The Science of Change
The health benefits of good food choices and exercise are abundant…but how do these changes occur in the body…and more importantly how do they help improve our health? Several years ago Dean Ornish was involved in an interesting study on prostate cancer patients. A study by Ornish published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America demonstrated changes in prostate gene expression in men undergoing an intensive nutrition and lifestyle intervention that would favor prevention of prostate cancer. Analysis of global gene expression detected 48 up-regulated and 453 down-regulated transcripts after the intervention. Ornish’s studies have demonstrated changes expressed by an improvement in the status of those involved in intensive nutrition and lifestyle intervention through genes that reduce inflammation and blood pressure, and genes that that supported telomerase activity (related to longevity of cells and slowing the aging process).
Dietary selection has been shown to alter gene expression in such a way that there is a clear indication certain foods will upregulate genes that prevent certain diseases and down regulate those genes that would promote certain diseases. Ornish’s studies have shown lifestyle changes that included certain food choices increased the expression of genes that would prevent prostate cancer.
These changes are brought about by a biochemical process called methylation. Protein molecules donate a methyl group (3 hydrogens attached to 1 carbon) which attaches to certain genes either encouraging the expression of what that particular gene controls, or stifling its’ expression.
A recent study in Epigenetics of how exercise effects gene expression had subjects exercise just one leg on a stationary bike for 45 minutes, four times per weeks for three months. Muscle biopsies of both the exercised and unexercised leg were taken, demonstrating that approximately 5,000 sites on those genes controlling the muscle cell had changes in the methylation pattern. Which means that there were significant modifications in the muscle’s DNA such that certain genes were intensified and other suppressed. Absolutely fascinating… genes that decrease inflammation and oxidative processes, while others that increase oxygen uptake and reduce inflammation increase expression!
Amazingly, our genes respond to biochemical signals sent by the types of foods we eat and exercise that we are involved with, and in the process facilitate up-regulation of genes that would prevent disease and down-regulate those genes that would promote disease. So the next time you take a bite of broccoli or go out for a brisk walk, know that you are altering your gene expression favoring prevention of certain diseases and ultimately promoting your health.
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