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article imageQ&A: How nutrients, exercise, and stress can change your genes Special

By Tim Sandle     Feb 9, 2020 in Health
Is it possible to change your genes? Amid advanced and personalized medicine, science has revealed that general strategies in diet, exercise, and stress reduction are more important than you might think. Dr. Robyn Murphy explains more.
Knowing that our genes can be easily impacted by these easy lifestyle choices, are we now able to open up a new understanding of our genetic potential? Dr. Robyn Murphy, ND and Clinical Research Advisor from Advanced Orthomolecular Research, explores the topic in depth with Digital Journal.
Dr. Murphy shares the three key factors that influence our genes: nutrients, exercise and stress, and provides advice on how to lead a health lifestyle.
Digital Journal: How important are diet, exercise, and stress reduction for wellbeing?
Dr. Robyn Murphy: Chronic stress contributes to up to 80% of chronic diseases and wreaks havoc on our bodies, reducing digestion, depressing our immune system, and shutting down our sex hormones. Chronic stress increases hundreds disease promoting genes, while exercise increases over a thousand disease preventing genes. Exercise is one key way to combat stress. It is also important to balance blood sugar and prevent heart disease.
Finally, when it comes to diet, we literally are what we eat! The quality of food and the content of vitamins and nutrients is what fuels all our cells and supplies the necessary building blocks to repair and regenerate. Depending on what we eat can impact our genes. We know that broccoli sprouts contain ingredients that increase our detoxification enzymes, glutathione-S-transferase; the brightly coloured pigment in fruits and vegetables called flavonoids, are neuroprotective and stimulate cell survival pathways to prevent disease. The majority of people would improve their health and prevent disease if they reduce stress, exercise 150 minutes a week and eat a whole food, organic Mediterranean diet.
DJ: How would you describe epigenetics?
Murphy: When most people refer to epigenetics, they are actually referring to nutrigenomics or lifestyle genomics, which is how certain factors in our environment, like stress, diet, exercise, etc. impact gene expression. As genes are expressed, they produce certain proteins and enzymes to carry out necessary functions, like transporting a vitamin, or metabolizing caffeine.
Epigenetics, on the other hand, refers to the chemical ‘tags’ or scars that occur on the DNA, which alter how genes get turned on and off. These are typically long-term changes that occur as a way for the cell to ‘learn’ from its environment and maximize chances of survival. Exposure to triggers like stress, environmental chemicals, pharmaceutical drugs, diet and exercise all play a role in epigenetic changes. Some of these changes can be ‘reversible’, however, it typically takes a minimum of 3-months to change our epigenetic patterns.
DJ: What role do nutrients play on general wellbeing?
Murphy: Nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, are what drives all functions in the body. They are the building blocks that we use on a daily basis, which need to get replenished. If not, deficiencies arise and they can have a big impact. For example, iron deficiency is quite common, especially in women with genetic predispositions. Low iron causes fatigue, depression, insomnia, and shortness of breath, which drastically impacts the quality of life.
DJ: What are the benefits of exercise in the gene expression context?
Murphy: The body is constantly adapting to our environment, so whatever we do impacts gene expression, and exercise is no exception. As we exercise over 7,000 genes are impacted through epigenetic changes. These changes affect fat storage in the body, energy metabolism, insulin response, muscle repair and immunity. Long term regular physical activity primarily prevents, or delays, chronic diseases, such as metabolic syndrome, obesity, insulin resistance, heart disease, osteoporosis, cognitive dysfunction, depression and anxiety.
However, not everyone responds the same way to exercise, and what researchers are finding is that it depends on differences in our genetic makeup. For example, some benefit more from exercise in managing diabetes. Those who have a certain version of the PPARG2 gene, which regulates fat cells and impacts development of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, respond better to exercise in managing type 2 diabetes.
DJ: What are the adverse effects of stress?
Murphy: Stress is one of the biggest culprits in chronic disease. As our bodies go into fight-or-flight, blood sugar and cholesterol rise, and blood pressure and heart rate increase as the body diverts energy away from ‘non-essential’ systems to meet the heightened energy demand that comes with the perception of fending for your life. This adaptive response is meant to be short lived, but long-term chronic stress that we see epidemically has significant implications. Chronic digestive complaints, lowered libido and infertility, metabolic dysfunction, abdominal weight gain, insomnia, and heart disease are just a few of the life altering consequences of stress.
DJ: What general advice would you give to someone seeking a healthy lifestyle?
Murphy: Some general advice that I would give to someone looking to live a healthy lifestyle is to sleep well, eat a balanced organic whole foods diet, exercise regularly and be aware of your mindset. From all the reviewed research, genetics and patients that I’ve treated, these are the areas that have the biggest potential to shift your life.
Focus on getting 7 – 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Address any snoring, nighttime urination, or anything else that interrupts sound sleep.
The Mediterranean diet that focuses on removing processed foods, has variety and avoids pesticides and herbicides is key to providing the proper foundations for the body to function.
Exercises 150 minutes a week, with a mix of endurance and weight resistant training.
Mindset is made up of your perspectives and beliefs that shape your thoughts. How you think and what you think alters your physiology and health. Those who are more optimistic tend to fend off disease more readily. Enjoy life, make meaningful connections and find purpose in what you do!
More about Genes, Genetics, Epigenetics, Nutrients, Stress
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