The Science of Change
The health benefits of good food choices and exercise are abundant…but how do these changes occur in the body…and more importantly how do they help improve our health? Several years ago Dean Ornish was involved in an interesting study on prostate cancer patients. One study demonstrated changes in prostate gene expression in men undergoing an intensive nutrition and lifestyle intervention that would help with the prevention of prostate cancer. Analysis of global gene expression showed changes. Ornish’s studies have demonstrated an improvement in those involved in intensive nutrition and lifestyle intervention. Showing genes that reduce inflammation and blood pressure, and ones that supported telomerase activity (related to how long cells live and slowing of the aging process).
Dietary choices have altered gene expression in such a way that there is a clear indication that certain foods will up-regulate (turn up) genes that prevent certain diseases and down (turn down) regulate those genes that would promote certain diseases. Ornish’s studies show lifestyle changes like food choices increased the expression of genes that would prevent prostate cancer.
These changes are brought about by a biochemical process called methylation. Protein molecules donate a methyl group (3 hydrogens attached to 1 carbon) which attaches to certain genes either encouraging the expression of what that particular gene controls, or stifling its’ expression.
Benefits of Exercise
A recent study in Epigenetics of how exercise effects gene expression had subjects exercise just one leg on a stationary bike for 45 minutes, four times per weeks for three months. Muscle biopsies of both the exercised and unexercised leg were taken, demonstrating that approximately 5,000 sites on the genes controlling the muscle cell had changes in the methylation pattern. Which means that there were significant modifications in the muscle’s DNA such that certain genes were intensified and other suppressed. Absolutely fascinating. . .some genes decrease inflammation and oxidative processes, while others that increase oxygen uptake and reduce inflammation are increased!
Amazingly, our genes respond to biochemical signals sent by the types of foods we eat and exercises that we are involved with. . . and in the process facilitate up-regulation of genes that would prevent disease and down-regulate those genes that would promote disease.
The Take Away Message
So the next time you take a bite of broccoli or go out for a brisk walk, know that you are altering your gene expression favoring prevention of certain diseases and ultimately changing your health for the better.
Are you in need of change but don’t know where to start?