Can the food we eat change our genetics?

September 2, 2020
Nutrigenetics concept DNA strand made with healthy fresh vegetables and fruits

The short answer to this question is YES!

Research has found that only about 20% of diseases in general are actually due to hereditary causes. This means 80% of the time we can prevent ourselves from getting the same diseases as our parents and grandparents.

Today, more people have heart disease, cancer, diabetes, autoimmune disease, and chronic diseases than ever before. It couldn’t possibly be due to genetics because so many today are the first in their families to get these diseases.

The science of epigenetics has found that the expression of certain genes can be turned on and off. This means if your mom and grandma have anxiety and you do too, you may be able to turn that gene off. If your dad has diabetes, you could prevent your risk of ever getting diabetes and then never pass on that gene to your kids.

So how do we turn off the gene expression of things we don’t want? 

The only real way to do that is by changing our lifestyle. We can start taking charge of our health now because we don’t have to live with a lot of these common conditions that we think are inevitable. And if you before you produce offspring ending the cycle forever.  

DNA methylation is the most extensively studied epigenetic mechanism. This is characterized by the attachment of a methyl group to DNA by an enzyme called DNA methyltransferase (DNMT), which can stunt gene expression. Plant flavones have been shown to cause changes in DNA methylation across the whole genome and on specific genes. The standard American diet (SAD) has been shown to change DNA methylation levels in mice which could harm the development of offspring before they’re even born.

Another commonly studied epigenetic mechanism is called histone modification. This is where histone proteins and DNA, aka chromatin, become condensed or relaxed as a result of added or removed chemical marks like methyl or acetyl groups on histones. The more condensed chromatin structures restrict gene expression (what we want to happen with the disease prone genes). And the more relaxed chromatin structures allow for greater genetic expression.

Both of these can lead to mitochondrial dysfunction or optimal mitochondrial function. Mitochondria are considered the powerhouse of our cells because 95% of energy is produced there. 

Mitochondrial dysfunction in the form of altered gene expression and ATP production, resulting from epigenetic changes, can lead to various conditions including aging-related neurodegenerative disorders, altered metabolism, changes in circadian rhythm, and cancer.

What foods can optimize our genetic expression?

With the knowledge above we can understand that eating foods high in polyphenols and antioxidants can support mitochondrial health. When we put stress on our cells with improper nutrition, pollution, lack of movement, stress, etc we put our cells under “oxidative stress” forming the free radicals that lead to cellular death altered gene expression.

When it comes to the foods we eat it definitely has to be organic whole foods.  Research has found that organic foods contain a 20-40% higher level of antioxidants and polyphenols as well as 50% lower levels of cadmium, which is a heavy metal toxin. This is known to prevent cardiovascular diseases, kidney diseases, liver diseases, bone diseases, and certain cancers. 

Foods shown to optimize mitochondrial health and genetic expression:

  1. Vegetables: All of them and a variety of them
  2. Healthy fats: Extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, nuts/seeds, wildcaught seafood, avocados
  3. High quality pasture-raised meat
  4. Fruits: Ideally low sugar or in moderation

To keep it simple I’ll use Michael Pollen’s quote, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

The science is there for epigenetics. There is a direct connection between our environment and our health and the food we eat is at the top of the list of things that can either be medicine, neutral, or poison. Everything I mentioned above in terms of foods are REAL food. If its not in this list then it is simply a food-like substance.

If you’d like to start optimizing your genetics and overall health,  schedule your complimentary call today!


Chango A, Pogribny IP. Considering maternal dietary modulators for epigenetic regulation and programming of the fetal epigenome. Nutrients. 2015;7(4):2748-2770. Published 2015 Apr 14. doi:10.3390/nu7042748

Falahi F, van Kruchten M, Martinet N, Hospers GA, Rots MG. Current and upcoming approaches to exploit the reversibility of epigenetic mutations in breast cancer. Breast Cancer Res. 2014;16(4):412. Published 2014 Jul 29. doi:10.1186/s13058-014-0412-z

Nilsson, E. E., Sadler-Riggleman, I., & Skinner, M. K. (2018). Environmentally induced epigenetic transgenerational inheritance of disease. Environmental epigenetics4(2), dvy016.

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  • Dr. Hanisha Patel

    I aspire to see a world where great health is not only achievable but the norm. For most of my life, I dealt with constipation, abdominal pain, asthma, allergies, joint pain, back pain, irregular menstrual cycles, chronic nasal congestion, dry skin, migraines, fatigue, inability to focus, and memory issues. I thought all of these things were just the reality I had to live with until I discovered Naturopathic medicine.

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