There has been an explosion in nutritional research in the last decade and, by year, the number of scientific articles has increased exponentially. What this research is showing, and the CDC confirmed in 2000, is that health and its inverse, disease, is a product of our individual genetic makeup and our individual environments. It is also showing us that many genetic variants can be worked around or overcome with proper nutrition and/or nutraceuticals. When you think of your environment, what do you think of? Do you think about what you eat and drink? Well, approximately 90% of your external environment, that you internalize, are the foods that you eat. And your environmental inputs by far outweigh most genetic variants. With that understanding, it becomes obvious that personal nutrition is the greatest contributor to health and disease.
Nutritional scientific literature is also confirming that most chronic diseases are associated with some form of malnutrition. These diseases encompass diabetes, overweight, obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, neurologic disorders, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia and many more. In fact, other than the need for genetic work-a-rounds and toxins, malnutrition may be the major contributor to all disease. The 2 most common forms of malnutrition in our country are micronutrient deficiency and over-nutrition. Micronutrient deficiency comes from eating too few whole-food, fresh fruits and vegetables. Over-nutrition is a misnomer and is the result of eating too few whole-food, fresh fruits and vegetables and too many micronutrient poor, macronutrient (carbohydrates, fats and proteins) packed, processed foods or eating primarily an animal product rich diet.
What Does All This Mean For You?
To understand this on a meaningful level, we need to look first at how your cells are designed to work. Our genes are the final common pathway for directing everything that happens in the cell. They do this by producing proteins that form structures, enzymes or signaling molecules. Enzymes are responsible for essentially every chemical reaction that occurs within your cells – your cells’ metabolism. Nutrients (food) are the chemicals that these enzymes work on to produce the metabolic products that our cells need to survive and function. To function optimally, they need optimal nutrition.
So What Is Optimal Nutrition?
First, it means the right foods in the right amounts. Your body (cells) needs a certain amount of macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats and protein) to produce energy and structural molecules, but not too much. You also need micronutrients – vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and a multitude of yet to be discovered molecules your cells evolved to work with long before industrial farming and industrial food processing evolved. Most of these can only be found in plant sources. Let’s take antioxidants For example. Most antioxidants are found in plant sources – fruits and vegetables.
Why Does Your Body Need Antioxidants?
In order for your cells to function, they need energy. Inside your cells are large numbers of minute energy factories called mitochondria. Carbohydrate (in the form of glucose) and fat are the primary fuels for this energy. The other important component is oxygen, which is used by the mitochondria to burn these fuels in a process called oxidation. Examples of oxidation outside of the body are fire and rust. In a sense, what is happening in your mitochondria is a controlled fire. It is actually an amazing design, if you think about it! During this oxidation process, however, there are side products called reactive oxygen species (ROS) and reactive nitrogen species (RNS) that are produced and, collectively, they are referred to as ROS. Some of these have important functions in the body, but if there are too many that escape the mitochondria or other places they are supposed to be, they react with other molecules that they should not and destroy them. This is called oxidative stress and is like a wildfire burning out of control in the cells of your body. This in turn increases inflammation.
How Do Antioxidants Work?
Some antioxidants quench (as in put out a fire) ROS in a 1 to 1 fashion, taking 1 molecule of antioxidant to quench 1 molecule of ROS. Some examples of this are vitamin C or E or alpha lipoic acid. These are very important in keeping oxidative stress under control. Other antioxidants work in a totally different way and are much more powerful in their effect because a single molecule can by its action cause the quenching of many ROS! This occurs via the Nutrigenomic pathway.
What Are Nutrigenomics?
The study of how nutrients turn on and turn off genes! Yes, there are foods that actually activate and inactivate specific genes in your cells! This means that food is not only the source for all the structure, energy, and metabolic molecules in your body/cells, but that it tells which genes to be expressed or not expressed! Remember, this design, which you’ve inherited, evolved in your ancestors and was passed down to you long before industrial farming and packaged, processed, artificial food evolved. During this time the diet consisted of mostly whole organic fruits and vegetables and meat in smaller quantities, when it was available. These are the foods your body is optimized for. Your automobile is optimized to run on gasoline. Would you go out tomorrow and put water in its gas tank?!
Why Is This Important?
Because eating these foods that used to be staples of your Paleolithic ancestors activated and inactivated specific genetic pathways that kept them healthy. Genes tend to change very little over millennia and your genes operate for the most part like your Paleolithic ancestors. There certainly hasn’t been nearly enough time for your body to redesign its genes to function on the nutrient and antioxidant poor, highly processed, artificial and otherwise adulterated food that is part of the Standard American Diet (SAD)! There are likely to be many of these Nutrigenomic pathways that we will discover and there are two that are important to you right now.
The NRF2 Nutrigenomic Pathway
This pathway is activated by many different antioxidant molecules found in fruits and vegetables (click on this link to find a listing of them). These Nutrigenomic antioxidants stimulate the cell to activate the NRF2 transcription factor, which turns on many antioxidant genes causing them to produce antioxidant proteins throughout your cells and body. So a small amount of these Nutrigenomic antioxidants produce an exponential amount of your body’s own endogenous (internally produced) antioxidants.
The NF-kB Nutrigenomic Pathway
NF-kB is the transcription factor that turns on inflammation. Like oxidation, inflammation is important in your body when it is appropriate, as in when you get an infection. Unfortunately, like oxidative stress, it becomes excessive when eating SAD foods. As with foods that turn on the NRF2 pathway most micronutrients that turn off the NF-kB pathway are found in fruits and vegetables (click the link to find a listing of them). Since oxidative stress is a major contributor to inflammation, the foods that turn on the NRF2 pathway will down-regulate the NF-kB pathway, as do 1 to 1 antioxidants. There are also many paths to both up-regulating (SAD foods) and down-regulating (micronutrient rich foods – whole raw fruits and vegetables) the NF-kB pathway.
Why Is All Of This Information Important And How Does It Apply To Me?
Your genes evolved to function with primarily raw, whole fruits and vegetables with some animal products thrown in occasionally to maintain healthy cells/metabolism. The burning of energy to fuel your cellular metabolism produces ROS and inflammation. Your genes are designed to offset these based on the foods available at the time your genes evolved in your ancient ancestors. If you eat the foods high in micronutrients and antioxidants (whole fruits and vegetables), you will live a much healthier and possibly longer life than if you do not!
The opposite effect occurs if you eat the SAD food. Not only are you not eating the foods needed to turn on the NRF2 and off the NF-kB pathways and give you 1 to 1 anti-oxidants, but you are eating foods that increase oxidative stress – trans and saturated fats; artificial, processed & adulterated foods; too many macronutrients that get stored as fat, which increases oxidative stress and inflammation.
Give your body the micronutrients it needs and it will be good to you! If you have symptoms or a disease process, however, you will likely require more. A proper evaluation of Functional, Metabolic, Hormonal and Nutritional imbalances can be addressed with Nutritive, Nuturative (psycho-social-spiritual), Physical and Environmental solutions. These can then be identified and applied, tailored to your individual health needs.
If you have questions or would like to make an appointment, please call Dr. Cole in one of our convenient locations.