Food and longevity genes

How food influences your longevity genes

Introduction

Imagine you are in control of a panel full of switches that can turn specific genes in your body on or off. These switches determine whether your body activates mechanisms that fight inflammation, eliminate toxins or regulate metabolism. The good news is that this control panel exists and is influenced by what you eat. Yes, the foods you eat every day have the power to modulate the expression of your genes and thus your health and longevity.

This phenomenon is part of epigenetics, the study of changes in gene expression that do not involve alterations in DNA sequence.. Epigenetics shows how our genes can be “turned on” or “turned off” by various environmental and lifestyle factors, including nutrition, exercise, stress and exposure to environmental toxins. In an action plan for longevity and anti-ageing, epigenetics is a key element, as it allows us to optimise our health over the years. In addition, personalised genetic testing can provide valuable information to tailor dietary and lifestyle interventions more effectively.

The mechanisms of gene regulation

DNA methylation

DNA methylation is like a light switch that can turn off specific genes. By adding a methyl group to DNA, certain gene regions are silenced, preventing the production of inflammatory or disease-promoting proteins. Methylation is vital for maintaining balance in our biological processes and preventing chronic diseases such as cancer.

Acetylation and deacetylation of histones

Histones are proteins around which DNA is wound, like thread around a spool. When these histones are acetylated, the DNA unwinds a little, allowing genes to be expressed. Deacetylation does the opposite, compacting DNA and silencing genes. This process is essential for regulating which genes are active at different times and in different tissues of the body.

RNA interference

RNA interference (RNAi) is a sophisticated mechanism where small RNA fragments bind to messenger RNA (mRNA) molecules to degrade them or inhibit their translation. This prevents the production of proteins that could be harmful in certain contexts, providing an additional layer of control over gene expression.

Master genes and their modulation

NrF2: the antioxidant guardian

NrF2 is like the superhero of the anti-inflammatory genes. It is activated in response to oxidative stress, a state that can damage our cells and tissues. When you eat foods rich in sulforaphane, such as broccoli, you activate NrF2 and strengthen your antioxidant defences, thus protecting your cells from damage and premature ageing.

TNF-alpha: the pro-inflammatory foe

TNF-alpha is a gene that triggers inflammation, a process necessary to fight infection but harmful when it becomes chronic. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in oily fish such as salmon and mackerel, can decrease the expression of TNF-alpha, helping to reduce chronic inflammation and associated diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

CYP: the guardians of detoxification

CYP family genes are responsible for detoxifying our body, metabolising harmful compounds and drugs. Eating cruciferous vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts and kale, can activate these genes and improve the body’s ability to eliminate toxins, thereby protecting against liver damage and other disorders.

NFkB: the promoter of inflammation

NFkB is a transcription factor that, when chronically activated, can lead to inflammatory diseases and cancer. Foods rich in resveratrol, such as grapes, may inhibit NFkB, helping to keep inflammation under control and protecting against chronic disease.

SIRT-1: the metabolic regulator

SIRT-1 plays a crucial role in the regulation of glucose and lipid metabolism. Activating this gene can improve insulin sensitivity and lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Again, resveratrol acts here as an activator, promoting healthy metabolism and reducing the risk of metabolic diseases.

MTHFR: the governor of methylation

MTHFR is essential for methylation, a process crucial for cell function and cardiovascular health. An adequate supply of folic acid, found in green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale, ensures that MTHFR functions properly, thus protecting against neural tube defects and cardiovascular disease.

FOXO: the longevity overseer

FOXO is a group of genes that regulates longevity, metabolism and resistance to oxidative stress. Activating these genes can improve the body’s response to stress and promote longevity. Nutrients such as resveratrol and calorie restriction can activate FOXO.

AMPK: the energy sensor

AMPK is a cellular energy sensor that helps maintain energy balance. AMPK activation improves insulin sensitivity, promotes weight loss and increases longevity. Physical activity and certain compounds such as metformin and berberine can activate AMPK.

PPAR: the metabolic regulator

The PPARs are a group of genes that regulate lipid and glucose metabolism. Activating these genes can improve lipid profile and insulin sensitivity. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish and nuts, are known to activate PPARs.

IGF-1: the growth factor

IGF-1 plays a role in cell growth and development. However, elevated levels of IGF-1 have been associated with an increased risk of cancer and accelerated ageing. Maintaining balanced levels through a diet low in animal protein and moderation in calorie intake can be beneficial.

HIF-1α: the regulator of hypoxia

HIF-1α regulates the body’s response to hypoxia (low oxygen). This gene helps cells adapt to low-oxygen conditions, which is crucial for cell survival in unfavourable environments. Compounds such as quercetin, found in apples and onions, may influence HIF-1α activity.

PGC-1α: the co-activator of mitochondrial biogenesis

PGC-1α is a master regulator of mitochondrial biogenesis and energy metabolism. PGC-1α activation improves mitochondrial function and endurance capacity. Physical exercise and polyphenol-rich foods, such as green tea, can activate PGC-1α.

MTOR: the cell growth regulator

MTOR is a key regulator of cell growth, proliferation and survival. Excessive activation of MTOR has been linked to ageing and age-related diseases. Calorie restriction and certain compounds such as rapamycin can inhibit MTOR, thereby promoting longevity.

NRF1 and NRF2: the antioxidant factors

NRF1 and NRF2 are crucial for the regulation of the antioxidant response and mitochondrial biogenesis. NRF1, in particular, works together with PGC-1α to promote mitochondrial health. Nutrients such as sulforaphane (found in broccoli) and physical exercise can activate these genes.

COMT: the regulator of neurotransmitters and stress

The COMT gene is essential for the breakdown of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine, which are vital for brain function and stress response. COMT activity influences mood, cognition and stress response. Variations in this gene may affect how people handle stress and their susceptibility to certain mental disorders. Compounds such as quercetin (found in apples and onions) and magnesium may influence COMT activity.

The power of diet

Food and longevity genes The ability of food to influence gene expression opens up a world of possibilities for disease prevention and management. However, advice from health and nutrition professionals is essential. A well-informed and personalised approach is crucial to ensure that dietary choices support the activation of beneficial genes and inhibition of harmful genes.

Summary of master genes and their modulators

  • NrF2: sulforaphane-activated (broccoli)
  • TNF-alpha: inhibited by omega-3 fatty acids (salmon)
  • CYP: activated by cruciferous vegetables (Brussels sprouts)
  • NFkB: inhibited by resveratrol (grapes)
  • SIRT-1: activated by resveratrol (grapes)
  • MTHFR: activated by folic acid (green leafy vegetables)
  • FOXO: activated by resveratrol and caloric restriction
  • AMPK: activated by exercise, metformin and berberine
  • PPAR: activated by omega-3 fatty acids (fish, nuts)
  • IGF-1: regulation by low animal protein diet
  • HIF-1α: quercetin-influenced (apples, onions)
  • PGC-1α: activated by physical exercise, polyphenols (green tea)
  • MTOR: inhibited by caloric restriction, rapamycin
  • NRF1 and NRF2: activated by sulforaphane (broccoli), physical exercise
  • COMT: influenced by quercetin (apples, onions), magnesium

Conclusion

By knowing how foods and longevity genes are related, it is easier to choose foods that support the activation of beneficial genes and the inhibition of harmful genes, you can take control of your health at the genetic level. Incorporating broccoli, salmon, turmeric, grapes and green leafy vegetables into your diet is a simple but powerful strategy to promote health and prevent disease. Remember, it is always important to consult with a professional to tailor these recommendations to your specific needs and ensure a balanced and safe approach to a healthier and longer life.

Dr. Carmen Romero