Tag: Gene Expression
Everyone understands the intuitive power of eating the way our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate for hundreds of thousands of years. Sure, there’s a lot of variation throughout the eons. Changing climates and human migration patterns determined the culinary landscapes available to our ancestors, and the proportion of animals to plants in the diet varied across latitudes. There was no One Diet to Rule Them All, but there were patterns and trends that we can surmise and approximate. And we know what they didn’t have access to: the industrial foods of the modern era.
This way of eating works pretty well for most people who try it. It’s why the Primal Blueprint works, why the paleo diet works, and why, in general, the alternative (and even conventional) health world has increasingly looked to previous eras for guidance and to generate hypotheses on best health practices.
Okay, but what about the diets of your more recent ancestors?
You can’t change your genes. But you can program them.
The modern world presents a number of problems for our genes. The world we’ve constructed over the last 50 years is not the environment in which our genetic code evolved. Our genes don’t “expect” historically low magnesium levels in soil, spending all day indoors and all night staring into bright blue lights, earning your keep by sitting on your ass, getting your food delivered to your door, communicating with people primarily through strange scratchings that travel through the air. So when these novel environmental stimuli interact with our genetic code, we get disease and dysfunction.
The genes look bad viewed through a modern prism. They get “associated” with certain devastating health conditions. But really, if you were to restore the dietary, behavioral, and ambient environments under which those genes evolved, those genes wouldn’t look so bad anymore. They might even look great.
This is epigenetics: altering the programming language of your genes without altering the genes themselves.
Inflammation gets a bad rap in the alternative health world: “Inflammation causes heart disease, cancer, and autoimmune disease! It’s at the root of depression.” These are all true—to some extent.
Name a disease, and inflammation is involved.
Crohn’s disease is inflammatory.
Major depression is inflammatory.
Heart disease is inflammatory.
Autoimmune diseases, which involve an inflammatory response directed at your own tissues, are inflammatory.
Arthritis is inflammatory.
Even obesity is inflammatory, with fat cells literally secreting inflammatory cytokines.
Yes, but the story is more complicated than that. Inflammation, after all, is a natural process developed through millions of years of evolution. It can’t be wholly negative. Just like our bodies didn’t evolve to manufacture cholesterol to give us heart disease, inflammation isn’t there to give us degenerative diseases.
For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering four questions from readers. First, should someone homozygous for the FADS variant that increases PUFA conversion eat less or more PUFA? Next, what’s the deal with all the mushroom coffees out on the market? Are they actually beneficial? Third, when looking for a healthy decaf coffee, what should you watch for? And finally, how should a breakfast skipper/intermittent faster deal with increased morning hunger caused by morning workouts?
Let’s find out:
One of the more exciting developments over the past few years has been the explosion in population genetics research. People are a diverse lot, and even though we’re all people who essentially want the same things out of life (and we’re working with the same basic machinery), there’s a lot of wiggle room. It’s not just information for curiosity’s sake. The information researchers are uncovering about human ancestry can have real ramifications for how said humans should eat.
A couple years ago, I wrote a post laying out a few guidelines for using your personal ancestry to inform your diet. Today, I’m going to talk about another one: polyunsaturated fat metabolism.
Several years ago, I gave my take on the “personalized care” movement: the broad push to use a person’s genetic data to design optimal therapies, treatments, interventions, and pharmaceuticals. I was supportive and hesitantly optimistic, but I also acknowledged the limitations and drawbacks. Yes, genetics do determine how we respond to different therapies, and we can optimize medical care using the information—if we understand what our genes are saying and how they interact with the environment.
It’s only picked up steam. In last year’s State of the Union address, President Obama announced the Precision Medicine Initiative, pledging renewed efforts and funding to develop treatments tailored for an individual’s genetics, lifestyle, and environment. Businesses have sprung up promising to analyze your genetic data and create personalized workout routines, meal plans, and daily habits.
We’ve made big strides in personalized medicine.
For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’ll be addressing the concerns raised in the comment section of last week’s CRISPR post. Many of you were rather alarmed at my apparent whole-hearted endorsement and enthusiastic embrace of the latest gene-editing technology CRISPR. Actually, I am more cautious than I may have let on. You brought up some great points. And I’ll try to address some of them down below.
By now, you’ve no doubt heard of CRISPR, the latest gene-editing tool sweeping research labs across the globe. It was first discovered in certain strains of bacteria, who use it as an important weapon against dangerous viruses. In bacteria, CRISPR identifies a virus that poses a threat, records the virus’ genetic data and imprints it onto RNA molecules. An immune enzyme called Cas9 grabs one of the RNA molecules and goes exploring. When Cas9 encounters a virus that matches the data on the RNA molecule, it latches on and slices the virus in half to prevent it from replicating and posing any threat.
The entire premise of the Primal Blueprint is enabling you to be the architect of your health and happiness. If we can identify the environmental triggers and selective pressures under which the human genome developed, we’ll have a great roadmap for engineering our optimal lifestyle. And for the most part, it works. Not everyone will get the exact body they desire. You won’t all lose every extra pound. I can’t guarantee a six pack or a complete eradication of baby weight. But all in all, eating and living this way seems to produce good results. You can, it seems, affect your health, body composition, and fitness.
But genes still matter. And there’s a large trove of evidence showing that a person’s genetics are really good at predicting their risk of obesity.
One major downside to having these big prominent heads stuffed with consciousness-spawning brain matter is that they sometimes ache. Nobody likes a headache. You can find fetishists who enjoy pinching, slapping, biting, burning and any matter of objectively painful stimuli. But there aren’t “headache fetishists.” No one’s chugging a 32 ounce Slurpee in search of brain freeze, or getting drunk for the hangover.
The difficult thing about headaches is figuring out why they’re occurring. Pain in other areas is different. You can look at your hand if it’s hurting and figure out why. You can see the cut on your knee and know what’s going on. But you are your head, and the headache is inside. Your consciousness sits behind your eyes observing reality and directing your role in it. It’s all a big mystery. Or so it feels.