Everything you eat provides your body with information as to how to express the genes your parents gave you.

We all have approximately 30,000 genes, and while we really don’t differ that much from one another genetically, there are huge differences in our phenotypes, or how we look and interact with our environment. Many things can affect the development of our phenotype – what our mothers ate while we were in utero, what we ate while we were young, our environments, any traumas, any toxin exposures, whether we exercise, whether we sleep, an infection, poor dental hygiene, etc.

The most common variant in our genotypes is known as a SNP, or single nucleotide polymorphism. This would be somewhat like a “typo” that occurs in approximately one to two percent of the population, and generally is a single nucleotide difference in the gene that then affects the function of the protein or enzyme for which that gene encodes. There are three million known SNP’s, and their significance is that they make for biochemical individuality. This is a term coined by Roger Williams, phD, who recognized that the unique genes of every individual would lead to unique nutritional and lifestyle requirements for optimal genetic expression.

We now have the capability to perform laboratory tests to document whether an individual has some of the known SNP’s, many of which impact the function of our liver to detoxify the substances we are eating, and many of which control the inflammatory process. This will enable individualization of lifestyle, nutrition, and medications so as to optimize one’s genetic potential.

In addition to the SNP’s that you would have inherited from your parents, your genetic expression can be greatly modulated by what you eat. For example, eating cruciferous vegetables, apples, green tea, watercress, radishes, or omega 3 fats on a regular basis will assist your liver in performing the second step of detoxification in your liver, which helps you get rid of unwanted chemicals such as pesticide or excess estrogen. Drinking coffee on a regular basis or smoking will negatively impact the process of detoxification.

A fascinating article on the impact of diet on genetic expression was published by Kallio et al in the May 2007 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. They randomized 47 subjects with metabolic syndrome between a low glycemic index diet and a high glycemic index diet. Both groups received the same total amount of calories and the macronutrient content (fats, proteins, carbohydrates, and fiber) was the same in both groups. Subcutaneous fat was biopsied before and after the diet, to assay for differences in genetic expression.

At the end of three months, they found that the low glycemic diet group had downregulation ( meaning lesser activity) in 71 genes which were associated with insulin signaling and inflammation. The high glycemic diet had upregulation (greater activity) of 62 genes associated with promotion of inflammation. Just the simple change in glycemic index led to a profound difference in genetic expression!

Humans have been on earth for approximately 150,000 to 200,000 years. We’ve been farming for approximately 10,000 years and prior to that exercised regularly, did not have caloric excess, and lived a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Our nutrition and lifestyles have never before evolved at so rapid a pace as they have in the last 100 years – now 85% of us don’t exercise regularly, we routinely eat more than our bodies require, and we are eating substances our genes are not equipped to deal with- high fructose corn syrup, pesticides, additives, and humongous amounts of refined sugar.

It’s no wonder we are seeing an explosion in the numbers of patients with inflammatory diseases: diabetes, obesity, heart disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, depression, etc. The information we are providing to our genes in terms of diet and lifestyle is not making any sense to our genes, and the way they cope is the same way they would to any injury: an inflammatory response.