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Nutrition Series: How Your Nutrition Actually Affects Your Physiology
We’ve all been told that it’s important to eat healthy. You’ve heard about poor diet leading to all sorts of disease and health consequences. But the question of how to eat healthy becomes continually more frustrating to answer, as every day there seems to be new studies or books which conflict with the current recommendations, and we are constantly being plagued with ads for the latest diet trend. There is no doubt we have a nutrition problem in the U.S. This lack of understanding around nutrition has affected the consumer, leading to poor eating habits across the nation. The US also faces a production problem, with commercial farming practices causing even fruits and vegetables to have only a percentage of the micronutrients they did 50 years ago. While we may not be calorie-deficient as a society, there is no doubt we are a nutrient-deficient society, and the epidemic-levels of disordered eating, obesity, and other chronic health issues are a testament to that. Why is nutrition so important? How does it actually affect your body? The answer lies in our genes, and how they get expressed.
Every cell in your body has a nucleus that holds 46 molecules called your chromosomes, each containing 300 million pairs of genetic letters called nucleic acids. These are essentially responsible for building and maintaining every system in your body. They are constantly working to maintain these systems, and keep everything working as best as possible. Although that might seem like a lot of chemical information, your chromosomes only make up about 2% of your entire DNA. The other 98% is called “non-coding DNA,” and we are just now learning how important this DNA is to our bodies. It functions as a hugely complicated regulatory system that tells our genetic material what to do, or how to be expressed. It is essentially our “DNA brain”, controlling and regulating our gene expression to ensure all of your body systems continue to function properly. Genetic “lottery” winners don’t necessarily have superior genes, they just have better functioning non-coding DNA brains.
A few months ago there was an article that came out about a 17-year old boy who went blind after eating nothing but French fries, white bread, pringles, and processed meats for years (https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/03/health/poor-diet-blindness-scli-intl/index.html). Although tragic, this serves as an example of what happens to our bodies if we don’t get adequate nutrients. The non-coding DNA, responsible for telling our genes where and how to express themselves, needs certain vitamins and minerals and other micronutrients in order to function properly. If they don’t receive this from our diet, they start to make some mistakes. This is why identical twins, who have the exact same DNA at birth, can end up looking and acting like very different people. In the case of the 17-year old boy, he did not receive enough vitamin B12 from his diet. This, in turn, did not give his non-coding DNA the tools they needed for gene expression of his optic nerve, and he subsequently went blind.
But this same process happens on a less-dramatic scale all of the time. A lack of nutrients can affect everything from your body’s ability to process foods, heal muscle and ligament injuries, and even can affect your memory and other brain functions. The good news, however, is that this can go both ways. If your DNA “brain” has forgotten how to perform certain functions due to poor nutrition, it can absolutely “learn” how to do this again through a healthy diet and smart life decisions. If you’ve been dealing with chronic injuries, tiredness, or any other issue, it may be time to start helping your DNA learn how to optimize your health.
Luckily research has come a long way and we are now more than ever equipped to make dietary choices that can give our non-coding DNA the tools necessary to maintain proper function. In the next post we will start to discuss which foods our body needs, and how to start using nutrition to improve our health and well being.