How Lifestyle Choices Influence our Genes

Each one of us comes into the world with 20,000 to 25,000 genes, a unique genetic profile, passed down from our parents. But genes don’t stay static throughout life. As cells grow and divide, errors (mutations) are produced in the DNA that constitutes the genetic code. Fortunately, our cells have ways to detect and correct most genetic errors. However, errors that slip through the body’s defence mechanisms may result in disease. Mutations can be inherited from a parent to a child (“hereditary”) or they can happen during a person’s lifetime (“acquired”). While many acquired mutations develop spontaneously, others are triggered by harmful environmental influences. External influences can also turn down active genes and turn on inactive ones.

We cannot change our DNA, and we cannot stop the passage of time. But while bad things can happen to good genes, we know today that good lifestyle choices can also make good things happen to our genes.  Modifiable factors that can affect the expression of our genes include diet, physical activity, tobacco smoking, alcohol consumption, psychological stress and ultraviolet radiation. Diseases whose risk you can modify (even if you have genetic predisposition) with the right lifestyle choices include Alzheimer, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity.

So what you eat, the kind of exercise you do, and what you do for a living—they all make a difference! I give you some examples of good choices that help to keep you healthy and live longer:

1. Choose fresh, natural ingredients

Real food has thousands of compounds which have a complex and dynamic relationship with your genes and can help you to stay healthy. In processed foods however, these compounds have either been altered or are missing, and therefore they don’t deliver the same beneficial messages to your genes. The rule is simple, real food comes without an extended ingredient list: vegetables, fruit, whole grains, seeds, nuts, fish are good examples…make sure they are part of your daily menu.

2. Eat fruits and vegetables with a wide variety of colours

Different colours mean different nutrients and compounds that can interact in unique ways with our gene expression, helping to protect us from disease. Eating a wide variety of colours will bring you a wider range of benefits. For instant, blue and purple fruits and vegetables contain anthocyanins, natural plant pigments with powerful antioxidant properties that may reduce your risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and dementia. Tomatoes and other red fruits and vegetables have lycopene, a carotenoid that helps to prevent cancer, cardiovascular diseases and improve skin quality.

3. Eat more fish

Omega 3, have long shown to be beneficial to brain health and reduce the risk of inflammatory diseases. Studies also show that they change the way genes associated with protein secretion act in the muscles and can help to build muscle. Fatty fish like salmon and sardines are the major source of omega 3, try to eat fatty fish at least twice per week. Other sources of omega 3 include flax seeds and oil, chia seeds and walnuts- include them in your diet!

4. Avoid these cooking methods and foods

Processed meats like sausages or ham have nitrosamines that are classified by various agencies as possible or probable human carcinogens. Also the process of smoking or barbecuing meat forms polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that can cause changes in your genes, increasing the risk of cancer. Moderate the consume of meat, specially processed meat or meat cooked for a long time under high temperatures. Tofu, pulses and dairy are better alternatives.

5. Exercise Regularly

Exercise makes some genes become more active or a bit quieter. A study showed that 45 min. of exercise, 4 days per week, are enough to affect the gene expression of at least 4000 genes- including genes responsible for the secretion of pro-inflammatory substances, energy metabolism and insulin response – additional proof that exercise pays an important role in the prevention of many chronic diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and obesity. Add physical activity to your daily life – use the stairs instead of the elevator and walk or bike to work instead of driving or using public transportation. Save 30 – 45 min of your day for activities that increase your breathing and heart rate (aerobic) like jogging, biking, swimming or dancing.

6. Control Stress

You may think that stress only affects your mood temporarily, but the true is that chronic stress can affect your genes too. The good news is that you don’t have to let stress overwhelm you and take control of your genes. Meditation, music therapy, yoga or deep breathing exercises are examples of techniques that can affect gene expression, telomere regulation and reduce inflammatory response. A big help to live a long, healthy and happy life!

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