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Title: The Secret Of How Nutrition Shapes Your Genes - Dr. Steven Lin

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The Secret Of How Nutrition Shapes Your Genes
by Dr Steven Lin | Aug 21, 2015 | Health | 0 comments

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Honeybees are well known for the way they treat their ‘royalty’; a queen bee enjoys a life of being fed,
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washed and escorted everywhere she goes. However, unlike human royalty, the queen bee hasn’t won
the genetic lottery. Her life of being tended to by loyal and devoted minions is a fascinating example
of the role that nutrition may play in our health and development.
For some it may be hard to embrace the fact that Prince Harry was born into a luxury, wealth and
status filled life, purely due to who his parents are. For most mankind, hereditary has been a key basis
for selecting our royal leaders. That’s not the American tradition of course nor the case across the
animal kingdom.
Food fit for a queen
The life destiny of a bee turns out to be dictated by how it is fed in its first days after birth. Until the
third day, all larvae are fed the same ‘royal jelly’ secreted from the heads of nurse bees. After that
initial period, the majority are switched to a feed of pollen and nectar. For reasons unknown, a
selected number of bees continue to receive the royal jelly. Here, royalty is handpicked, with the lucky
few growing into the much larger and sexually promiscuous queen bees.
As scientists have found, the prolonged exposure to royal jelly sets off a cascade of hormones from a
liver-like organ that leads to the development of the reproductive system in the larvae. The DNA of a
fledgling queen bee, is ‘switched on’ by the sustained presence of royal jelly. This process does not
alter the DNA code itself, but acts via ‘tagging’ or methylation of the DNA helix, which is the addition of
small carbon groups to outside of the molecule, referred to as ‘epigentic’ changes.
How diet changes your genes
The classical understanding of genetics is that our DNA being is set in concrete from birth. We now
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know that’s too simplistic. Similar to honeybees, humans have a variety of tagging mechanisms that
allow our genes to exist in fluid communication with the outside environment, of which food is a major
contributor.
Breastmilk: Dynamic message system
Humans, like honeybees, receive early dietary messages through breast milk and this may continue
through every meal in our lives. As mammals, our nutritional messaging system is far more complex
than found in honeybees. Various bioactive components, such as polyunsaturated fatty acids, act to
‘tag’ DNA which may assist in switching on complex gene expression linked to crucial early
development.
With current recommendations suggesting to breastfeed for 4-6 months, breast milk has been found
to shift in composition over this period in what may trigger various early genetic expression in a child.
Interestingly, these changes do not involve basic nutritional elements such as fat, protein and
carbohydrates. Instead they affect far more complex, bioactive components such as bacterial
populations and immunological cells – both factors that extend far beyond the common
understanding of nutrition constituting our dietary guidelines and recommendations.
At the very beginning of our lives, we receive an intricate epigenetic message from our mother that
seems to influence life-long health outcomes. Research has linked this to better brain and immune
development. Beyond childhood, these benefits extend to the lowered risk of communicable and noncommunicable diseases like obesity.
Food for thought
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Although our eating habits may not deliver us the life of a queen bee, our genes are interacting with
food in ways we’re only beginning to understand. Although breastfeeding dictates crucial
developmental stages, dietary habits play a key role in health with every meal representing a
discussion with your genetic material.
Whilst there is much to learn, our new understanding of epigenetics shows how our body is designed
to listen and adapt to environmental signals. Hence, every bite counts and you literally are what you
eat.

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