Diet, Lifestyle, Genetics and Health

A simple overview of how diet and lifestyle changes can positively influence gene expression which in turn can have important effects on health and disease risks.

Ever heard of the term EPIGENETICS?

Epigenetics refers to changes in gene expression that occur without changes to the underlying DNA sequence. These changes can be hereditary and can be influenced by environmental factors, such as diet, lifestyle and environment. The process of epigenetics includes, inter alia, the way gene expression is influenced (improved) by diet and lifestyle interventions.

One way that diet and lifestyle interventions can influence gene expression is through DNA methylation. DNA methylation is a process by which methyl groups are added to DNA, which can inhibit the expression of certain genes. For example, studies have shown that diets high in fruits and vegetables can increase DNA methylation of tumor suppressor genes, which can help to prevent the development of cancer.

Another way that diet and lifestyle interventions can influence gene expression is through histone modification. Histones are proteins that help to package DNA into chromatin, which can affect gene expression. Certain modifications to histones, such as acetylation or methylation, can promote or inhibit gene expression. For example, exercise has been shown to increase histone acetylation, which can increase the expression of genes involved in energy metabolism and muscle function.

Finally, diet and lifestyle interventions can also influence gene expression through the activation or inhibition of transcription factors. Transcription factors are proteins that bind to DNA and regulate gene expression. Certain nutrients or chemicals in the diet can activate or inhibit specific transcription factors, which can lead to changes in gene expression. For example, consumption of omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to increase the expression of genes involved in anti-inflammatory processes by activating specific transcription factors.

In summary: Diet and lifestyle interventions can influence gene expression through various epigenetic mechanisms, such as DNA methylation, histone modification, and transcription factor activation or inhibition. These changes in gene expression can have important effects on health and disease risk

Looking more closely at how lifestyle factors might modify epigenetic patterns.

Several lifestyle factors have been identified that might modify epigenetic patterns, such as diet, obesity, physical activity, tobacco smoking, alcohol consumption, environmental pollutants, psychological stress, and working on night shifts.

Diagram showing Environment-Epigenetics interactions













Table 1:  Lifestyle factors with epigenetic effects, confirmed by scientific research


Epidemiological data support the anticarcinogenic property of folate.

Soy (a phytoestrogen) consumption is associated with reduced risk of hormone-related cancers.

Polyphenols can impact DNA methyltransferases, Histone acetylases and Histone deacetylases inducing reversibility of epigenetic dysregulation.

Selenium can impact the DNA methylation status interacting directly with DNA methyltransferases.
Physical Activity and Obesity
Macronutrient composition of the diet could help to develop obesity through epigenetic mechanisms.

Epigenetic mechanisms may be implicated in mediating the effects of physical activity.
Tobacco SmokeCigarette smoke. (Tobacco has known epigenetic effects.)
Smoking during pregnancy has been associated with increased risk for developing diseases in fetal or later life, through epigenetic mechanisms.
AlcoholHigh alcohol intake.
Alcohol is an antagonist of folate metabolism and may have effects on DNA methylation.
PollutionAir pollution.
Particulate air pollution may affect human health through DNA methylation alterations.
EmotionalStressful experiences.
DNA methylation is sensitive to environmental stressful exposures early in development and later in life.
ShiftworkWorking at night.
An epigenetic reprogramming of circadian genes, changes in Alu repetitive elements methylation and gene-specific methylation of IFN-γ and TNF-α promoters have been observed.

In summary: Lifestyle includes different factors such as nutrition, behavior, stress, physical activity, working habits, smoking and alcohol consumption. It has been shown that environmental and lifestyle factors may influence epigenetic mechanisms.

Inherited lifestyle disease, and how diet can influence the disease progression.

Genetic disorders are caused by changes or mutations in a person’s DNA that may affect the functioning of specific genes. These mutations can be inherited from parents or can occur spontaneously. While diet does not directly cause genetic disorders, it can have an impact on how these disorders develop and progress.

Diet can impact the severity and progression of certain genetic disorders. For example, in the case of Huntington’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder caused by a mutation in the HTT gene, research suggests that a diet high in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) may slow the progression of the disease. This is because PUFAs are thought to have anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce damage to the brain.

Additionally, diet can impact a person’s overall health and well-being, which can affect how they cope with a genetic disorder. For example, maintaining a healthy weight, getting enough exercise, and avoiding unhealthy habits like smoking can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life for people with genetic disorders, such as familial hyperlipdaemia, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, insulin resistance, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer’s disease to name but a few.

Plant-based eating has numerous scientifically-proven benefits, even for those with genetic health problems.

Here are some of the key benefits:

  • Lower Risk of Chronic Diseases: A plant-based diet can lower the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer. This is because plant-based foods are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which help to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. These are risk factors for chronic diseases, and reducing them can help to prevent or manage these conditions.
  • Improved Gut Health: Plant-based foods are rich in fiber, which is essential for maintaining a healthy gut. Fiber feeds the beneficial bacteria in the gut, which in turn helps to maintain a healthy gut microbiome. A healthy gut microbiome is essential for overall health, as it plays a role in immune function, digestion, and even mental health.
  • Lower Environmental Impact: Plant-based eating is more environmentally friendly than a diet that includes a lot of animal products. Animal agriculture is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and water pollution. By reducing or eliminating animal products from your diet, you can reduce your environmental footprint.
  • Weight Management: A plant-based diet can be an effective tool for weight management. Plant-based foods are typically lower in calories and higher in fiber than animal products, which can help to promote feelings of fullness and reduce overall calorie intake. This can help with weight loss or weight maintenance, which in turn can help to reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
  • Lower Cholesterol: Plant-based eating can lower cholesterol levels, even in those with genetic health problems. Plant-based foods are naturally low in saturated fat, which is a major contributor to high cholesterol. Additionally, some plant-based foods, such as nuts and seeds, are rich in healthy fats, which can help to improve cholesterol levels.

In summary: There are many scientific benefits to plant-based eating, even for those with genetic health problems. A plant-based diet can help to reduce the risk of chronic diseases, improve gut health, lower your environmental impact, help with weight management, and lower cholesterol levels.

In conclusion

While diet may not directly cause genetic disorders, it can have an impact on their development, progression, and management. It’s important for individuals with genetic disorders to work closely with healthcare professionals to develop a diet and lifestyle plan that supports their overall health and well-being.


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