Put Your Jeans/Genes on a Diet!

July 07, 2007

Put Your Jeans/Genes on a Diet!  

Your Food as Medicine Competency # 10 Glycemic Index.           ReferenceAm J Clin Nutrition: 2007;85:1169  Salsberg and Ludwig et al 

 You can affect your genes by what you eat!  The proof is in.  The food you eat has a measurable impact on your genes.  This is a really big idea.  If it weren’t for the fact that it’s been around since Hippocrates, and probably before, we would say we were being thoroughly modern.  This is not a new idea, but we now have the facts and the details.  We’ve always assumed that the food we eat gives us calories and building blocks to grow, and medicine takes care of our ills.  Two separate arenas.  

Well, move that idea over a little.  We know that the food we eat has an immediate impact on many internal hormones, like insulin.  Does food act like medicine?  Yes, the proof is now in.  Now we know that different foods have an impact on our genes as well.  You can program your genetic response to the food you eat by the food you eat.  Fascinating. Here is what Dr. Kallio (from Finland) did.  They took 47 people who were middle aged and slightly pudgy.  They had the criteria to be called metabolic syndrome.  They were a little bit overweight, slightly high blood pressure, slightly high blood sugar, slightly high lipids.  Heart attacks waiting to happen.  Alzheimer’s waiting to pick up the pieces later.  Sounds like you and me.  

They were given a precise diet that was equal in calories, protein, carbohydrate and fat.  The only difference was that one was a “Low glycemic” and one was “high glycemic”.  That means one was designed to have carbohydrates that got into the blood slowly (low insulin response too), and the other got into the blood fast (with a subsequent high insulin response).  The “low” used rye-pasta as the carbohydrate source.  The “high” used potato-wheat-oats as their source of carbohydrates.   

Fast forward 12 weeks and check the activity of the genes in their tummy fat.    Amazing differences.  Using fancy techniques like DNA chain polymerase reactions, they tested the genetic activity of all the genes that regulate your fat making, fat releasing responses.  The low insulin, low glycemic response diet folks had 71 genes that had consistent down regulation.  The high insulin, high glycemic response group had the exact opposite, an up regulation of the activity of the genes and elevation of insulin response. Insulin is becoming the key to understanding. 

 We need to think of insulin as the hormone that allows us to binge and save calories for later.  It helps us store fat in response to excess calories.  But it doesn’t just work by itself.  When we set off an insulin response, our bodies are pretty savvy and all of our cells listen and watch what’s going on.   They start changing their internal mechanics and processes (the genes and their DNA expression) to back up the action of the insulin.  Eating food that makes us release insulin every day is training our bodies to store fat, not have the calories ready to use for living life.  

Conclusion:  The food you eat can program your “Metabolic computer” to be more efficient at storing fat. Now, the drug companies are reading this too and going ballistic.  If they can find the exact mechanisms that makes these genes regulated, and invent a precise chemical that will affect those genes, they can sell it for $ 200 a month to you and say it will help control your insulin response, your pre-diabetes, your risk of heart disease. 

 Plan B.  Do it on your own.  Here is the key to knowledge.  The food you eat affects you in more than just calories.  The food choices we make play back all the way down to our genes.  For a lot less than $ 200 a month, you can start choosing low glycemic foods, knowing that as you munch, you are doing good things for yourself.  So, spend a little extra and get some classy veggies.  Buy apricots, plums, broccoli and cauliflower.  The stores are brimming with the bounty of summer. 

 WWW:  What Will Work for Me!  This is a very long explanation for what Grandma said.  Eat your vegetables.  Our carbohydrate source should be MORE whole foods like fruits and vegetables.  Less high glycemic carbohydrates like flour and potato based products.  I don’t eat potatoes very much any more.  And my rice is now brown instead of white.  But can you find me a good recipe for rye?   And make your pasta “al dente”.  Cook it one minute less and lower it’s glycemic index about 10 points.  A little bit chewy makes it much slower digesting, much lower GI index.  And then, just have one cup of it and a giant salad with three or four lovely tomatoes smothered with olive oil on the side.  Yummy.  Putting my jeans on a diet, means I can still fit in my genes.   Rye humor?

This column is written by Dr. John E. Whitcomb, MD, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI, (262-784-5300)