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Scientists learned over a decade ago that some small creatures, like earthworms, surprisingly have more genes in their cells than we humans do. While we don't have that many genes, scientists discovered the very complex ways in which we control the modest number we do have in an exciting new field called epigenetics. Epigenetics explains how changes in gene activity can occur without changing our actual DNA. The key to it all? Science points to our lifestyle, which is good news for us since we can control our lifestyle.
One way that we can influence genes without changing their basic structure is through the foods we eat. This form of epigenetic control is called nutrigenomics. For many conditions, it can be said that our genes load the “gun”, but our lifestyle decides whether or not to pull the trigger. The ideal situation would be to inherit great genes that favor health and not disease while also adopting a healthy lifestyle. The encouraging news is that for others who inherit genes that may promote illnesses, like heart disease, adult diabetes and cancer, lifestyle can be the tool used to minimize the chances of getting sick.
To put it differently: Our fork is so powerful it not only transports food to our mouth, but it can also be used as a genetic on and off switch to alter our weight, blood pressure, blood cholesterol, cancer growth, and how we age.
To date, most of the elegant studies on nutrigenomics have been performed with a plant-based, low-fat menu, the so-called Ornish Lifestyle Heart Program. Let’s look at some of these mind-blowing experiments that give hope when we choose an apple over a donut and when we exercise at the gym instead of sitting on the couch.
At 12 weeks, researchers found that 26 genes were exhibiting different activity in the Ornish group favoring health and healing. After a year, 143 genes showed the same trend towards health by increasing the consumption of fruit and vegetable servings. The genes that promoted inflammation and blood vessel injury were significantly less active while the control group showed no improvements as they maintained their standard diet throughout the year.
When Hippocrates wrote 2,400 years ago to “let food be thy medicine,” he had no idea that scientific experiments would one day prove him a visionary at the very genetic control level in our cells. Food is no longer just a source of calories containing protein, carbs and fats. Food is information and can be viewed as a remote control to our genetic material, turning them on and off through a variety of modifications that can favor health or disease.
All of this occurs in the grocery store, produce department, farmers’ markets and gardens and does not require a hospital or doctor. Our fork can be the most powerful surgical instrument there is. When you load your diet with a pile of rainbow colored fruits and vegetables, you are taking a serious step towards improving your health without the use of medications. Take control of your genes and in no time, you’ll be back in your skinny jeans.
So, now that you know the correlation between your food choices and your genetic material as it relates to health or disease, what do you do? I recommend striving for 10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. This will require planning and purchasing fresh or frozen produce on a regular basis. Starting the day with a NutriBullet smoothie packed with 3 to 4 servings of fruits and vegetables is the single best method I know of and is the reason one currently sits on my desk in my cardiology office as I type this.
Dr. Kahn is the founder of the award-winning Kahn Center for Cardiac Longevity, the most advanced integrative heart clinic for the detection and prevention of heart disease in the Midwest (www.kahnlongevitycenter.com), and the co-founder and medical director of the largest plant-based support group in the world (www.pbnsg.org). He’s also a Clinical Professor of Medicine at Wayne State University School of Medicine and Associate Professor at Oakland University-Beaumont School of Medicine and lectures internationally on heart attack prevention and heart disease reversal.
Kahn is a summa cum laude graduate of the University of Michigan School of Medicine. In addition to being a Fox TV commentator, he has a national public TV show, The Whole Heart Solution. He has authored three #1 bestselling in books with two more on the way, one titled Vegan Sex. He’s the owner of the largest bar and cafe in the Midwest, GreenSpace Cafe. Dr. Kahn also has a passion for music and has produced a Broadway musical.
Dr. Joel Kahn is very proud of his wife and elementary school sweetheart, Karen, and his 3 children and their mates. He adores his two rescue dogs, Jake and Eva. He's a practitioner of mindfulness, intermittent fasting, yoga, and laughter. His goal is to help you live to 100 with health and vitality by combining integrative, lifestyle and plant-based training.