HOW DO GENES WORK?

Updated: Jun 29, 2020

INFORMATION IS POWER. All the information about yourself is stored and coded in your DNA, which is, in turn, housed in your genes.


Your genes are responsible for making proteins. Each gene has instructions to make a specific protein, and these proteins become chemical messengers (mRNA) carrying instructions to your cells (for example, whether a cell is to become a skin cell or a liver cell, the colour of your eyes, skin, etc) Although humans have many similar features, unique differences determine who 'you' are.


In order to perform their essential job of making proteins, genes need to be activated. Activation requires contacting a specific gene to produce its specific protein to deliver the right message. Sounds simple? Considering there are about 24,000 genes in the human genome, some of which have functions we cannot explain, that leaves a lot of room for error.

The remarkable body has precautions in place, and the focus in nutrigenomics is on upstream processes like detoxification to remove harmful toxins and the process of reducing oxidative stress (the balance between free radicals and antioxidants) in our cells. The human body is a complex, interconnected system that results in domino-type effects of biological and chemical processes. No system is isolated - what happens in the gut, liver, brain, muscles or heart all have an impact on each other. There are four main upstream processes - detoxification, inflammation, oxidative stress and energy production within our cells. An inflammatory process upstream or gene expression upstream will impact other processes further along the route.

THE HUMAN BODY HAS REMARKABLE DEFENCE SYSTEMS

Diet and lifestyle play a major role in supporting the defence systems that guard our cells. Some of us have better defence systems than others, and there are genetic 'outliers' who appear luckier than others.

For example, my grandfather smoked 60 cigarettes a day and polished off my grandmother's superb cheeesecake on a weekly basis. He was never hospitalized and died peacefully in his sleep at 85 years old without any aches or pains in his overweight body. By contrast, what should we make of a fit young man who dies tragically mid-marathon from sudden cardiac arrest? Undetected existing cardiovascular disease or genetic risks have little to do with his physical conditioning and he 'appeared' perfectly healthy to those around him, unlike my grandfather who looked as though he might expire from a coughing fit at any moment!

Is it simply a case of having 'good genes' or is there more to this?

Our internal defence systems work tirelessly to keep us functioning, but they also need a bit of support from ourselves. During World War 1, soldiers whose diets contained more garlic had less frequent bouts of dysentery than those who did not eat garlic. Garlic has been shown to be very effective against a broad spectrum of gram-negative ( thin cell wall)and gram-positive (thick cell wall) bacteria. Garlic juice has been proven to inhibit Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria responsible for stomach ulcer formation.

Cranberry juice has been used for years by women suffering with urinary tract infections. Scientists have now shown that 300 ml/ 10.5 fluid ounces of cranberry juice per day, taken for six months, can alter bacterial flora in the urinary tract. Foods and nutrients that are capable of modulating gene expression are called 'bioactive compounds'

So, whether you have 'good genes' or not, a little extra support using bioactive compounds found in many fruit, vegetables and seeds can go a long way in helping your genes and their enzymes to function optimally.