Principles of Plant-Based Nutrition – Principle #4

Mixed Greens

This is the fourth of an eight-part series: Principles of Plant-Based Nutrition

Principle #4: Genes Do Not Determine Disease On Their Own

For years medical science has studied genes and searched for which particular genes are responsible for producing diseases like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and breast cancer. The traditional thought is that if we can isolate which genes cause which diseases, we can intercept the activities of these “bad” genes and prevent these diseases altogether. One of the problems with this line of thinking is that genes function only by being activated or expressed, and nutrition plays a critical role in determining which genes, whether they are “good” or “bad”, are expressed.

Genes are required by our bodies to produce health, in fact every biological event that occurs in our bodies originates from the activity of genes. If some of those genes act in the wrong way, they could lead to disease, but the idea of a single gene causing a single disease all on its own is no longer regarded as scientific truth. The scientific community has determined that for any given disease a host of genes are involved.

One study1 was conducted on a little worm that has around 16,000 genes. We humans have about twice that many genes, or around 30,000. The researchers scored the ability of each of the worm’s genes, when turned on or off, to contribute to body weight. They discovered 417 genes that affected the body weight of the worm. If a tiny worm has over 400 genes that affect its body weight, and we have about twice the number of genes of the worm, it seems unlikely that we could isolate one gene responsible for obesity. The idea of finding the “fat gene” is really just a myth. There are many, many factors involved, and proper nutrition seems to be instrumental.

Studies of worldwide dietary lifestyle practices like The China Study have shown that genes were responsible for only 2-3% of cancer or heart disease risk. Genes may be responsible for these diseases getting started, but they are not the only factor involved. It has been found that nutrition plays a huge role in determining which genes get “turned on”, and which are suppressed. Animal-based foods tend to activate bad genes, while plant-based foods tend to suppress the activity of these same genes. A study2 on rats who consumed animal protein had a 100% rate of liver cancer, and rats who consumed a plant-based diet had a 0% occurrence of the same cancer. Both sets of rats had the gene to cause this cancer, but only the rats on the animal-based diet had their gene activated.

We may have a gene in our body with the propensity for obesity, heart disease, even cancer, but we can effectively turn it off by not consuming animal-based foods! What a powerful conclusion!

1Ashrafi K, Chang FY, Watts JL, et al. “Genome-wide RNAi analysis of Caenorhabitis elegans fat regulatory genes.” Nature 421 (2003): 268–272.
2Madhavan TV, and Gopalan C. ―The effect of dietary protein on carcinogenesis of aflatoxin.‖ Arch. Path. 85 (1968): 133–137.

This is the fourth of an eight-part series: Principles of Plant-Based Nutrition

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