Inspiring Health Blog
A Fundamental Shift In Reducing Stress: Changing Gene Expression Through Nutrigenomics
Posted August 16, 2016 By James Hopson
All information in this article is for educational purposes only. It is not for the diagnosis, treatment, prescription or cure of any disease or health condition.
Since I have been in practice, my underlying focus has been very singular and clear: to reduce STRESS. Although I have changed some of the things I do and the way I do them, each change I have made is actually with the intent to better address stress. Most of these changes have occurred due to new knowledge and increased awareness of how our bodies function and what they need to heal. My paradigms have changed many times as new information and research expanded me beyond the limits of what I once understood. However, this was often difficult due to entrenched beliefs and old ways of thinking. On this path, I have often had to accept the limitations of the previous beliefs I have held, like many good doctors do, in order to evolve and be open to something entirely new. It feels like this is a universal process we must all through if we are to continue growing.
Long-term chronic stress has been shown again and again to be one of the main factors that leads to poor health and is something about which I have frequently written. Today, however I would like to approach it from a radically different perspective: Target CELLULAR function! When our cellular metaoblism improves, our health naturally improves.
Let’s make our understanding of stress more real. The word itself is rather abstract, for something that so directly impacts our health. We glibly call it stress; however, if we were to be more technical, we would call it Oxidative Stress. In simple, layman’s terms, oxidative stress causes our bodies to “rust” from the inside out due to our interaction with oxygen. It is a bit ironic that we both need oxygen to survive and that it ultimately is what kills us. Our interaction with oxygen creates free radicals, which cause our tissues and cells to break down. This is the underlying factor which causes us to age and eventually die. Oxidative stress and subsequent free radical production would also then be the singular most important point to address with any disease or ill health, whether it be physical or mental health. This is the big picture!
Our bodies actually are equipped to deal with this oxidative stress. In response to the free radicals, our cells naturally produce ANTIOXIDANTS. We also get antioxidants from our food, as well as from supplements, such as Vitamin C or CoQ10, etc.; however, here is the problem: When we are under increased long-term stress, whether it be from lifestyle factors such as too little sleep, a poor diet, a difficult relationship, family issues, finances, trauma, etc., we start producing an excessive amount of free radicals. At this point, our bodies can’t keep up with producing enough antioxidants -- nor can we get enough of them through our food or supplementation -- to offset the production of free radicals and the breakdown of our cells. This is when disease starts.
Oxidative stress also activates the HPA (Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal) axis. The more stress we are under, the more we activate the HPA stress cascade, which leads to imbalances with blood sugar, adrenals and thyroid function. Illness and poor health then ensue over the long term. If we are able to reduce oxidatives stress, however, then we naturally reduce our free radical production, thereby also reducing the HPA Stress cascade and improving our quality of life. As a result, we will come to experience fewer symptoms caused by various disease processes, because if we can address our stress (oxidative stress) directly, our overall health improves, no matter what condition or symptoms we previously had.
Unfortunately, the conventional medical model is not big-picture thinking. It thinks in parts and pieces. And its solutions, in many cases, are quite limited and often negatively affect the overall health of a person by focusing only on mitigating symptoms, giving the appearance of improvements. Fortunately for us, this is not the only model of health care. There is some great research happening currently that can help to start bridging the gap toward a more holistic way of looking at health and disease. Some doctors are beginning to incorporate a more integrated approach, as they themselves are becoming more conscious of the limitations of the Western Medical model. Soon there will be more Integrative Medical doctors who practice Lifestyle Medicine!
THE GENOME AND EPIGENETICS
A great shift is happening in the focus of medicine. For the last several years, there has been a great push to map out the human genome. As scientists better understand this, it is becoming clearer that many diseases have less to do with faulty genetics, and more to do with the internal cellular environment.
It is the internal cellular environment that turns genes on and off. Many factors, including food, natural substances, chemicals, toxins and even our thoughts can affect gene expression. In fact, this area of biology has evolved into its own field of study, called EPIGENETICS, pioneered by the biologist Dr. Bruce Lipton. This means the days of blaming our poor health exclusively on our particular genes are now behind us. Instead, if we want to positively affect our gene expression, we have to be responsible for our lifestyle choices, since they, and not genetics, are the greater indicator of our health.
With the entire mapping of the human genome, it also has become clear that only a very small percentage of our genes are actually disease-causing. According to Dr. Joe McCord, only about 200 of our 20,000+ genes -- that is, about one percent -- lead to illness. This is interesting. Why? Because up to this point, for example, we have been lead to believe that cancer is a genetic disorder. The reality, however, is that the development of cancer actually has more to do with dysfunctions in the cell and mitrochondria i.e. cellular energy metabolism. These factors may include any number of things, from emotional stress, to glucose dysregulation, to environmental toxins like glyphosate. Those in the field of genetics are now studying the many gene-affecting factors that contribute to disease related to cellular metabolism. In my opinion, this will likely be the future of medicine and health care.
The study of gene expression -- that is, how genes get turned off and on -- is leading to a whole new field of nutrition, which I am excited to share with you. It is called NUTRIGENOMICS. It may be a common term in another 10 years perhaps, but at this point only a small number of people are aware of this emerging field, that explores the intersectionality of nutrition, medicine and science.
NUTRIGENOMICS AND HOW THEY WORK
Nutrigenomics have to do with the study of how nutrition, foods and naturally forming compounds affect our genes. What this field reveals is that specific nutrients turn genes on or off, thereby affecting our gene expression.
Nutrigenomic supplements work entirely differently than most other supplements. Why? Because instead of just taking a supplement for its nutrients, the focus is to address specific cell pathways that affect gene expression and specific cell pathways. For example, one of one’s I am using affects the NRF2 cell pathway. This pathway has to do with our survival genes. So when a person takes an NRF2 activator, it goes into the cell and turns on about 600-800 genes, to which the body responds by producing more of its own ANTIOXIDANTS. There is a great deal of research on NRF2 Activators. In fact, if a person takes specific NRF2 activators consistently over a 30-day period, the person will start producing antioxidants at the same level as a 20-year-old, whether that person is 40, 60 or 80 years old. Think of it like this: Instead of taking just one antioxidant at a time, like Vitamin C, when taking an NRF2 activator, your cells will start producing 1,000,000 antioxidants per second. We could not even begin to take enough antioxidants to achieve the levels that our cells can produce when given the right information.
Improvement in cellular function, in turn, has the following effects:
1. Reduces Oxidative Stress
2. Combats the effects of aging caused by oxidative stress
3. Helps to repair and rejuvenate damaged cells
4. Protects cells from free radical damage
5. Reduces inflammation and scar tissue throughout the body
6. Improves conversion of T3 to T4 for the thyroid.
This is quite amazing, especially since the underlying factor of most disease pathologies involves inflammation. So now we have something that specifically helps us to reduce Oxidative Stress. I feel this is a game changer that fundamentally addresses our health no matter whether you are healthy and just want to age gracefully or are dealing with a specific disease process.
This reminds me of something I learned while getting my medical training in Oriental Medicine. Long, long ago in China the approach to one’s health was quite different. Doctors were only paid to keep their patients well and when their patients got sick the doctors did not get paid at all. This is a very different philosophical approach than what is operating in our culture today. The intent of doctors then was to keep people healthy so they would not get ill. There is no need to wait to get sick before you do anything about your health. Being proactive is the key to maintain our health as we age. So don’t wait!
Another nutrigenomic that I also use affects the NRF1 cell pathway which has to do with MITOCHONDRIA production. This is the power plant of the cell. An increased production of mitochondria leads to:
1. Increased cellular energy (ATP)
2. Improved performance through energy production
3. Enhanced cellular health - cells function at their peak performance
4. Improved sleep quality and promotes cellular repair
5. Slows cellular aging by supporting chromosome integrity and protecting our cells.
At the time of this writing, I am aware of stories of significant improvements from a vast array of people with various health issues, such as: autoimmune disorders like MS; ALS; arthritis; diabetes (Type 1 and Type 2); some genetic disorders; anxiety/depression; chronic fatigue; pain; tinnitus; low sex drive; seizures; sleep issues; etc. Let me be clear -- the reason they are making improvements is not because these nutrigenomics are addressing a specific disease condition; their progress is due to the reduction of Oxidative Stress. It is a bit of a paradigm shift to think in this way, because we are so accustomed to thinking we need to take something specific for a given condition. My hope is that, after reading this article, you will begin to discover why that approach is limiting, in terms of seeing and experiencing real results for chronic health issues.
WHAT ARE IN THESE NUTRIGENOMICS
What I also like about nutrigenomics is that they are natural substances. Some of them are as follows:
NRF2 Activator NRF1 Activator
1. Turmeric 1. Rhodiola Rosea
2. Milk thistle 2. Coenzyme Q10
3. Green tea 3. Grape Extract
4. Ashwagandha 4. Alpha Lipoic Acid
5. Bacopa 5. Quercetin
Some of you probably take some of these already. If so, that’s great! However, research has shown that you cannot get the same results when taking them individually as you can when they are in a small amount and in a specific ratio. This is because the latter scenario creates a synergistic and holistic effect -- precisely what has been discovered to affect our gene expression and health for the better. Also worth noting is that, on their own, none of the ingredients in the NRF2 Activator are considered antioxidants; however, when taken together, they empower your cells to make their own antioxidants.
DO NUTRIGENOMICS CAUSE SIDE EFFECTS?
Often times people will inquire about whether these nutrigenomics may create side effects. Because they are made from natural substances, this rarely occurs. However, I have found that about 10% of my clients may experience some sort of retracing or healing effect. The technical term for this is called a HERXHEIMERS response. Unfortunately, this concept is very poorly understood in conventional medical circles and is worthy of an entire article.
Here is a metaphor that may help to explain this concept. Suppose you decide that you want to remodel your house. At some point along the way, it is likely you will discover additional tasks or problems in need of urgent attention, like mold in the bathroom. Attending to these additional tasks requires more time and energy, and it can make living in the house a little less comfortable for a while, until the repairs are complete. In the same way, when you begin supplying your cells with the information they need to function more optimally, they often must first eliminate some of the toxic elements that have been imparing their function. Their doing so may occasionally cause symptoms, but should not automatically be interperted to mean the person is getting worse. Under these conditions, symptoms are not something to be feared. In fact, they are a sign of healing and can be mitigated by reducing the amount of nutrigenomics one is taking, until the symptoms pass. Just because you may feel worse in the beginning does not mean you are getting worse. And again, I emphasize that this manifestation of symptoms happens very infrequently. In fact, it is actually a normal process of healing. Occasionally sometimes things feel worse before they feel better, but there are clear reasons for this. Most people just feel better. :)
One expectation people often have is that they should feel the effects of these natural substances right away, in the same way they do with pharmaceutical drugs. With more natural substances, however, effectiveness is cumulative, meaning that they produce greater benefits the longer a person is taking them. Many people do experience benefits within the first three months. However, depending on how sick a person is, it may take others longer to notice the effects. Long-term effectiveness also requires that the substances be taken with some degree of regularity and consistency, in order to establish those cumulative benefits. This is true of any lifestyle pattern we may adopt. I typically recommend committing to the program for 6 months, before making any kind of assessment as to its effectiveness.
NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF AGING STUDY
And finally, one of these nutrigenomics (NRF2 synergizer) was selected by the NIA (National Institute of Aging) as part of a recent federally-funded study to examine methods that had the "potential to extend lifespan and delay disease and dysfunction," and hence, slow the aging process. The study, which you can see here, showed that the NRF2 synergizer had the potential to extend life in male mice by 7%. This nutrigenomic was selected for the study because of its ability to “suppress tumor promoter-induced oxidative stress, cell proliferation, and inflammation”, as well as protect the heart and reduce fibrogenesis, according to the study.
In summary, the landscape of how we approach health is in the process of some radical changes. I feel the discovery and use of NUTRIGENOMICS has the potential to change the way we think about health, toward a safer, more natural approach. There are no magic bullets but there may be more effective ways help the body heal in addition to leading a healthy lifestyle: Good diet, enough water, proper rest, sunshine and exercise. Now we are able to address a biochemical root cause of illness at a more fundamental level -- the CELL! What changes at the cellular level changes the quality of our lives! Because we are no longer attempting to address any specific disease, but the underlying factors of any disease process. This perspective shift would be a huge leap forward for our health, if medicine can embrace it, because it is healing from the inside out.
For more information on nutrigenomic activators, please feel free to contact me or click here.
Wishing you a wonderful day and good health!