Epigenetics:The Epicenter of the Future of Medicine

I have just finished writing  a new version of The Adaptation Diet (published by North Atlantic Books and to be released May 2013) which includes a new section on epigenetics, possibly the most important and powerful new information on how to lose weight and prevent chronic illness that I have seen in my 35 year medical career.  This new version of the book adds invaluable ideas on how to employ these new scientific breakthroughs in your daily life.

Epigenetics explores how genes that are carried in the DNA express their information. It is such a dynamic field that over 16,000 scientific articles are published every year and many academic medical institutions have established departments of epigenetics. Andrew Feinberg MD from Johns Hopkins University Center for Epigenetics wrote an article in JAMA in 2008 calling epigenetics the center of modern medicine.

Why is epigenetics so revolutionary?  In the past it was thought that whatever was inherited through the genes and DNA was fixed and unchangeable, our biological destiny written in the double helix of our DNA. One of the first clues that this was not so came from the world of honeybees. Scientists discovered that bees fed different foods as larvae became either workers or queen bees despite the exact same genetics. The differing diets of the larvae modified how their genes were expressed though a process called methylation which influences the structures around the genes and  which genes are turned on or off.

In humans, the greatest influence on methylation, as well as other epigenetic process(such as histone modification), is diet as well. What we eat, even what your mother consumed before you were conceived, can influence your gene expression and biological destiny. Obesity, and the risks of developing chronic disease including diabetes, heart disease and cancer are all a result of epigenetic phenomena. The greatest positive influence on epigenetic expression appears to be from what are termed bioactive foods including broccoli and other crucifers, soy, turmeric and other spices, garlic, green tea and folate rich foods such as green leafy vegetables.

However there are also many disruptive influences on gene expression caused by  changes in epigenetic states from exposure to environmental toxins such as BPA, PCB’s. phthalates and heavy metals. The interplay between adequate intake of bioactive foods and the amount of toxin exposure can determine so much about a person’s future health that I feel that epigenetic mechanisms are the most important focus in staying healthy.

I will write more about how to protect the epigenome and other new information from The Adaptation Diet in future posts including detailed information on bioactive foods and the toxins that have polluted the environment.

Toxins and Obesity

I have recently attended a most interesting workshop by Jeff Bland PhD, who pointed out something I know to be true from my practice experience: toxins in our foods and environment are contributing to the obesity epidemic in a major way. What was striking was the finding that diabetes itself  is more highly correlated with organic pollutants such as lindane, bisphenyl A and PCB’s than even obesity itself.

The effect of these pollutants is just starting to be recognized. One target is the mitochondria, the organelle inside the cell that produces energy. The effects of persistent organic pollutants (POP) is great enough that there is a new term for their effect on weight gain-obesogens.

You can reduce the effect of these pollutants through choosing organic foods, avoiding soft plastic containers and following the suggestions for detoxification in The Adaptation Diet to reduce the overall stress on the body.

Lose Weight Through Adaptation

Susan was typical of many of my patients. She ate pretty well, watching her intake of calories and fats, but she could not budge the weight around her middle. She had been on a variety of diets, they  worked to some degree, but the weight always came back. Even though she counted her calories, something was holding her back.

That something was poor adaptation to the foods in her diet. Unknown to her, she had multiple food allergies to which her body responded with increased cortisol, the main stress hormone. The cortisol increased the visceral abdominal fat which made further weight loss impossible. Poor adaptation also occurred from her lack of fiber rich foods, flavonoid rich foods (darkly colored vegetables and fruits such as cherries, berries, broccoli, kale, chard) and skipping meals to keep her caloric intake down. All of these patterns increased cortisol and stopped the weight loss.

Susan read my new book, The Adaptation Diet, followed the program to a tee, identified her food allergies, added in the right foods and turned around not only her weight, but her energy level and sense of well-being. It is possible to stop  weight gain in its tracks with a few simple dietary changes as outlined in The Adaptation Diet.