Integrative Nutrition Blog

Dr. Mark Hyman On How to Influence Your Genes for Better Health

July 31, 2014

In the old nature versus nurture debate, genes are typically pitted against environmental influences as diametrical opposites. But what if you could actually change your genes with food and lifestyle? Well, maybe you can.

The field of epigenetics suggests that our behavior can influence which of our genes are expressed. Integrative Nutrition teaching expert Dr. Mark Hyman is a leading advocate of the idea that genetics are not fixed, and he wants to empower people to make choices that turn on healthy genes and suppress the genetic expression of disease..

Internal and external factors activate and deactivate genes, influencing which proteins get expressed, which in turn influences your health. What’s more, the genetic results of these internal and external factors become inheritable. That’s right, the choices you make today could affect the DNA of your progeny!

For instance, if your grandfather was exposed to toxic pesticides, you may inherit the attendant genetic modifications. And the genetic modifications resulting from you consuming too much refined sugar might impact your children’s DNA.

Thus, each generation is at higher risk for disease than the last. But the key phrase here is “at risk.” While you may have a genetic disposition for disease, you’re not doomed to that fate. By modifying your behavior, you can influence your genes to promote optimal health and minimize disease.

7 Ways to influence Your Genes for a Healthier You:

1. Eat Real, Whole Food

The best food available is that without nutrition labels. Fresh fruits and vegetables and sustainable protein sources are nature’s finest. Eat fresh and local, while avoiding pesticides, GMOs, and additives. Remove the complexity of health by going back to basics with your food. For inspiration, try Dr. Mark Hyman’s favorite breakfast smoothie!

2. Give Your Body an Oil Change

Most Americans consume an overabundance of omega-6 fats, leaving their brains asking for omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s compose 60% of your brain, and fight against inflammation, heart disease, and diabetes. Make the switch from inflammatory omega-6 laden foods to nature’s omega-3 cornucopia of wild sardines, salmon, nuts (walnuts are best), and seeds (try sacha inchi seeds!).

3. Eat to Balance Blood Sugar

Consume an equal amount of protein and starch (think beyond grains to fruits and veggies), and complement with healthy fats, like those from grass-fed beef, pastured chicken, or nuts and seeds. The protein and fats help slow the rise in insulin from carbohydrates. This not only gives you even energy throughout the day, it also protects you against obesity, diabetes, and cancer, which can be caused by chronically high insulin levels.

4. Redefine Your Dairy

Dairy is a common cause of digestive conditions, eczema, acne, sinus trouble, asthma, and allergies. Try going dairy free for at least four weeks and see how your body responds. Ditching dairy doesn’t mean deprivation: there are a bounty of delicious dairy alternatives such as coconut milk, almond milk, and cashew milk. 

5. Wander Away from Wheat

Our ancestors ate much less wheat than we consume, and the wheat they did eat had much lower starch and gluten content. While they included wheat in perhaps one meal a day, we consume it all day long: a bagel for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, pasta for dinner, and cake for dessert. Eating this quantity of wheat contributes to inflammation and obesity, and causes your blood sugar to surge and then crash, leaving you hungry for more. Dr. Hyman recommends a trial gluten elimination to see how your body responds. 

6. Welcome Friendly Bugs into Your Gut Microbiome

Fun fact: Your body is made up of more microorganisms than human cells (your intestinal microbiome outnumbers the organisms of the human body by roughly 10-100 times!). When you consume probiotic-rich cultured foods such as kefir, yogurt, and sauerkraut, you support a gut microbiome that prevents cancer, minimizes inflammation, optimizes metabolism, and maintains healthy gene expression. Healthy gut microbiota DNA correlates with healthy human DNA. 

7. Preserve a Healthy Stress Response

Our bodies respond to stress by activating biochemical pathways, which release molecules that alter your DNA. This weakens your genetic stability and increases your risk for psychological conditions, including depression. Additionally, stress-induced changes in your DNA can be passed down to future generations, reorganizing their stress response mechanism and putting them at risk for disease as well. Reduce the stress factors in your life and learn to cope with the stress you can’t avoid to achieve healthy gene expression.

What’s one change you’ll make this week to start turning on “healthy” genes and turning off “disease” genes? Share in the comments below!

To hear more of what Dr. Mark Hyman has to say about healthy living, download this free Ultrawellness webinar

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