Eating Fruits and Vegetables Can Actually Alter Your DNA
We’ve all been nagged at by our parents to eat our fruits and vegetables. And we’ve all heard the saying that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Fruits and vegetables even make up the largest arc in many countries’ official Food Guides, with recommended daily servings of 7-10 for individuals aged 19-50.
You may be aware of some of the benefits eating fruits and vegetables has on your health, but did you know that they can actually alter the way your DNA is expressed? This is known as an epigenetic change and its implications are truly fascinating. Read on to learn more about this and other important facts about fruits and vegetables.
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Why Are Fruits and Vegetables So Important?
The human body is amazing; it can get rid of viruses and perform great athletic feats, but one thing it cannot do is synthesize vitamins and minerals on its own. Therefore, we must consume vitamins and minerals through our diet. The best source of most vitamins and minerals is—that’s right— fruits and vegetables.
Consider for a moment the actual importance of vitamins and minerals. First of all, they’re absolutely essential for your body’s growth, energy and well-being. For example, Vitamin A (which is found in lettuce, carrots and pumpkin) helps with cell reproduction, immunity, vision, bone growth and hair growth, among many other things. Vitamin E, is an important antioxidant, meaning it prevents the process of oxidation, which may cause damage or death to a cell. Minerals like Magnesium are crucial in making new cells and controlling insulin secretion (the latter of which is typically dysfunctional in diabetics).
Clearly, our bodies would be in trouble without vitamins and minerals, as they’re required for some pretty important functions. Think about it: full-blown diseases are typically caused by the dysfunction of one or more of your body’s systems. But, if your body’s systems have all the tools they need to be top-notch (i.e. vitamins and minerals), you won’t have to worry as much about getting sick.
Epigenetics and Your Health
So, fruits and vegetables can provide us with some great things our body needs, thereby protecting us from getting sick. But, what about those of us that have a genetic predisposition to an illness?
Well, there’s some good news: many genetic diseases are not solely caused by genes. Scientists are now aware of a fascinating thing called the epigenome, which is a collection of chemical compounds (like histones and methyl) that can switch genes on or off. In other words, the epigenome is a record of changes to your DNA. Think of it like having a DNA sequence that’s set in stone (your genotype) but each gene has a switch that can either be turned on or off, resulting in different physical or biochemical expressions (your phenotype). Basically, thanks to the epigenome, your life is not completely doomed if your parents have some sort of genetic illness.
Epigenetics and Your Health Continued…
Because of the epigenome, we can actually modify our DNA through our environment and lifestyle. This is probably one of the greatest discoveries of our time and it certainly has huge implications for the prevention of disease. So far, a wide variety of illnesses and behaviors (including cancer, cognitive dysfunction and reproductive, immune and cardiovascular disorders) have been linked to epigenetic mechanisms.
It’s all about gene-environment interactions. If you have a genetic predisposition for an illness, but nothing in your environment triggers those genes, they will always be turned off and your body will never express that illness. The interesting part is that these changes are heritable. So, your good habits can turn off your bad genes or turn on your good genes. This means that although you may pass on your bad genes to your children, they will be turned off when they’re passed on.
Some studies have found that epigenetic changes can be reversed, however. It’s important for us to realize that even our genes, which we believed for so long were unchangeable, are actually fluid. This can change the way we live and treat diseases.