The summer is a great time for people to come together, catch up on old times, share some fun in the sun, enjoy the fresh air and each other’s company… and, of course, eat.
Food takes center-stage at many of our gatherings. Sharing a meal is a traditional way to strengthen the bond between family and friends – and there is always dessert and S’mores around the campfire. You are probably familiar with the effect that over-indulging can have on your figure, but you might not realize that these casual meals are also an opportunity to get nutriepigenetic benefits from your food.
Believe it or not, some very simple and delicious tweaks to your summertime party menu can help to fight cancer, boost brain health and strengthen your immune system. It’s all about Nutriepigenomics!
Nutriepigenomics looks at the effects of different types of food and various nutrients have on the human body via epigenetic modifications. Little do you know, passing up the broccoli for a second helping of pasta salad at your next Bbq may do more than just increase your waistline – it might actually affect your epigenome! Certain dietary choices you make this summer has the potential to change the epigenetic marks on your genome associated with your risk for disease and well-being for the rest of your life.
Here are some things that you may not have known about the food on your picnic assortment, which will be a helpful guide when figuring out what to put (or not to put) on your plate this summer:
1. Cancer-preventative side dishes
Summer gatherings are often full of fattening treats like potato and pasta salads, buffalo wings, and fatty cuts of meat smothered in sweet barbeque sauce – not to mention the overflow of ice cream, cookies, and cupcakes when it’s dessert time. Some healthier side dish options like grilled zucchini, a fresh green salad, and sliced watermelon for dessert might epigenetically lower your risk of cancer, maybe even preventing tumor growth.
Research shows that there are natural chemo-preventative nutrients, such as micronutrients folate and retinoic acid as well as dietary compounds from cruciferous vegetables like broccoli or cauliflower that help to counteract the epigenetic effects that can lead to cancer. To fight against these epigenetic alterations, evidence shows that these chemo-preventative agents influence expression or activity of DNA methyltransferases and histone-modifying enzymes.* Although much of this research has been done in vitro on cultured cancer cells, these effects have been shown in various preclinical and clinical studies.
In a clinical trial, dietary compounds such as diallyl disulfide, which is found in garlic, and sulforaphane, which is found in cruciferous vegetables, were linked to cancer prevention. According to the research, these dietary compounds were shown to inhibit type I and II HDAC enzymes. These compounds act similarly to other HDAC inhibitors by inhibiting cell proliferation and stimulating apoptosis, crucial to prevent the spread of cancerous cells.
Maybe now that heaping bowl of broccoli will actually look appetizing this weekend!
2. Entrees that protect your neurons
If your party menu includes fish or any foods such as nuts, seeds, or leafy vegetables that contain DHA (one of the major omega-3 fatty acids) it may be a good idea to make some room on your plate for it.
One study showed that adding DHA extracted from fish oil to neuroblastoma cells resulted in an increase in Bcl-2 levels, which reduced neuronal cell death, and an increase in acetylation of H3, which the researchers predict may correct altered acetylation homeostasis and potentially induce the expression of neuroprotective genes.** Food containing this compound seems to affect gene expression and has potential neuroprotective benefits that could even help those suffering from a neurodegenerative disease.
At your next BBQ consider throwing some fish such as salmon on the grill. Nuts can also make a great DNA boosting stand-in for the typical bowl of potato chips. These small tweaks may help promote healthy neurons and protect against neurodegenerative diseases, which can certainly lead to a more stimulating dinner conversation.
3. An after-dinner drink to strengthen your immune system
Instead of that cocktail, beer, margarita, or glass of wine, consider sipping on some green tea after your party meal. There is evidence that a major polyphenol found in green tea, known as Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), may epigenetically affect immune system functioning.
EGCG in green tea has been shown to act as a DNMT inhibitor, according to a recent study.*** The researchers found that treating cells with this green tea polyphenol decreased DNMT expression and DNA demethylation. Mice treated with EGCG in vivo displayed increased regulatory T cells, which are crucial to proper immune function, including immune tolerance and autoimmune suppression. Other tea polyphenols such as catechin and epicatechin have also been shown to affect DNA methylation in a similar manner.
So don’t head home early and pass up that nightcap, instead make it a cup of tea, as it may actually epigenetically promote proper immune function.
Genetics is a fascinating topic and one that I love educating about. It is what makes each of us unique, but at the same time connects us all as well. The more you understand about your DNA, the better you can take care of your body. Click here to check out my new Epigenetic Masterclass and my new Epigenetic Testing and Leverage Your Genetics Interactive Course to learn more about your genes.
*Gerhauser (2012), Cancer Chemoprevention and Nutri-Epigenetics: State of the Art and Future Challenges; https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F128_2012_360
**Sadli, Ackland, De Mel D, et al. (2012), Effects of zinc and DHA on the epigenetic regulation of human neuronal cells, Cell Physiol Biochem; 29(1-2):87-98. doi: 10.1159/000337590. Epub 2012 Mar 1
***Wong, Nguyen, Noh, et al. (2011), Induction of regulatory T cells by green tea polyphenol EGCG, Immunol Lett. Sep 30; 139(0): 7–13. Published online 2011 May 20. doi: 10.1016/j.imlet.2011.04.009