We now know that environmental influences including nutrition, behaviour, stress, chemicals and radiation, as well as emotions, can change how genes are expressed and can silence or activate a gene without altering the genetic code in any way. These are changes in gene expression that occur without a change in DNA sequence.
Interestingly, early researchers used supplements to offset the results of a particular gene in mice that made them overweight, sick and at high risk of cardiovascular disease (if you could imagine all that in a mouse). Researchers fed pregnant mice, all of which had an abnormal "agouti" gene, methyl-rich supplements, folic acid, B12, betaine and choline. Agouti mice have yellow coats and are extremely obese, which predisposes them to cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes and cancer. Those pregnant mice given the supplements produced standard lean, healthy offspring that lived longer and weighed half that of the yellow agouti mice, even though they still had the agouti gene.
While epigenetic changes can lead to an increase in diseases, the fact is the information we have now puts us in control. Not only can we avoid so many diseases that were once thought of as "in our genes," but also research is showing that by changing our diet and lifestyle we can also reverse many of these conditions.
Diet and Nutrition
From my previous articles we know that drugs are just not the solution. Another recent example is a study in Scandinavia that showed a 300% increase in statin use to lower cholesterol did not result in a single change in the heart attack rate over the years of the study. Or another study that showed that long-term use of these drugs increases the risk of breast cancer.
In contrast, thousands of studies in diverse scientific journals have shown the benefits of changes in Diet, Environment, Attitude and Lifestyle (DEAL) to reduce the risk and even reverse CVD. As an example, in one study with 15,708 participants, people who newly adopt a healthy lifestyle including smoking cessation, increased exercise, and healthy eating in middle age, experienced a prompt benefit of lower rates of cardiovascular disease and mortality.
Despite the overwhelming importance diet and nutrition have in our lives, most people show very little interest other than satisfying their hunger or taste buds. They spend more time on working out, thinking about the next car they are buying or finding the right health insurance than they do on learning about their own health. Perhaps this is because people are too busy doing other things; maybe it is too complicated or maybe it is because of the confusion brought about by the vested interests marketing our foodstuffs.
The typical Western diet is driven by the marketing and PR of the major food industries. Our Western-style diet is very restricted in its variety with a few products dominating, such as sugar, wheat, processed omega 6 oils (vegetable-seed oils), dairy and meat. The worst is the fact that our diets are so over-processed we no longer get the nutrition our bodies need to survive, but we do get lots of empty calories. The fact that we have focused on calories for the past 50 years means we have lost sight of nutrition. We count the calories, get sicker and put on more weight.
By contrast, an individual's nutrition is perhaps the greatest factor in assessing whether or not he is diagnosed with a form of cardiovascular disease. Many foods are strongly associated with the reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease or are associated with an increased risk. A nutritionally complete diet that is plentiful in fruit, vegetables, legumes (beans), nuts, tea (green and black), omega 3 fatty acids, supplemental nutrition and dark chocolate has been linked, not just to a reduction of cardiovascular disease in the overall population, but also to reversing damage that has already been done.
In the beginning, there were healthy, whole foods and healthy lifestyles; people took responsibility for their own health. Now most of the world is dying from food- related illness. Half the world is dying from not enough food and the other half from too much nutrient-depleted, calorie-dense food.
Benefits of Traditional Diets
Large numbers of studies have shown that the traditional diets from around the world reduce the risk of CVD and other forms of chronic illness. For example, a Mediterranean diet characterised by a high intake of olive oil, fruit, nuts, vegetables, fish and a low intake of dairy products, red meat, processed meats, sweets and wine reduces the risk of CVD.
Similarly, studies investigating the influence of a Palaeolithic-type diet comprising lean meat, fruits, vegetables and nuts, and excluding food types such as dairy and cereal grains, have reported dramatic and consistent findings. In a study on domestic pigs, the Palaeolithic diet improved insulin sensitivity and lowered inflammation and blood pressure when compared to a cereal-based diet. In healthy sedentary humans, the short-term consumption of a Palaeolithic-type diet improved blood pressure and glucose tolerance, decreased insulin secretion, increased insulin sensitivity and improved lipid profiles. Similar positive results on glycaemic control were obtained in diabetic patients when the Paleolithic diet was compared with the diabetes diet. Participants were on each diet for three months, whereby the Paleolithic diet resulted in a lower BMI, weight and waist circumference, higher mean HDL and lower blood pressure.
There is considerable support for a move towards nutrient-based therapy in order to reverse hypertension, plaque build-up in the arteries and other cardiovascular complications. It is widely recognised that nutrition and lifestyle can have a direct impact on stabilising blood pressure and the build-up of the atherosclerotic plaque, even more than drugs, so it makes sense to use the simplest and least complicated approach ("Occam's Razor") and deal with the problems rather than just the symptoms (like most medications). Additionally, dietary and lifestyle approaches have only positive side benefits and reduce the risk of all forms of chronic illness.
I recently met an 83 year young man, Peter, who was active and extremely healthy and on no medication. At 68, he had been on multiple medications including antihypertensive and cholesterol drugs but, with the help of a new informed GP, was able to turn his life around. Priscilla was another victim of the legal drug trade and on multiple medications. Twelve years ago she was told to get her things in order and would likely be dead within the year. She changed her life and is actively campaigning about the over-prescription of drugs and the role of a healthy lifestyle in living a more vibrant and longer life.
Most people (I think everyone) should be taking supplements because eating a balanced diet all of the time and absorbing the required nutrients all of the time is almost impossible for people throughout the world. The argument for supplementation is easily summed up into several main areas. The first is that it is no longer possible to get all the nutrients that should be in our food. Through modern cropping, growing and harvesting techniques, transport, storage and marketing, not to mention processing and cooking, it is possible to lose 100% of the nutrient value of food and, in its place, add toxins. This means that if it is not in the food we eat, we have to get it from supplementation.
In addition to low-nutrient foods that make up our diets, we are now inundated with many new stressors, including environmental toxins and modern day stress that increase the body's need for nutrients. From food additives and contaminants to fluoride and aluminium added to water, increasing environmental toxins in our homes and pollutants like environmental tobacco smoke decrease our nutrient reserves and place increased stress and nutritional demands on our bodies.
All too often we have given control of our health to individuals whom we see for a few minutes and a system that is controlled by the big pharmaceutical companies. It is time to take back that responsibility. There is only one person who is responsible for your health. That is you. In addition an individual's attitude, the outlook she has on life, can determine whether she develops cardiovascular disease, and if she does, how well and quickly she can recover from it and how fast she can reverse her illness. Scientific studies have shown that attitude, in relation to psychosocial factors such as depression, anxiety, personality factors and stress - as well as a positive attitude about being in control of one's own health - can all have an impact on heart disease.
Many people lack confidence in their own possibilities and therefore fail to meet their own expectations. The ones who have their own internal faith are the ones who succeed in life. If you want to succeed, fortunately there are many proven techniques that can help you change your attitude.
Growing research also shows environmental toxins commonly found in our homes, household, water and food are contributing to the increased risk of chronic illness such as CVD, diabetes and weight gain. This is obvious when we look at smoking, which is one of the biggest risks for CVD. However, synthetic chemicals found in our household and personal care products, as well as toxic metals, increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. A simple action is to detoxify your home by purchasing safer products for personal use and around the home.
Reducing your risk of heart attack and stroke is simple. The science is now available and supports much of what your great grandparents did. The drug solution is not working as it only treats the symptoms. It is now time to take control of your own health.
DISCLAIMER: Dr Peter Dingle is a researcher, educator and public health advocate. He has a PhD in the field of environmental toxicology and is not a medical doctor.
Dr Peter Dingle (PhD) has spent the past 30 years as a researcher, educator, author and advocate for a common sense approach to health and wellbeing. He has a PhD in the field of environmental toxicology and is not a medical doctor. He is Australia’s leading motivational health speaker and has 14 books in publication.