrigenomic testing? The truth is,
just about anyone at any age. For someone healing a chronic
illness such as cancer or diabetes, this test offers invaluable
clues to support your body’s healing processes. Children, even
infants, can be tested so that their parents can understand
how best to support their children nutritionally. Athletes also
use this test to get the edge in their performance.
If your goal is to design a rejuvenation protocol, this test is
certainly one of the most important tests you could ever have
to learn the specific pieces of your health puzzle.
Journey With My Genes
Curious about nutrigenomics, I decided to do the test myself.
The test showed me how to incorporate specific nutrition to up-regulate
my particular genes that were in need of some nutritional
fine-tuning. For example, in my case, one of my gene variations
has an impact on the production of an enzyme that plays
a role in my body’s ability to do DNA repair. I learned that I was
70 percent deficient in the important enzyme. Without proper
DNA repair, I would be at serious risk for numerous diseases,
especially heart disease and cancer. With this information, I now
take a special form of folic acid called 5-methylfolate (my body
cannot metabolize the common form of folic acid).
My test revealed that I need to be on a low-carbohydrate
diet to maintain my ideal weight. With my SNP profile, I would
be piling on the extra fat in no time if I included many carbohydrates
in my diet. So, following a low-carbohydrate diet is essential
if I want to keep my girlish figure and steer clear of metabolic
syndrome and diabetes. My gene profile also revealed
that a low-carb diet would help to silence my diabetes genes.
I discovered that the best support for my lipid metabolism
was a diet containing about 25 percent of my daily caloric intake
from olive oil and coconut oil. That was a revelation, since
my diet usually was mostly polyunsaturated oils from plant-based
oils such as flax seed oil and sesame seed oil. While
these oils are appropriate for some gene types, for my type
they can increase inflammation and cause a high LDL profile.
Another critical piece of information revealed the ability of
my cells to make glutathione. Glutathione, a molecule made by
every single cell, is critical for liver detoxification and for combating
inflammation and free radical damage. I learned that
several of my glutathione gene variants were impaired. Low
glutathione levels are a risk factor for cancers, diabetes, cardiovascular
disease, autism, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s
disease and heavy metal toxicity. I now know that I must add a
glutathione support to my daily regime.
Vitamin D is certainly a superstar nutrient these days. The
nutrigenomics test revealed that I had several SNPs which
actually make it more difficult for me to make my vitamin D
hormone. With this knowledge, I now test my vitamin D levels
regularly and take adequate vitamin D to ensure that I stay in
optimal range. Low vitamin D levels have been associated with
many types of cancer, low bone density, weakened immunity,
depression, dementia and insulin resistance.
When it comes to the most effective exercise routine, the
test clearly showed that my body does best with resistance
training, not excessive aerobic exercise which exacerbates free
radical production. So, marathons are clearly not in my future!
Another profound discovery was the fact that I was only
50 percent efficient in releasing heavy metals from my tissues.
Heavy metal toxicity contributes to a wide variety of chronic
illnesses. I must support detoxification of heavy metals as an
ongoing part of my nutritional program, which I had not been
Through nutrigenomic testing, I found the specific nutritional
and lifestyle road map to guide me along my highway
of good health. It has taken all the guesswork out of designing
my nutritional program. Rather than being confused with
the latest diet or workout fad, I now know exactly the kinds of
foods, supplements and even exercise that will support me to
achieve my goal of getting younger and healthier as I get older.
I truly believe that the knowledge I gained from this test has
profoundly altered my health destiny.
There is no doubt that nutrigenomic testing allows each of
us to hit the bull’s-eye when it comes to designing our unique
dietary and nutritional program. When you live in harmony
with your genetic potential, you can optimize your health and
longevity and minimize your risk of disease for a lifetime.