Though Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, said 2,000 years ago, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” modern science did not see much connection between nutrition and health or disease until the past few decades. Today a growing body of research has investigated how food-compounds influence health and how bioactive compounds in our diets affect the expression of genes.
You may have heard trendy words such as phytonutrients and
are plant-based, health-promoting compounds that affect our well-being all the way to the transcription level of our genes. It is estimated that thousands of phytonutrients have protective and healing qualities, many of them found in plant pigments. It’s no coincidence we’re often urged to “eat a rainbow diet.” The colors of plants contain anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds that promote gene expression of immunity and protection against oxidative stress.
From the lycopene in watermelon to the beta-carotene in carrots to the anthocyanins in blueberries, pigments have protective and healing qualities (see Table 1).
Oxidative stress, the natural result of using oxygen for metabolism, is necessary for energy, physical activity and the basics of thinking and breathing. This stress also results from exposure to external factors like environmental pollution, radiation, pesticide residues on food, and chemicals in meat.
Because many exposures are unavoidable, phytonutrients can be important defense mechanisms for keeping oxidative stress in check. Oxidative stress and uncontrolled free-radical production can harm the body’s immunity and self-healing capabilities.
Free radicals themselves are not necessarily bad for our health. They perform critical functions that include fighting infection through an ability to turn genes on and off. It’s when free radicals are not managed that they can damage the body’s inner workings. Excess free-radical production is known to promote inflammation and the progression of conditions such as heart disease, cancer and premature aging (Karin
Greten 2005; Aggarwal et al. 2006).
To read more about how diet and daily activities influence how genes do their jobs, please see “Epigenetics and Food” in the online IDEA Library or in the January 2016 print issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.