Hey, friends! I apologize for this post being a little bit later than I had planned. I was set on taking my final exam for my nutritional therapy certification last week, and I’m happy to say that I’m officially a nutritional therapist!
Getting my NT certification was just the first step in a long line of education I plan to receive regarding nutrition and health. While a nutritional therapist is not a registered dietitian or nutritionist, they can work with individuals struggling with health conditions to help alleviate and prevent ailments through dietary recommendations.
But, that is another blog post in itself.
In part one of my series, I discussed my father’s experience with nutritional information during the diagnosis and treatment of his advanced stage cancer. I mentioned that, in all of his extended visits to the hospital, in addition to visits with his oncologist (and even oncology nutritionist) he was given only one session and little other guidance on the power of nutrition. I also discussed where I feel some shortcomings are when it comes to standard cancer treatment; mainly the lack of nutritional guidance to complement traditional medical care.
Nutritional therapy is a complementary medicine — meaning it is used alongside conventional treatments offered through health care professionals. I am not writing this post today to tell you to fire your primary care doctor and start eating barrels full of vegetables, and you’ll be able to live until you’re 100. I am writing this post to talk about the basics of how our bodies work and how we can change our health (for better or for worse) through the foods we do (and do not) put in our bodies.
Part Two: Nutrition and Our Genes
We’re all born with a genetic makeup that’s uniquely ours. For example, all the cells in your body have the same DNA code. However, that same DNA, in different conditions, results in various types of cells. In comes epigenetics, or changes in the regulation of the expression of gene activity without alteration of the genetic structure.
Epigenomes are chemical compounds of which are not part of the DNA sequence, but are on or attached to DNA. Epigenomic modifications remain as cells divide and in some cases can be inherited through the generations (for instance, during pregnancy).
In layman’s terms, although our DNA cannot be changed, there are forces outside of our genetic makeup — such as our environment, stress on the body, and the foods we eat — which contribute to the silencing and activation of our genes.
In fact, environmental signals can also affect the genomic imprinting process itself. Genomic imprinting is genes which are expressed in a parent-of-origin-specific manner. For instance, if an allele ( a variant form of a gene) inherited from the father is imprinted, it is thereby silenced, and only the allele from the mother is expressed.
That’s a bit more in-depth and believe me; I’m no. However, one of the most accessible (and studied) factors on epigenetics can be found through the study of nutrition.
When we eat food, the compounds of that food are manipulated, modified, and molded into resources our bodies can use. Through metabolic processes. And within these modified metabolic processes, one, in particular, is responsible for making methyl groups, which are the epigenetic tags that silence genes by being attached to our DNA.
However, it’s not just our diets that affect our genes. Chemicals that are released into our bodies, during times of psychological stress, interact with our epigenome, which are believed to promote aging and disease. Whereas, chemicals released into our bodies during exercise can reduce psychological stress and therefore help to reduce aging and disease.
In short, it’s not necessarily that we “are what we eat” but more that we “become what we eat”.
Think about a nutrient such as folic acid — which is recommended to women who are planning on becoming or are pregnant — a key component in the methyl-making process, and diets high in methyl-promoting nutrients can rapidly alter gene expression.
The connection between nutrition and genetic expression is still deeply explored and studied. However, many nutrients have been proven to influence and improve our epigenome for the better. Vital nutrients such as folic acid, Vitamin B12, and choline all play important roles in our formative and ongoing health.
In short, it’s not necessarily that we “are what we eat” but more that we “become what we eat.”
None of us are going to wake up with a tail tomorrow, but our DNA (the very stuff that makes us who we are) is being impacted (for better or worse) with each bite we take.
Take control of what you can.
It may seem like life is just a big game of roulette. My father was a reasonably healthy man; he didn’t eat lots of meat, he was an avid hiker, non-smoker, and didn’t drink. How often do you hear a conversation about a person who lived until they were nearly 100 and ate cheese, drank gin, and smoked all day long? I know I hear stories like that all the time. However, I also can name a bunch of people aged 60 and under who took decent care of their bodies and still died relatively young.
It’s no wonder why so many people think, “well, if I’m going to die anyway, I’m just going to eat what I want/smoke/drink/etc.” And you may be right to think you should enjoy yourself to that extent, but just because you live a long life doesn’t necessarily mean it will be one free of disease or discomfort. Nutrition is one of the ways we can have some control over our health. I guess that’s why when nutrition isn’t at the forefront of fighting (and more importantly, preventing) ill; it gets to me. We can have chemicals and pills galore at our doctor’s disposal when we’re sick, but the truth is, perhaps the “cure” for it not happening in the first place has always been at our fingertips.
Revisiting the example in part one with my father’s oncologist — her disregard when it came to my dad’s diet — knowing now what I didn’t know back then, actually made me think about nutrition education in general. I believe there are simply not enough emphasis on nutrition at any stage of health care. I can count on one hand myself how many times I’ve been asked about my diet during a visit to my doctor, and thankfully, I’ve been a relatively healthy person my whole life. However, I’ve only ever had one doctor recommend a dietary approach to a chronic condition I had, but it was only after traditional chemical medications wouldn’t help me. I don’t know for certain, but I’m sure many of you can relate to this scenario personally.
I want to stress again; I am not saying that traditional treatments and medications are not necessary when it comes to serious illness. I am suggesting that even in the face of chronic illness there should be guidance given to pursue a natural and nutritional alternative based route in addition to traditional therapies. Maybe nutritional advice will never come from a general practitioner or cardiologist, but the fact that nutritional specialists and therapists are out there should provide some peace of mind to those who would like to take control of their dietary health. It is for that very reason is why I have pursued a nutritional therapy certification. And this is why I will continue to learn and educate people about the vital importance and role of nutrition in their overall health profile.
If you have any interest in meeting with me (virtually, unless you’re in the Glasgow area) and going over your nutritional profile, please feel free to contact me directly (my email is in the “about me” section in the menu on the right sidebar).
**I am a recent graduate of the Health Sciences Academy with a natural therapist certification in Nutritional Therapy. The educational information I have included in this post is directly from the curriculum I received and recommended resources from their Nutritional Therapist certification program.
Can you think of a time when a nutritional therapist could have been of benefit to you?