Food Signals Your DNA to Stop Prediabetes

There are so many interesting research articles that come across my computer screen each week.  It is often a difficult decision as to which information I should report to you – I try to explain the articles that I believe would be most helpful in your mission to stop prediabetes.  One of the goals of Nutrientology is to give you your “because.”  In other words, we want to help give you the conviction you need to stay with your plan to stop, and then reverse, prediabetes.  Your “because” is also helpful to others – If someone asks you why you are approaching your food, movement and lifestyle in a certain way to stop prediabetes, you will be able to give them a good answer, and hopefully spread the word.  With this approach, the prediabetes, obesity and diabetes epidemics can be overcome.  There are so many areas of exercise-movement, food-nutrition and lifestyle that I find interesting, but two areas that I find especially fascinating involve the role of intestinal bacteria on health, and the influence of food and movement on our epigenetics.

double stranded DNA molecule

DNA

As many Nutrientology readers know, the word “epigenetics” refers to how the DNA that makes up your genes is expressed in the body. You were born with a certain sequence of DNA.  That does not change, but how that sequence of DNA is interpreted can be changed.   Think of it this way – if you watch a newscaster who is using a teleprompter to give you a traffic report, but every once in a while the teleprompter writes out a word in a font that the newscaster can’t read, how do you think that would affect the quality of the traffic report. If you are listening to a newscaster who can’t read some of the words, you would not have heard a good traffic report. This is likely to affect the “health” of your drive to work.  Even though all the words were there, the reporter could not read them all.  It is similar with your DNA, and epigenetics.  The actual sequence of DNA does not change – just like the words on the teleprompter – but the ability of your body to read the DNA can be affected by environmental and lifestyle factors. If you have DNA that your body cannot “read” this will affect your health.

I came across some interesting research dealing with epigenetics this past week.  It appears that there are changes in the DNA of people who have had stomach bypass surgery. These positive DNA changes have an influence on the improved metabolism seen after this procedure.  It has been known for some time that diabetics who undergo weight loss surgery by having a stomach bypass procedure, show an immediate improvement of their diabetes.

Although in some cases it may be medically appropriate, weight loss surgery is not without its potentially significant side effects.  There are indeed nutritional side-effects of weight loss surgery as well as negative effects on muscles and bones.   This post is not meant to argue for or against stomach bypass surgery, but we can use the information we learn about our DNA and epigenetics from this procedure to improve our knowledge of metabolism…read on.

Researchers have found two specific genes that are improved from this surgery.  These changed-for-the-better genes appear to be involved in supporting healthy blood sugar levels by helping to regulate the mitochondria in your muscles. The mitochondria are your cells’ small “power stations.”  They are like little energy factories for your body.  When these factories are running at peak efficiency you have better health.  The health and number of mitochondria in your muscles are very important for a healthy metabolism.  As a foot specialist, I promote healthy functional movement of the muscles of the feet and legs to promote healthy mitochondria, and healthy blood sugar levels.  As a matter of fact, exercise-movement has also been shown to influence epigenetics…Stay in touch with Nutrientology for more on that in a future post.

In the study I am reporting to you today, researchers wanted to find out whether gastric bypass surgery and its resultant weight loss may lead to changes in the DNA of genes that are involved in metabolism.

They analyzed 14 genes involved in metabolism.  11 of those genes were improved to levels seen in healthy people with normal body weights.  Or, as the researchers put it:

Among the 14 metabolic genes analyzed, promoter methylation of 11 genes was normalized to levels observed in the normal-weight, healthy subjects.

Don’t you just love how scientists communicate?

They concluded:

Our results provide evidence that obesity and RYGB-induced weight loss have a dynamic effect on the epigenome.

RYBG just refers to the name of the stomach bypass procedure.

The part of the research that especially intrigues me is the apparent change in DNA that apparently comes about as a result of this surgery, and whether or not it is the surgery, or something else that happens in conjunction with the procedure that actually is the main cause of the healthier blood sugar levels in diabetics who have had stomach bypass.

How this improvement in metabolism leading to healthier blood sugar levels occurs is not fully understood.  In the study above, the researchers were not able to tell if it was the surgery, the weight loss or both that promoted the positive effect on DNA and metabolism.  Other studies have shown improved diabetes within days after weight-loss surgery before any weight loss even had a chance to happen.  Changes in hormone levels are one part of the answer.  The stomach and small intestine are involved in supporting many hormones related to the role of food on metabolism, so that is not something to put aside, but what about the change in diet (food) after weight loss surgery?

What about the effect of food on DNA to support healthy blood sugar levels?

In most cases, when you bypass part of the digestive system, you will certainly reduce the amount of calories eaten, but it is naturally also advised that the diet be improved.  The food you are allowed to eat after stomach bypass surgery changes, and this plays a role in the improved blood sugar levels of diabetics. So this got me thinking, is it the changes that occur from the surgery, the reduced calories or the different food that stomach bypass surgery patients eat after the procedure that is supporting healthy blood sugar levels and reversing diabetes.

It is known that epigenetic changes can occur as a result of many environmental influences, including diet.  The food you eat can affect the expression of your genes and, therefore your risk of poor health and disease.

So, in light of this, can someone have the same effect of stomach bypass surgery without a trip to the operating room?  Improvements in diabetes after stomach bypass surgery often occur within days after the procedure.  As I mentioned above, it is believed that hormone changes, and the post-op diet contribute to this improvement in blood sugar levels.  But is it one more than the other?

Researchers have looked at this question. One study looked at the effect of reduced calories from food versus the effect of surgical changes on blood sugar control right after gastric bypass surgery.  It turned out that diabetics, who had stomach bypass surgery, had better blood sugar control from a reduced calorie diet than from surgery.  Also, somewhat surprisingly, there were better blood sugar levels from eating fewer calories before the stomach bypass procedure.  The authors conclude:

These findings suggest that reduced calorie ingestion can explain the marked improvement in diabetes control observed after RYGB.

RYGB just refers to the name of the stomach bypass procedure.

So how can you change your DNA without having to go “under the knife?”  One way is to change the type of food you are eating and reduce the number of calories you take in each day…you knew I was going to say that. 🙂

You CAN do this without having surgery.  Don’t worry so much about cutting calories at first.  Just think about the quality of the food you are eating.  In a nutshell…eat real food.  Don’t eat processed foods from a package.  Eat real plants and animals with plenty of vegetables, some meat (more white than red), nuts, some fruits, limit grains to a side dish, limit processed seed oils (“vegetable oils”).

By eating better quality food, I bet in most cases, you will not need to eat as many calories.  This will lead to improved epigenetics, and your metabolism will function better. This will stop prediabetes in its tracks.  There are also certain supplements and nutrients you can include in your daily eating that can positively impact your DNA.  Studies suggest that certain nutrients may alter how your genes are “read,” and by eating certain foods you can beneficially impact how your your DNA is “read.”  Some better studied nutrients include folate, polyphenols, flavonoids in green tea, phytoestrogens, and lycopene.  The B vitamins, choline and betaine are also important players in switching on your DNA so it can be better expressed for a healthy metabolism and blood sugar control.

Fruits and vegetables are a good source of polyphenol compounds with berries being an especially good source.  Eggs are an excellent source of choline. Flax seed, sesame seeds, oats, barley, quinoa, chicken, peanuts, cauliflower, spinach, and bananas are also good sources. Good food sources of betaine include beets, broccoli, shellfish, and spinach. Popeye was right- spinach is just an all around nutritious food.  And it can be made very palatable with the right recipes.

This is why I will often refer to the “food as medicine” concept – Recent scientific advances indicate that there are important epigenetic interactions between nutrients and your DNA.  This affects your risk of poor health and disease. You were born with the genes and genetics you inherited from your parents.  As of right now there’s nothing you can do about changing that, but YOU CAN use healthy food, movement and lifestyle to improve your epigenetics.

With the knowledge and ability we now have of sequencing a person’s genes, I imagine it will soon become practical to read a person’s DNA and create personalized diet plans including certain vitamins and micronutrients that specifically affect one’s epigenetics for improved health.   And we will be able to test the outcome, just like we can test whether vitamin B12 or vitamin D supplementation is improving levels by checking the blood.

Stop prediabetes by making some improvements to the food you eat on a daily basis.  You will be affecting your body right down to the level of what makes you YOU, your DNA.

If you are a member of a healthcare field with a special knowledge in the area of nutritional supplements, movement or food, and you would like to share your knowledge with the Nutrientology family, go here. We’d love to hear from you.

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About Robert Creighton

Dr. Creighton is a podiatrist and foot surgeon with over 26 years in podiatric practice treating thousands of patients afflicted with the physiological, physical, and psychological side effects and complications of diabetes and pre-diabetes metabolic syndrome. He believes these disorders present a pressing public health concern that need to be more actively addressed in a multidisciplinary way. Dr. Creighton graduated from what is now the Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine after receiving his undergraduate degree in Biology. He is certified by the American Board of Foot and Ankle Surgery, a member of the American Public Health Association, an American College of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer and a Member of the American Nutrition Association.

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