Nutritional Role of Aging and Cancer Prevention Through Epigenetics
Written By Dr. Millie Lytle, ND, MPH, CNS
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The field of genetics involves the material make-up of your genes - DNA,
chromosomes and RNA housed within each cell. What you have inherited from your parents
and their parents before determines your genetic makeup. It also determines
more precise characteristics such as which sex you are, your skin, eye and hair color,
as well one’s disposition. Are you nimble with a pen, an engine, a needle
and thread, a football or a violin? Notably, your genes are also related to whether
you are at risk for certain diseases, such as autoimmune and cancer. While genetics
create some fixed realities about you, they don’t explain everything.
What is Epigentics?
The field of epigenetics is a new and emerging. It is a
response to the nature versus nurture debate; You are a combination
of the genetic material you inherit and you are the result of how you develop according
to your surroundings. The field of epigenetics involves the behavior of
genes. Even though you may have a gene that puts you in the upper 5th percentile
at risk for Lupus or breast cancer you may not get that disease. Every other member
of your family could have a particular genetic condition and you might escape it,
or vice versa.
Dr. Bruce Lipton, cell biologist and professor of medicine, writes in his book 'The
Biology of Belief'1, that the error in genetics research has been made in analyzing
only the DNA itself without looking at the cytoplasm, the cellular material surrounding
the genes. A gene may be present, but it will only be expressed under a certain
set of circumstance or in a particular environment. Environmental factors that participate
in the on and off behavior of your genes include nutrition, lifestyle and even quality
Further research has been performed in the field of epigenetics and has been proven in several
laboratory, animal and human studies that a series of factors of genes called peroxisome
proliferator-activated receptors (PPARS) are partially responsible for genetic ‘ON’
and ‘OFF’ switches to control nutritionally-related chronic disease.2 PPARs act
through the regulation of numerous biological processes, including fat and sugar
metabolism and overall energy balance (homeostasis). Importantly, PPARs also mediate
the inflammatory response, which makes them a possible therapeutic target to reduce
obesity-induced inflammation and its serious health burden.3 PPAR activity have
been associated with a list of chronic diseases.2 PPARs have been implicated in
the cause and treatment of atherosclerosis, diabetes, hyperglycemia, obesity,
regulation of fertility, central nervous system conditions of myelination and various
types of cancer, and more. Throughout recent years a lot of exciting research has
shown certain nutritional ingredients can impact PPARs activation and gene expression
to prevent and treat some of the most common chronic diseases.
Pterostilbene is the brain antioxidant from the the “brainberry”, blueberry (Vaccinium
sp.). Results from in vitro studies have shown that pterostilbene
promotes PPARalpha and may be an effective lipid lowerer, even more effective than
its cousin resveratrol for brain conditions. In vivo studies, performed
in the body, have demonstrated that this powerful antioxidant has fat (cholesterol)
and blood sugar lowering effects.5 In another study, blood markers of cellular stress,
inflammation, and Alzheimer’s disease pathology were positively lowered by pterostilbene
via PPARalpha expression, providing protection from age-related brain conditions.
In summary, research results indicate that doses of pterostilbene, achievable in
the diet and supplement form, are potent modulators of cognition, memory and cellular
stress, due to increased PPAR alpha expression and fat solubility of pterostilbene,
meaning the antioxidant can be active in brain tissue.6
Chlorella, along with spirulina, is a member of a group of tiny blue-green algae
that are highly nutritious due to their nutrient content and biological capabilities.
It has long been known that chlorella contains B-vitamins, minerals and detox factors,
however genetic studies are showing they also contains fatty acids that are healthy
for the body. The bioactivities of several healthy fats contained within Chlorella
sorokinana were evaluated for their PPAR-gamma activity. Impressive results
showed that linolenic acid (Omega 3, algae DHA) and linoleic acid (Omega 6) were
the most potent fatty acids. Fatty acids such as Omega-3 and 6 can contribute to
fat regulation in the body, such as cholesterol lowering. Algae DHA is also associated
with positive effects for brain mass, memory and learning. Chlorella sorokiniana
could have potential health benefits both through activation of PPAR-alpha and gamma,
as well as via its unique algae constituents.7
Green tea (Camellia sinensis) is one of the most studied herbs for its
panacea of benefits. And the research is moving into the field of gene expression.
In one recent study, it was demonstrated that a single, high dose of green tea extract prevented the overproduction of Nitric Oxide (NO) in the heart cells of newborns.
While NO is healthy for blood vessel relaxation, an overproduction is related conditions
such as atherosclerosis, whereby inflammation in the arteries produces too much
NO (i.e. too much of a good thing can be bad for health). In a follow up study that
looked at how green tea extract treats an overproduction of NO, it was observed
that green tea extract’s antioxidant activity and PPAR-beta and delta activation
were key to its therapeutic effect.8 Green tea therefore has great potential in
the ability to alter gene expression for heart and blood vessel disease through
its PPAR and antioxidant activity.
Acetyl L-Carnitine & Alpha Lipoic Acid
Acetyl L-Carnitine and Alpha Lipoic Acid are two amino acid-like nutrients that
have been shown again and again to work well together. One study demonstrated that
defective fat and cholesterol metabolism are associated with low mitochondrial quality
and activity in skeletal muscle of the diabetic Goto-Kakizaki rats, thereby leading
to metabolic syndrome, obesity and diabetes. When diseased rats were treated with
a combination of R-alpha-lipoic acid, acetyl-L-carnitine and two B Vitamins (nicotinamide
and biotin) the nutritional protocol effectively improved glucose tolerance, decreased
the basal insulin secretion and the level of circulating free fatty acid, as well
as maintained mitochondria health for the muscle itself. The nutrient protocol also
significantly increased genetic tissue involved in lipid metabolism, including PPARalpha
and delta activity of skeletal muscle mitochondria. All of these improvements on
mitochondrial nutrients were shown to be comparable to that of the anti-diabetic
drug, pioglitazone. In addition, the treatment with nutrients, unlike pioglitazone,
did not cause body weight gain.9 Treatments with the combination of alpha lipoic
acid and acetyl l-carnitine for a little as 24 hours significantly increased mitochondrial
mass, expression of mitochondrial DNA, mitochondrial complexes, oxygen consumption
and fatty acid oxidation in fat cells. These changes were accompanied by an increase
in expression of PPARgamma, PPARalpha and Cpt1a mRNA, as well as increased expression
of PPAR gamma coactivator 1 alpha (PPARgc1a), mitochondrial transcription factor
A (Tfam) and nuclear respiratory factors 1 and 2 (Nrf1 and Nrf2).9
You inherit the DNA structure and geneology from your parents; when
you are born you are the sum of your parents’ state of health at conception, the
health of your mother during pregnancy, her level of stress and any medical incident
at the time of birth. Additionally, as soon as you are born your experiences and
environment shape how your genes will continue to change, making you an individual
with his or her own set of genetic factors. From the research cited above, nutrition
and dietary supplements play a key role in the etiology or cause of genetic conditions,
proving great promise for a wide range of the most concerning, yet preventable,
chronic conditions from anti-aging to diabetes to heart disease to cancer.
- Lipton, BH. The Biology of Belief. Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter,
& Miracles. 2008. Hay House: USA.
- Berger J, Moller DE. The mechanisms of action of PPARs. Annu Rev Med. 2002;53:409-35.
- Youssef J, Badr MZ. PPARs: history and advances. Methods Mol Biol. 2013;952:1-6.
- Stienstra R, Duval C, Müller M, Kersten S. PPARs, Obesity, and Inflammation. PPAR
Res. 2007; 2007: 95974.
Yokoyama W. Pterostilbene, a new agonist for the peroxisome proliferator-activated
receptor alpha-isoform, lowers plasma lipoproteins and cholesterol in hypercholesterolemic
J Agric Food Chem. 2005 May 4;53(9):3403-7.
Neurobiol Aging. Low-dose pterostilbene,
but not resveratrol, is a potent neuromodulator in aging and Alzheimer's disease.
Bioassay-guided purification and identification of PPARalpha/gamma agonists from
Chlorella sorokiniana. Phytother Res. 2008 May;22(5):605-13.
Di Nunzio M,
Bordoni A. Green tea extract selectively activates peroxisome proliferator-activated
receptor beta/delta in cultured cardiomyocytes. Br J Nutr. 2009 Jun;101(12):1736-9.
- Shen W, Hao J, Tian C, Ren J, Yang L, Li X, Luo C, Cotma CW, Liu J. A combination
of nutriments improves mitochondrial biogenesis and function in skeletal muscle
of type 2 diabetic Goto-Kakizaki rats. PLoS One. 2008 Jun 4;3(6).
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