Tag: Gene Expression
If you’ve spent any amount of time here on Mark’s Daily Apple, you know we love our vegetables. Plant foods are powerhouses of nutrients and antioxidant action. They’re the backbone of a solid Primal diet, and the main event in my signature Big Ass Salad. But the issue of nightshades has come up quite a bit over the years. Nightshade vegetables, which are vegetables that belong to the Solanaceae family of plants, include a long list of veggies and spices: eggplant, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos, pimentos, paprika, cayenne pepper, hot sauce, etc. (Black pepper isn’t a part of this list.)
I do eat a lot of these foods, but they’re not for everyone. In this article, we’ll dig into why some people simply can’t eat them, and how to tell whether you should eat them or not.
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 is your body’s response to infection and injury. When something triggers an inflammatory response, the immune system kicks into gear, isolating the area, removing harmful or damaged tissue, and beginning the healing process. “Inflammation” refers to both the immune processes happening under the surface and the outward signs of an inflammatory response—symptoms like pain, swelling, or fever. Inflammation gets a bad rap in the alternative health world: “The root of all chronic illness!” This is true to some extent. Name a disease, and inflammation is involved. Crohn’s disease, major depression, heart disease, arthritis—all inflammatory. Every autoimmune disease—inflammatory, involving an inflammatory response directed at your own tissues. Even obesity is inflammatory, with fat cells literally secreting inflammatory cytokines. Yes, but the story is more complicated than that. Inflammation is, after all, 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. The popular refrain that “inflammation is bad” misses the fact that inflammation is necessary and beneficial in certain circumstances and in the right amounts. Where we run into problems is when there is too much for too long, as is so often the case. So how do you know when the line between helpful and harmful has been crossed? What Causes Inflammation? In order to understand what causes inflammation, we first need to distinguish between acute inflammation and chronic inflammation: Acute Vs. Chronic Inflammation Acute inflammation Acute inflammation is the body’s relatively brief response (lasting several days or less) to a specific injury or illness. All sorts of things can cause an acute inflammatory response, including Trauma or injury, whether serious (car accident, stabbing, broken bone) or trivial (paper cut) Infection by bacterial or viral pathogens Burn (including from the sun) Chemical irritant Allergic reaction When an injury or invasion occurs, the body launches a defense involving the vascular system (veins, arteries, capillaries), immune system, and cells local to the injury. As a result, you’ll likely experience one or more of the five signs that an acute inflammatory response is underway: heat, redness, swelling, pain, or a loss of function. Heat, redness, and swelling signal that leukocytes (white blood cells) have arrived to clean up the injury site, mop up pathogens, and oversee the inflammatory process. Pain and immobilization remind you—or force you—to proceed with caution, lest you re-injure the area. Although annoying, these symptoms are only temporary. And they’re a small price to pay. Without acute inflammatory processes, we would quickly succumb to even minor illnesses and injuries. But not all acute inflammation is the result of something harmful. Some things that cause acute inflammation are actually good for us. Sun exposure is one example. Exercise is another. Immediately after a single hard workout, inflammatory markers go up because exercise stresses the body—but in a beneficial way. The short-term damage that exercise induces allows us to be stronger, fitter, … Continue reading “The Definitive Guide to Inflammation”
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.