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Date: 2005.04.27
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Feed Your
Genes Right
Feed Your
Genes Right
Eat to Turn Off Disease-Causing Genes
and Slow Down Aging

Jack Challem

John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Copyright © 2005 by Jack Challem. All rights reserved

Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey
Published simultaneously in Canada
Design and composition by Navta Associates, Inc.

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their best efforts in preparing this book, they make no representations or warranties with
respect to the accuracy or completeness of the contents of this book and speci¬cally disclaim
any implied warranties of merchantability or ¬tness for a particular purpose. No warranty
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data:

Challem, Jack.
Feed your genes right : eat to turn off disease-causing genes and slow down aging /
Jack Challem.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-471-47986-1
1. Nutrition“Genetic aspects. 2. DNA damage“Prevention. 3. Diet in disease. I. Title.
QP143.7.C48 2005

Printed in the United States of America
10 98 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
I dedicate this book to DeWitt Garrett, who ¬rst taught me
about the health bene¬ts of vitamins and nutrition.

Foreword by Kilmer S. McCully, M.D. ix

Preface xiii
Acknowledgments xvii

PART I The Nutrition-Gene Connection 1
1 Your Genes Depend on Good Nutrition 3
2 DNA Damage, Aging, and Disease 11
3 Con¬‚icts between Ancient Genes and Modern Foods 27

PART II Gene-Enhancing Nutritional Supplements 39
4 Nutrients That Enhance Energy and Prevent
DNA Damage 41
5 Nutrients That Make and Repair DNA 57
6 Nutrients That Protect DNA from Damage 68

PART III Gene-Enhancing Eating Plans 91
7 Dietary Guidelines for Feeding Your Genes Right 93
8 Recipes, Menu Plans, and Guidelines for Eating Out 117

PART IV Nutrition Plans for Protecting and
Enhancing Your Genes 139
9 Stress, Genes, and Nutrition 141
10 Nutritional Recommendations for
Speci¬c Diseases, A to Z 153
Afterword 209


Appendix A Genetic and Nutrition Testing 211
Appendix B Resources for Supplements, Food, and
Additional Information 217
Selected References 225
Index 243

The study of DNA in heredity and disease has led to a great many
heady scienti¬c discoveries and, ironically, to some humbling acknowl-
edgments of ancient medical wisdom.
Scientists discovered nucleic acids, the general chemical building
blocks of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and genes, in the 1890s. Within
several decades, biochemists and biologists had gained an impressive
understanding of how nucleic acids were involved in heredity, and by
1950 experiments with bacteria had proven that DNA transmits inher-
ited traits from one generation to the next.
Perhaps the single most dramatic event to ignite the imagination
and enthusiasm of biologists was the 1953 discovery by James Watson
and Francis Crick of the double-helix structure of DNA. All that
remained, or so it seemed at the time, was to decipher and describe the
genetic code in terms of its four-letter chemical alphabet.
But unraveling the details of DNA and its role in health and disease
has turned out to be a far more complex and, at times, vexing process.
As it turned out, the new millennium coincided with the complete
decoding of the human genome, and this catalog of all human genes has
led to many new insights into the function of DNA. Unfortunately, the
promise of turning these discoveries into practical ways of preventing
and treating disease has so far been disappointing. Cardiovascular dis-
eases remain the leading cause of death in the United States and most
of the developed world, while the scourge of cancer continues to take
its relentless toll despite minor advances in treatment and prevention.
Gene therapy has proven dangerous and dif¬cult and has had few sig-
ni¬cant successes. Despite our current understanding of cancer-causing
oncogenes and the details of how genes function, researchers have
devised few new and effective therapies for cancer patients.


Quite surprisingly, the promise of improved treatment and preven-
tion of human disease has emerged from an unexpected source: the
study of nutrition. This was unanticipated for a couple of reasons.
Despite the fact that two thousand years ago, Hippocrates, the father of
Western medicine, wrote that food was our best medicine, this idea
somehow came to be considered quaint rather than relevant. In addi-
tion, modern medicine has often derided and dismissed the role of
nutrition in health.
However, increasing numbers of researchers and physicians have
begun to acknowledge that the foods we eat lay the foundation for the
biochemical milieu of our DNA. For example, the body™s production of
new DNA, required for health and healing, depends on the presence
of many vitamins. The activity of DNA is further in¬‚uenced by various
nutrients™ intersecting with genetically determined biochemical
processes. And the progression of many diseases can often be in¬‚u-
enced or ameliorated by careful adjustments in the intake of dietary
This is a brave new world”and an exciting one at that”in the
¬elds of both genetics and nutrition. But it has been many years in com-
ing. An excellent example of the interaction of genetics and nutrition
was my 1969 discovery of arteriosclerotic vascular disease in children
with an inherited disease called homocystinuria. The most common
form of homocystinuria is caused by a single abnormal gene, which
programs the construction of the enzyme cystathionine beta synthase.
This genetic defect results in elevated blood and urine levels of homo-
cysteine, a toxic molecule now recognized in medicine as a risk factor
for coronary artery disease and stroke.
The normal activity of the cystathionine beta synthase enzyme
activity depends, humbly enough, on vitamin B6. Approximately half of
all children with this genetic condition respond favorably to large doses
of vitamin B6 with a dramatic lowering of homocysteine levels and a
marked reduction in the risk of blood clots and cardiovascular disease.
This is but one demonstration of how a genetic disease can be amelio-
rated by nutritional therapy.
In this important new book on genetics and human disease, the
remarkably talented nutrition and health writer Jack Challem clearly
explains the importance of nutrition and lifestyle factors in modifying
the genetic underpinnings of many human diseases. He draws upon
diverse yet authoritative sources to give reliable, sound, effective,
and well-reasoned advice. The impressive advances in nutrition and

biochemistry over the past several decades parallel the growing under-
standing of the human genome and the genetic basis of human disease.
The merging of these two ¬elds sheds new light on the process of aging
and the causes of human degenerative diseases.
Not only does Feed Your Genes Right explain the scientific
understanding of nutrition and genetic disease, but also the sound,
knowledgeable advice on treatment and prevention given is put into
understandable and practical terms in an achievable program of prac-
tical dietary improvement. Following the nutritional and lifestyle
advice in this book will help prevent the degenerative diseases all too
common in our twenty-¬rst-century world.

”Kilmer S. McCully, M.D.
The Homocysteine Revolution and
The Heart Revolution

If you™re like me, you want to maintain and perhaps improve your
health, reduce your chances of developing disease, stay mentally sharp,
stay at a normal weight, and remain physically active as you get older.
But as I™m sure you™ve already discovered, there is no shortage of how-
to health books or programs, frequently offering odd, counterintuitive,
or contradictory advice.
How do you make sense of everything you hear?
Today, in the early years of the twenty-first century, medical
research is dramatically shifting its focus. Instead of looking only at
the physical or biochemical factors that lead to health problems,
researchers are gaining a better understanding of the far-reaching roles
genes play in determining the risk of disease. Now and in the years
to come, the role of genes in health will strongly in¬‚uence, and perhaps
even dominate, recommendations for maintaining health and avoiding
The truth is that your genes do play a fundamental role in health
and disease. These tiny molecules, found in each one of your body™s 70
trillion cells, contain biological instructions that orchestrate the func-
tions of those cells and of your body as a whole. Your genes govern the
activities of your heart, lungs, brain, and every other organ. The collec-
tive efforts of your genes determine how well your body functions”or
malfunctions, as the case may be. Quite simply, when your genes do
their job properly, you™re in good health. When they don™t, or can™t, you
are more likely to develop heart disease, cancer, and other diseases.
You have probably heard people say that “you™ve got the genes you
were born with,” suggesting that your health and risk of disease were

xiv P R E FAC E

sealed at birth. But contrary to popular opinion, genes are not rigid and
in¬‚exible determinants of your health, and your life is not merely an
execution of some biological program beyond your control.
Instead, your genes possess extraordinary ¬‚exibility, which you can
use to live a longer and healthier life. How is this possible? The reason
is that genes do not function by themselves. Rather, gene activity
depends on a variety of nutrients as cofactors. Nutrients provide the
building blocks of genes, and they turn many genes on and off. Because
you control what you put into your mouth, you can literally feed your
genes right and gain tremendous health bene¬ts. Or you can feed your
genes all the wrong foods and suffer the unfortunate consequences.Vit-
amins and minerals (and many other nutrients as well) have always
been essential cofactors for the normal functioning of your genes.
If these ideas seem strange or unfamiliar, rest assured. Research on
the interactions between nutrition and genes is in step with many of the
public-health recommendations you have heard over the years. For
example, doctors have long urged the adoption of various dietary and
lifestyle habits to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, such as
eating more vegetables and fruit and exercising regularly. Nutrients
work on multiple levels in the body, and ultimately they enable genes to
function more ef¬ciently, the way nature intended them to.
I ¬rst became interested in the health bene¬ts of nutrition in 1969,
when DeWitt Garrett, a college biology professor, made an intriguing
off-the-cuff comment about vitamin supplements. The timing was
serendipitous. I had recently been diagnosed with a cyst that my physi-
cian said would bother me for the rest of my life. About a week after I™d
started to take vitamin supplements, my cyst drained and disappeared.
I was impressed by the immediate and dramatic effect of the vitamins,
and I have been taking them ever since. Looking back, I now realize
that nutrient de¬ciencies likely interfered with the genes involved in
healing the cyst, a situation that the vitamin supplements corrected.
It was not until the mid-1990s, however, that I started to see a clear
connection between nutrition and genes. Bernard Rimland, an autism
researcher, happened to tell me about a physician who had used
large dosages of vitamins and other supplements to treat children with
Down syndrome, a disorder caused by an irreversible genetic defect
that leads to physical abnormalities and mental retardation. Rimland
told me that the earlier children began taking the supplements, the
more likely they would grow up with near-normal intelligence and

appearance. Somehow, massive amounts of vitamins and other supple-
ments managed to offset much of the genetic chaos of Down syndrome.
Hearing about the nutritional treatment of Down syndrome, I
began to mull over whether we are “what we inherit.” I had reason to
be curious. My older brother had died from cancer at a relatively young
age, and my parents had died after many years of failing health. I did
not want to follow in their footsteps, at least if I didn™t have to.
I mulled over a simple question: if vitamin supplements could undo
a signi¬cant amount of the genetic damage done by Down syndrome,
why couldn™t vitamins and dietary changes improve other types of
genetic defects or damage? It turned out that other people were think-
ing along the same lines. Researchers around the world were discover-
ing that vitamins, such as vitamin E and the B vitamin folic acid, could
reduce much of the cumulative genetic damage that occurs during the
aging process and in many diseases.
Shortly afterward, I had an opportunity to experiment on myself. In
1997, at age forty-seven, I grappled with the fact that I was twenty
pounds overweight and my blood sugar was creeping up toward pre-
diabetic levels. I was slowly but steadily heading toward type 2 diabetes.
For a health writer, this situation was, at the very least, embarrassing.
But I was at a loss as to how to change it.
The solution came with advice from people who were more savvy
than I was when it came to nutritional supplements and diet. A nutri-
tionally oriented physician conducted a battery of blood tests and
found that I was low in key minerals involved in managing blood sugar
and insulin. So I started taking supplements of these minerals, including
chromium, magnesium, and zinc. I also increased my intake of alpha-
lipoic acid, a vitamin-like nutrient involved in regulating blood sugar
and insulin levels. But supplements were not the entire solution. Two
years later a nutritionist coached me on eating more wholesome foods
as a way to lose weight and control my blood sugar.
By eating more nutritious foods, cutting out the all-too-convenient
junk foods, and continuing to take certain nutritional supplements”
what I now call feeding my genes right”I effortlessly lost twenty
pounds and four inches from my waist in three months. I also found, a
little later, that my blood sugar and insulin levels fell to well within
normal ranges. Knowing what I do now, I understand that these
changes helped turn off genes involved in overweight, in¬‚ammation,
and diabetes.
xvi P R E FAC E

All of these events were stepping-stones to a more serious exami-
nation of how nutrition in¬‚uences the activity of genes and, in turn,
overall health. With all the news reports about gene research and (so
far exaggerated) promises of future gene therapies, most physicians
and researchers have ignored a simple yet profound fact: our genes
require many nutrients to do their jobs correctly, just as you and I need
a good meal to feel up to doing our jobs.
Feed Your Genes Right is the result of both a personal and a pro-
fessional quest, one that I am pleased to share with you. This book
explains, in simple and nontechnical terms, how nutrition affects your
genes and your risk of disease, regardless of whether you have inher-
ited “good” or “bad” genes.
In Part I, I provide an overview of nutrition-gene interactions,
explaining how genes become damaged and how they are capable of
repairing themselves, so long as they receive proper nutrition. In Part
II, I provide the Feed Your Genes Right Supplement Plan, which
describes specific vitamins and vitamin-like nutrients needed for
healthy genes. Part III covers dietary recommendations for maintaining
healthy genes, explaining what you should and should not eat. Finally,
Part IV describes how stress affects genes, suggests antistress nutrients
you can take, and makes specific recommendations for reducing
genetic damage that occurs in aging, heart disease, cancer, some inher-
ited diseases, and many other conditions.
The bottom line of Feed Your Genes Right is that you do not have
to wait years to apply the new and exciting discoveries of nutri-
genomics, the science of nutrition and genetics. You can utilize existing
knowledge to improve your health today and to set the stage for an
active, healthy, and long life. I have incorporated these concepts in my
own life, and you can, too.
Be healthy, and enjoy life!

Many individuals have contributed in a variety of ways to my work on
this book. I wish to thank Jack Scovil, my agent, and Tom Miller, my
editor at John Wiley & Sons, for their support of this book and trust in
my perspective and ideas. I also wish to thank Kimberly Monroe-Hill
and Maureen Sugden for their careful editing of the manuscript.
I thank Sally Krusing for her enthusiasm in sharing her culinary
experience, for helping me develop and test many of the recipes, and
for reading and commenting on the manuscript.
I thank Bill Thomson, a friend and former editor of Natural Health
magazine, for helping me re¬ne many of my ideas and for his comments
on the manuscript.
Many other people generously shared scienti¬c and medical infor-
mation through discussions and e-mails, and I am indebted to them.
They include Craig Cooney, Ph.D.; Abram Hoffer, M.D., Ph.D.; Ronald
Hunninghake, M.D.; James Jackson, Ph.D.; Peter Langsjoen, M.D.; Ali
Langsjoen, M.S.; Chris Matthews, Ph.D.; Kilmer McCully, M.D.; David
S. Moore, Ph.D.; and Hugh Riordan, M.D.


The Nutrition-Gene

Your Genes Depend
on Good Nutrition

Nurture is reversible; nature is not.
”Matt Ridley

Almost every week scientists announce the discovery of new genes
that may in¬‚uence our long-term risk of disease. The headlines and
news stories tell us about genes that cause heart disease, Alzheimer™s
disease, breast cancer, prostate cancer, arthritis, diabetes, obesity,
depression, schizophrenia, osteoporosis, and dozens of other diseases.
As if we didn™t already have enough to worry about, we now have to be
concerned with whether we might be carrying any number of genetic
time bombs.
We hear also that gene research may eventually lay the ground-
work for new types of medical treatments. But until that time comes”
and it will be years away at best”it™s easy to feel victimized by our
heredity. After all, we have been told for decades that our genes pre-
determine our health risks”genetic fatalism, so to speak”and that we
can™t do anything to change the genes our parents gave us.
Or can we?
The premise of Feed Your Genes Right corrects much of what you
have previously heard.Your genes, of course, are the biological programs

4 F E E D YO U R G E N E S R I G H T

that govern much of how your body functions or, as the case may be,
malfunctions and causes disease. But to the surprise of many scientists,
recent research has revealed that your genes are not rigid, unchanging
determinants of your health. Rather, you can improve your genetic
heritage and the way your genes function. Quite simply, you can offset
disease-causing genetic defects and age-related genetic damage with
certain eating habits, nutritional supplements, and other lifestyle
As incredible as this may sound, the ability to modify the behavior of
your genes forms a key concept in nutrigenomics, the scienti¬c ¬eld that
looks at how genes and nutrition interact. A large body of research
clearly shows that the normal functioning of your genes depends on a
good diet and a healthy lifestyle. By applying this research, you can fos-
ter healthier genes, slow your aging process (that is, feel and even look
younger), and lower your risk of virtually every disease. Feed Your Genes
Right explains exactly how you can do this, with easy-to-follow advice.

Is Nutrition All That Important?
People often seem surprised to hear that all of the foods they eat (not
just fats and carbohydrates) affect their physical health, aging process,
stress responses, and appearance. The truth is that the nutrients you
consume are literally the building blocks”the bricks and mortar”of
your body. Good nutrition provides a solid foundation for health. In
contrast, poor eating habits make for a shaky foundation at best.
The importance of nutrition in health is hardly a new idea. More
than two thousand years ago, Hippocrates, the father of Western med-
icine, wrote that food was our best medicine. Today many people
understand that some foods, such as ¬sh and vegetables, are healthy
and reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, whereas sugary soft
drinks, doughnuts, and candy bars are unhealthy because they set the
stage for obesity and diabetes.
What has changed since Hippocrates™ time is our comprehension of
the exact details and the full extent of how nutrition affects our health.
Until relatively recently, researchers had a fairly general understanding
of how some nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, affect health. Sci-
entists have now gained a new and profound knowledge of the speci¬c
ways that foods and individual nutrients affect the activity of genes
and, consequently, the health of the entire body.
With this growing understanding of how nutrients and genes inter-

act, it is now possible to determine whether you might need extra
amounts of certain vitamins and minerals to stay healthy. Knowledge is
power, of course, and you can use this knowledge to overcome genetic
weaknesses and to reduce, slow, and sometimes reverse age-related
genetic damage. The payoff? You can greatly improve your health,
regardless of the genes you were born with. In a very real sense, you do
not have to rationalize that a particular health problem “runs in my
family,” because you do not have to let the health problem run in you.

Your Genes Are Flexible, Not Fixed
Our genes consist of a microscopic double strand coil of deoxyribonu-
cleic acid, better known simply as DNA. How are genes and DNA dif-
ferent? DNA is the equivalent of a biological dictionary. Genes use
DNA to form an entire set of instructions guiding the behavior of each
and every cell in our bodies.
This genetic program functions like the instructions written in a
computer™s operating system, or the underlying program that runs your
computer. Our genetic program governs the entire organization and
operation of our bodies, ensuring that nearly all people are born with
arms, legs, lungs, a heart, and other organs. We often look like our par-
ents because they were the source of our genes, passing along genetic
programs that determined our hair, eye, and skin color.
However, your genes do far more than program your appearance.
They orchestrate the creation of everything in your body, including
¬fty thousand proteins and tens of thousands of other biochemicals.
Although many of your physical features (such as eye color) are ¬xed,
the genes in charge of your day-to-day biochemical processes are not.
Contrary to what many people have believed, genes are not destiny.
Your genes provide tremendous ¬‚exibility in your long-term health,
and you can use that ¬‚exibility to your advantage.
Your genes are always responding, in good or bad ways, to what you
eat; to your emotions, your stresses, and your experiences; and to the
nutritional microenvironment within each of your body™s cells. If you
maintain a particularly healthy genetic environment, your genes will
function normally and you will age relatively slowly and be more resist-
ant to chronic, degenerative diseases. If you maintain a less-than-
healthy genetic environment, such as by smoking or eating large
amounts of unhealthy foods, you will age faster and be more suscepti-
ble to disease.
6 F E E D YO U R G E N E S R I G H T

The Promise of Feed Your Genes Right
By now you should realize that you do not have to live with health
problems that make you feel less than your best and increase your risk
of premature aging and disease. You also may be curious about the spe-
ci¬c recommendations for feeding your genes right and improving your
As you read Feed Your Genes Right, you will discover how

• some inherited genes may be predisposing you to a variety of
diseases that doctors commonly miss;
• age-related damage to your genes increases your risk of serious
diseases, such as heart disease, Alzheimer™s disease, and cancer,
as well as saps your energy levels;
• nutritional de¬ciencies create biochemical bottlenecks, prevent-
ing genes from ful¬lling their normal and intended functions;
• foods rich in sugars and re¬ned carbohydrates boost levels of
insulin, a hormone that alters gene activity and increases your
risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer; and
• certain cooking habits can damage your DNA and accelerate the
aging of your body.

But as the title suggests, Feed Your Genes Right is not just about
what can go wrong with your genes and health. Instead this book
emphasizes what you can do to protect your DNA and offset both
inherited genetic weaknesses and age-related genetic damage. Most of
this book explains how

• healthy, nutrient-dense foods, such as ¬sh and vegetables, pro-
vide optimal nourishment for your genes and turn off many
disease-promoting genes;
• some foods, such as kiwifruit, blueberries, and raspberries, actu-
ally help prevent and repair DNA damage;
• B vitamins help your body make and repair DNA and regulate
the behavior of your genes, something that becomes especially
important after age thirty;
• antioxidants, such as vitamins E and C, protect DNA from thou-
sands of dangerous molecules each day;
• selenium, an essential nutrient, turns on genes that ¬ght cancer
cells; and

• vitamin-like nutrients, such as coenzyme Q10 and carnitine,
counteract DNA-damaging molecules and boost your energy

The take-home message of this book is really very simple: you can
slow down your body™s aging process, reduce your risk of chronic and
catastrophic diseases, maintain high energy levels, stay sexually active,
preserve a more youthful appearance, and remain mentally sharp as
you reach middle and old age. You can do this by providing your genes
with the best nutritional environment for their normal”and even
The key to accomplishing all of this, simple as it might sound, is eat-
ing nutritious foods, taking certain vitamins and other types of supple-
ments, engaging in moderate physical activity, and limiting the harmful
negative stresses in life. I™ve succeeded in doing these things myself, and
I have known people in their seventies and eighties who look and feel
decades younger than they really are by doing the same.

The Feed Your Genes Right Quiz:
Assessing Your Health and Risk of Disease
Your risk of disease is in¬‚uenced by a variety of factors, including the
genes you inherit from your parents and how your genes are shaped by
the dietary and environmental factors unique to your life. This quiz
assesses some of the risk factors affecting the health and function of
your genes. Simply circle yes or no, depending on whether the state-
ment applies to you.

Your Inherited Risk Factors
I am more than forty years old. Yes No
My father died of a heart attack before the age of ¬fty. Yes No
My mother died of breast or cervical cancer before the
age of forty. Yes No
Some serious diseases, such as arthritis, cancer, diabetes,
heart disease, obesity, or others, seem to run in my family. Yes No
I was born with a recognized birth defect, such as a cleft lip or a
cleft palate, or I have been diagnosed with a genetic condition. Yes No
Explanation: Yes answers point to a risk of disease related to either
inheritance or age-related genetic damage.
8 F E E D YO U R G E N E S R I G H T

Your Current Health Status
I am a little overweight. Yes No
I am considerably overweight and so is (was) at least one of
my parents. Yes No
My energy levels are not as high as I would like, and I often
feel too tired to do the things I would like to do. Yes No
I have been diagnosed with glucose intolerance, insulin
resistance, Syndrome X, or diabetes. Yes No
I have been diagnosed with some type of cardiovascular
disease or cancer. Yes No
I regularly take two or more different medications for
conditions my doctor has diagnosed. Yes No
The older I get, the more forgetful I seem to become. Yes No
Explanation: Yes answers indicate that your genetics, cell function,
and metabolism have been compromised, most likely because of
dietary or lifestyle habits. The more yes answers, the more seriously
your genes and health have already been compromised.

Your Stress Levels
I am under a lot of stress at home, at work, or while commuting. Yes No
I have a lot of resentment or anger about things that are not
the way they should be in my life. Yes No
I have not been in a long-term relationship for at least several
years, or I am in a relationship that I do not ¬nd enjoyable
and satisfying. Yes No
I tend to have a lot of “down” days or often feel depressed. Yes No
Explanation: Yes answers re¬‚ect a high level of stress, which can
lead to an imbalance in brain chemistry and altered gene function in
brain cells.

Your Dietary and Exercise Habits
I usually skip breakfast, or I just have something like coffee
and a doughnut. Yes No
I do not like eating vegetables, and I do not eat them regularly. Yes No
I eat a lot of my meals in fast-food restaurants. Yes No
I make most of my meals at home by heating something from
a box in the microwave oven. Yes No
I smoke cigarettes. Yes No

I drink spirits (hard liquor) or beer every day. Yes No
I am too busy or too tired to exercise regularly. Yes No
Explanation: Yes answers indicate that you are not providing a
sound nutritional or lifestyle environment for your genes. Even if you
are currently free of disease, you are experiencing accelerated genetic
damage, which will set the stage for serious chronic disease.

To Finish the Quiz
Add up your yes answers. If you did not circle any yes answers at all,
you are in great shape, have good eating habits, and have good family
genetics. If you circled just a few yes answers, you may be thinking that
it™s nearly impossible to achieve a perfect score”and that this quiz is
stacked against you. But it is not. Rather the quiz is designed to show
how many heredity, dietary, and lifestyle factors can work against you
and the health of your genes. Every person inherits some types of
genetic weaknesses and acquires additional genetic damage each and
every day of his or her life.

The Failure of Gene Therapy
You might be wondering whether it would be easier to wait for medi-
cine to develop high-tech gene therapies to correct any genetic weak-
nesses you have or might develop as you age. The problem with that
line of thinking is that you may be dead before such research produces
any bene¬ts for the majority of people.
The reason is that a lot of gene research has been misguided by
wishful thinking and oversold to investors and the general public. For
example, reports of a “breast-cancer gene,” a “heart-disease gene,” or
an “obesity gene” suggest that a single faulty gene causes each of these
diseases. If this were the case, it might be relatively easy to develop
gene therapies. But the “one gene, one disease” view is overly simplis-
tic. Only about 10 percent of women with breast cancer have one of the
so-called breast-cancer genes. The truth is that only a very small num-
ber of people have “smoking gun” genes that predispose them to obe-
sity, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer™s disease, or other disorders.
Although you don™t read about it very often, genetic research has
clearly shown that degenerative diseases are actually “polygenic.” That
is, most diseases involve hundreds and sometimes thousands of genes
that go awry. Up to 5,000 malfunctioning genes set the stage for
10 F E E D YO U R G E N E S R I G H T

cardiovascular disease, almost 300 wayward genes are involved in
asthma, and 140 faulty genes contribute to the problem of failing
memory. And with the complex interplay of 30,000 genes and 3 billion
units of DNA, it may very well be impossible ever to design truly
effective multigene therapies to treat common diseases.
Another problem is that despite billions of dollars of research, gene
therapies have so far been an abysmal failure. In most instances they
have simply failed to work, and sometimes patients have developed
cancer or died from mysterious causes. For example, many researchers
have used genetically modified viruses to deliver disease-treating
DNA. In some human experiments, these viruses missed their target
and instead attached to the wrong gene, causing leukemia. The conse-
quences of manipulating genes are often unpredictable, largely because
of their inherent complexity.
The massive research effort to identify genes and turn gene therapy
into a marketable product has for the most part ignored how genes”
just like the rest of your body”depend on proper nourishment. Many
scientists have been forced to accept the fact that thirty thousand genes
cannot by themselves account for the phenomenal complexity of the
human body. It is now becoming clear that vitamins and other nutrients
directly and indirectly serve as cofactors in gene activity, strongly in¬‚u-
encing how genes function.
Granted, foods and nutritional supplements are low-tech and con-
siderably less glitzy than the latest much-touted medical discovery.
They may even strike some people as being like quaint folk remedies.
But the science behind nutrition and genetics is solid, and nutrition has
the advantage of helping without causing harm. The most sensible
approach is actually a generic one: for the majority of people, it is to eat
foods and take supplements that enhance normal gene function and
reduce gene damage throughout the body.

In the next chapter, we will look at some of the ways that DNA
becomes damaged, as well as at DNA™s ability to repair itself.

DNA Damage, Aging,
and Disease

Whether you believe in God or are an atheist, it is hard not to be
emotionally moved by “the miracle of life.” However life began on
earth, whatever or whoever initiated it, the nature of life”a newborn
baby or hatchlings in a bird™s nest”inspires awe and respect. In a
process that is repeated millions of times each day, a single cell multi-
plies into a huge collection of diverse cells, operating with a level of
interactivity and complexity that science is only starting to grasp.
The miracle of life begins, physically, with DNA. This double strand
of molecules, too tiny to see without the most powerful electron micro-
scope, contains all the instructions that transform us from a fertilized
egg into a full human being. DNA also contains the biological programs
for making the thousands of proteins, hormones, and other biochemi-
cals involved in facilitating normal growth and healing, maintaining a
normal heartbeat, ¬ghting infections, suppressing cancer cells, and per-
forming thousands of other jobs in the body. DNA is the biological
instruction manual that enables your body to function relatively
smoothly twenty-four hours a day, like the most complex of factories.
Your DNA keeps you healthy and alive, so long as you provide it with
a nutrient-rich environment. When your DNA starts to malfunction, you
will age faster than you would otherwise, and your risk of disease will
12 F E E D YO U R G E N E S R I G H T

increase as well. The reason for this is that malfunctioning DNA cannot
provide the correct instructions to your body™s cells, such as those in the
heart or kidneys, to perform their jobs. Similarly, cancers arise from dam-
aged DNA that incorrectly instructs cells to multiply uncontrollably. If
you are like me, you want to keep your DNA in the best possible shape,
because it means staying as youthful and healthy as you can.

A Quick Explanation of DNA, Genes, and Chromosomes
We regularly hear or read about DNA, genes, and chromosomes. But
what exactly are they, what do they look like, and what do they do? In
simple terms they provide organization to the biological instructions that
in¬‚uence everything that happens in your body, from the color of your
eyes to your inherited risk of heart disease.
If you were to scrape off a little bit of skin from your ¬ngertip and look
at it under a microscope, you would ¬nd that it is not a single clump of tis-
sue. Rather, your skin consists of individual units called cells, which per-
form various jobs. Your entire body consists of approximately 70 trillion
cells, which operate both independently and cooperatively.
Each cell contains a nucleus, or an obvious center. If you focused your
microscope inside the nucleus, you would see your genetic instructions
organized into twenty-three pairs of chromosomes.
By increasing your microscope™s magni¬cation, you would see that the
forty-six chromosomes are divided into approximately thirty thousand
segments called genes. Each gene contains the instructions for making
(or “coding” for) a single protein or enzyme. These genetic instructions
might be the equivalent of “color hair black,” “produce testosterone,” or
“make hemoglobin.”
Looking more closely, you would ¬nd that genes consist of double
strands of DNA (the abbreviation for deoxyribonucleic acid). DNA forms
the words in genetic instructions, and the typical gene contains approxi-
mately seven hundred DNA words.
Sharpening your focus even more, you would ¬nd that DNA strands
consist of four smaller chemical units called nucleotide bases.These chem-
icals (adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine) form the chemical alpha-
bet of DNA. A single cell in your body contains 3 billion DNA letters,
roughly the same number of letters found in thirty-seven thousand copies
of this book.
To make a protein or enzyme, DNA creates a strand of RNA (ribonu-
cleic acid) and then transcribes its instructions onto it. RNA then uses
these instructions to select the individual amino acids (which are found in
protein-containing foods) needed to make a speci¬c protein or enzyme.
These proteins and enzymes form the foundation of thousands of bio-
chemicals, from hormones to neurotransmitters, required for your body to
D N A DA M AG E , AG I N G , A N D D I S E A S E

How Genes Turn On
Over the years many researchers have attributed great powers to
genes, often suggesting that they predestine most aspects of your health
and disease risk. But by themselves genes do absolutely nothing. They
are simply sets of biological instructions that remain quiet until some-
thing prompts their activity.
Biologists describe the activation of genes as “gene expression.”
When a gene becomes “expressed,” it turns on, and only then does it
begin the process of creating a protein or enzyme. Genes can be turned
on by any number of factors, including normal growth, injuries, healing,
stresses, hormones, emotions, and infections.
The process of gene expression is analogous to how a factory
receives and ¬lls orders. It begins when a cell receives a chemical signal,
which is akin to an order for a speci¬c part. The order is directed to the
gene in charge of producing the protein or enzyme needed for that
part. After the protein or enzyme is made, vitamins, minerals, and other
nutrients are used to complete the manufacturing process.
If an important manufacturing ingredient”such as a speci¬c vita-
min”is not present in adequate amounts, production stops and the
order cannot be ¬lled. In practical terms this means that your body
might not be able to make new cartilage to cushion your knees or pro-
duce the neurotransmitter serotonin to reduce anxiety.
As another example, let™s say that you are cooking dinner and you
accidentally cut your ¬nger with a knife. Almost instantly a variety of
chemical signals alert the entire body to what has happened. Some of
these chemical signals activate immune cells, such as white blood cells,
which rush to the cut and attack infecting bacteria. Other signals turn
on genes involved in healing. During the healing process, some skin
cells start making copies of their DNA and then divide to create new
cells. After the cut heals, all this activity subsides, because it is no longer

Nutrients Help Activate Genes
For genes to remain healthy and functional”to be turned on or off
when they are supposed to be”their constituent DNA must be fed the
proper nutrients. This is a little different from what you have previously
heard about nutrition. Most of us have been taught that we need nutri-
tion to live, and we have learned that we need many speci¬c nutrients,
such as vitamin A for our eyes and calcium for our bones. But only
14 F E E D YO U R G E N E S R I G H T

recently have researchers begun to appreciate the details of how nutri-
tion affects our DNA and genes.
Despite the frequent news reports about DNA, genes, and health,
most people never hear that the body™s production of DNA depends on
the presence of certain vitamins. For example, you must have an ade-
quate intake of vitamins B3 and B6 and folic acid to make DNA. (The
role of these vitamins will be discussed further in chapter 5.) Low intake
of any of these and other vitamins, a problem that is surprisingly com-
mon, reduces the production of DNA needed for new and replacement
cells. If you cannot make new DNA, you will be left with only damaged,
old, or malfunctioning DNA”giving your cells the wrong instructions.
Many other nutrients play important roles in normal DNA function
as well. Zinc, an essential dietary mineral, forms ¬ngerlike structures
within in DNA. Similarly, selenium, another essential mineral, is
needed by a key cancer-suppressing gene. These nutrients and others
will be discussed in greater detail in chapters 4, 5, and 6. Throughout
this discussion, one of the key ideas to remember is this: vitamins and
many minerals (and many other nutrients as well) are absolutely essen-
tial for health. Part of the reason they are essential is that genes need
them for normal functioning and resisting disease.

Proof of Principle: Folic Acid,
Vitamin D, and Our Genes
In the 1960s Welsh scientists and physicians reported that pregnant
women eating diets low in the B vitamin folic acid (found in leafy green
vegetables) had a high risk of giving birth to infants with a serious
birth defect called spina bifida. It took a number of years, but
researchers eventually realized that some of the women had genetic
weaknesses that interfered with how their bodies processed folic acid,
thus increasing the risk of birth defects.
Scienti¬c studies focused on the gene that made an enzyme crucial
to the body™s processing of folic acid. Subtle defects in this gene led to
the creation of an inef¬cient enzyme, which in turn interfered with folic
acid™s essential role in making new DNA and cells for a growing fetus.
Without ample folic acid, normal DNA and cell production failed, and
a birth defect was almost inevitable. But the researchers also found that
women who increased their consumption of folic acid (either through
foods or supplements) overcame this genetic defect and gave birth to
D N A DA M AG E , AG I N G , A N D D I S E A S E

healthy babies. The extra folic acid didn™t change the gene, but it did
enable the enzyme to work harder.
In recent years researchers realized that either the same genetic
defect or low levels of folic acid could interfere with DNA-building
processes throughout the body and at any time (not just during gestation
in women). It turned out that low intake of folic acid can set the stage for
widespread genetic damage, premature aging, heart disease, Alzheimer™s
disease, and even some types of cancer. In each case adequate or extra
amounts of folic acid help maintain normal gene function.
A similar story recently began unfolding with vitamin D. Many
people inherit a defect in the gene responsible for managing vitamin D
in the body. More than a dozen variations in this gene have been iden-
ti¬ed so far. Some variations increase the risk of the bone-thinning dis-
ease osteoporosis, and others boost a person™s chances of developing
cancer, diabetes, or multiple sclerosis. The scienti¬c evidence suggests
that increasing one™s intake of vitamin D or spending at least ¬fteen
minutes daily in the sun (which stimulates the body™s own production
of vitamin D) can overcome this genetic defect and reduce the risk of
these diseases.

How Jerry Saved His Heart
Jerry, now age ¬fty-six, is alive and well and in exceptionally good
health”thanks to the fact that he has used nutrition to offset a
potentially fatal genetic defect.
Nearly all of the men in Jerry™s family have died at relatively
young ages. His paternal grandfather died of a heart attack at
forty-six. Jerry™s father died after suffering his second heart
attack at age thirty-eight. And Jerry™s older brother died after a
stroke at age forty-two.
Several years ago genetic testing found that Jerry carried a
subtle defect in the gene programming the construction of meth-
ylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR), an enzyme needed
for normal utilization of the B vitamin folic acid. Because of this
defect, Jerry did not ef¬ciently use the modest levels of folic acid
found in his diet. As a result his blood levels of homocysteine, a
major risk factor for heart disease, were extremely high”34
micromoles per liter of blood. It is very likely that other men in
Jerry™s family carried the same MTHFR polymorphism.
To offset the sluggish MTHFR enzyme created by the gene, a
nutritionally oriented physician recommended that Jerry take a
16 F E E D YO U R G E N E S R I G H T

daily high-potency B-complex vitamin supplement containing
800 mcg of folic acid. She also suggested that Jerry eat more veg-
etables and fewer high-carb and high-fat fast foods. Literally fear-
ing for his life, Jerry also began exercising regularly and adopted
stress-reduction habits, such as meditation, to deal with work-
related pressures.
Today Jerry is a paragon of cardiovascular ¬tness. His homo-
cysteine and blood-fat levels are normal, about 7 micromoles per
liter of blood. In addition, his blood pressure is normal, and a
treadmill test recently found him to be exceptionally ¬t.

Some Common Genetic Diseases
All degenerative diseases entail some type of impairment of DNA and
gene activity. For example, some types of DNA damage are inherited
and cause speci¬c diseases, such as sickle-cell anemia. Cancer results
from DNA damage that totally rewrites normal genetic instructions. As
you get older, you acquire increasing amounts of genetic damage that
affect your body™s outward appearance and how well the interior of
your body functions.
Aging. Although aging is not generally considered a disease, it pos-
sesses the genetic hallmarks of a disease: progressive damage to DNA
that increases the risk of developing diseases. For example, wrinkled
skin re¬‚ects underlying DNA damage to skin cells.
Cancer. Many different factors strongly in¬‚uence the risk of developing
cancer, but some people inherit unstable genes that increase
susceptibility to cancer. For example, low activity of the p53 cancer-
suppressing genes can increase the risk of many types of cancer. More
often, however, random mutations to DNA can reprogram gene func-
tion, leading to normal cells™ becoming cancerous.
Celiac Disease. This inherited disease causes a total intolerance of
gluten, a family of proteins found in wheat and many other grains. The
intolerance, which is somewhat like an allergy, commonly leads to an
abnormal immune response centered in the gastrointestinal tract and
causes poor nutrient absorption.
Coronary Artery (Heart) Disease. Although strongly in¬‚uenced by diet
and emotional stress, coronary artery disease can also be in¬‚uenced by
speci¬c genes. For example, the APOE E4 gene promotes the accumu-
lation of cholesterol, and some versions of the MTHFR gene can lead
D N A DA M AG E , AG I N G , A N D D I S E A S E

to elevated blood levels of homocysteine, which damages blood-vessel
Favism. This intolerance to fava beans results from a genetic variation
that interferes with the body™s ability to break down toxic substances.
As a consequence, two naturally occurring substances (vicine and
divicine) in fava beans are toxic to people with this genetic trait.
Hemophilia. This disease, which prevents the normal clotting of blood,
is caused by a genetic defect that impairs the body™s use of vitamin K.
Hemochromatosis. This condition is caused by a genetic variation that
interferes with regulatory mechanisms involved in iron absorption.
People with hemochromatosis absorb too much iron, which can
increase the risk of heart disease and other disorders.
Mitochondrial Myopathies. These conditions, which severely affect
energy levels, result from defects in the DNA programming of energy
production in cells. Because of these defects, people with mitochondrial
myopathies cannot ef¬ciently produce energy and suffer from extreme
weakness and exhaustion.
Phenylketonuria. This condition results from a genetic defect in an
enzyme that prevents the conversion of phenylalanine to tyrosine, both
important amino acids. Symptoms affect the nervous system and
include seizures and psychiatric disorders.
Pyroluria. Some people are genetically predisposed to excrete elevated
levels of kryptopyrrole, which also depletes vitamin B6 and zinc. The con-
dition, called pyroluria, is found in many schizophrenic patients. Low
levels of vitamin B6 impair the synthesis of serotonin and many other
neurotransmitters, so depression and moodiness may be other common
symptoms. White spots on ¬ngernails are a sign of zinc de¬ciency.
Sickle-Cell Anemia. In ancient times sickle-cell anemia, which dis-
torts the shape of red blood cells, provided some protection against
malaria. However, its symptoms include pain and a sharply increased
risk of cardiovascular disease. It is most common in people of African

How Too Much Iron Weighed
Down Michael™s Health
Michael, in his mid-thirties, was experiencing inexplicable physi-
cal symptoms. His skin was darkening, his knee joints were
aching, and his interest in sex had practically vanished. The half-
18 F E E D YO U R G E N E S R I G H T

dozen physicians he had consulted could not come to a single
diagnosis, and they suggested an array of treatments, including
antiin¬‚ammatory drugs, testosterone patches, and antidepressant
medications. One even suggested Michael spend less time in the
sun, though he never was outdoors long enough to get a sunburn,
let alone a tan.
Increasingly frustrated, Michael made an appointment with
yet another physician. But this one had a hunch about the under-
lying cause of his health problems. Over the next several weeks,
she ordered two different tests for his blood iron levels and then
a test for a mutation in the HFE gene. Both tests came back pos-
itive. She diagnosed Michael with hemochromatosis, an inherited
disease in which the body stores abnormally large amounts of
Although iron is an essential nutrient, high levels can be dan-
gerous and lead to a variety of seemingly disparate, dif¬cult-to-
diagnose symptoms. Untreated, hemochromatosis can lead to
liver cancer, diabetes, heart failure, and premature death.
Michael™s physician followed standard medical practice in
treating hemochromatosis. She asked him to make weekly
appointments for “serial phlebotomies””medically sanctioned
bloodlettings. Iron overload can be prevented by regularly draw-
ing off a pint of blood. In addition, Michael consulted with a
nutritionist, who recommended that he avoid iron-forti¬ed grain
products (such as breads and pastas) and iron-containing nutri-
tional supplements.
Michael was lucky to be diagnosed early enough to reverse his
symptoms. Over the next few months, all his symptoms began to

How DNA Becomes Damaged
DNA damage occurs in a variety of ways, with the consequences
interfering with the normal activity of our genes. The most common
causes of damage include free radicals, replication errors in DNA, and
transcriptional errors in DNA.
Aging is the most visible sign of ongoing DNA damage. Wrinkled
skin re¬‚ects damage to the DNA and other structures of skin cells. Sim-
ilar age-related DNA damage occurs in all organs, though at different
rates, increasing our risk of degenerative diseases.
D N A DA M AG E , AG I N G , A N D D I S E A S E

Free Radicals and DNA Damage
The most widely accepted theory of aging is based on the idea that
unstable molecules called free radicals damage DNA. Free radicals
form in the body as a by-product of the processes that break down food
for energy, ¬ght infections, and detoxify hazardous chemicals. They are
also found in pollutants, such as automobile exhaust, cigarette smoke,
copy machine fumes, and other types of air pollution. Still more free
radicals are generated when tissues are exposed to radiation, such as
ultraviolet rays in sunlight or the ionizing radiation of an X-ray.
Most free radicals are actually oxygen atoms, found in the air we
breathe. Oxygen atoms become free radicals when they lose (or occa-
sionally gain) one electron in what is normally a pair of electrons. To
restore the equilibrium of two electrons, free radicals react with and
steal an electron from any nearby molecule in a process called oxida-
tion. The effect is somewhat like a row of falling dominoes, with one
free radical being created after another, leaving large numbers of dam-
aged molecules in their wake. Oxidation is what also causes iron to rust
or silver to tarnish. In the human body, common targets of free-radical
oxidation include fats, sugars, proteins, and DNA.
Your body accumulates free-radical damage throughout your life-
time. In fact, each cell in your body suffers an estimated ten thousand
free-radical “hits” daily. Dr. Denham Harman, who conceived the free-
radical theory of aging, has explained that most people stay ahead of
this damage through ef¬cient repair of DNA and other molecules until
about age twenty-seven. After that point free-radical damage starts to
accumulate faster than DNA can repair it.
While free-radical damage accumulates, it generally affects DNA in
a random fashion. For example, free-radical damage from cigarette
smoking concentrates in the lungs, where DNA mutations will increase
the risk of cancer. But these free radicals also affect the heart and all
other organs. The random nature of free-radical damage explains, at
least in part, why one smoker might develop cancer while another suf-
fers a heart attack.

Energy Production”the Major Source of Free Radicals
Nearly all the free radicals in the body are produced in mitochondria,
microscopic structures in cells that break down food molecules for
energy. During this process free radicals oxidize, or burn, glucose and
fats much the way a car burns gasoline.
Luckily, most of these free radicals are held in chemical reactions
20 F E E D YO U R G E N E S R I G H T

within the mitochondria. However, some free radicals do leak out, and
one of the ¬rst things they target is mitochondrial DNA. Mitochondria
contain their own DNA (separate from the DNA in a cell™s nucleus),
which provides many of the genetic instructions for breaking down
glucose and fats for energy.
When free radicals damage mitochondrial DNA, energy produc-
tion becomes less ef¬cient, leading to the leakage of increasing num-
bers of free radicals and still more damage to mitochondrial DNA. As
these free radicals migrate, they also damage DNA in the cell nucleus,
as well as fats, sugars, and proteins in cells, interfering with other cell
functions. Many researchers believe that free-radical damage to mito-
chondria lies at the root of the entire aging process, which will be dis-
cussed further in chapter 4.

Inherited Mitochondrial DNA Defects
Many of the insights into mitochondria, DNA damage, and energy orig-
inated with studies of people with inherited or congenital diseases
called mitochondrial myopathies. (Myopathies are diseases that affect
muscle cells.) People with mitochondrial myopathies have damaged or
missing segments of mitochondrial DNA, which reduces their body™s
production of energy. Because heart, skeletal-muscle, and brain cells
have the highest concentration of mitochondria, these tissues are typi-
cally the ones most affected.
Symptoms of mitochondrial myopathies include extreme physical
and mental fatigue. Droopy eyelids are also a common sign of these dis-
orders. Symptoms often appear during infancy or early childhood and
continue through adulthood. It is common for people with mitochon-
drial myopathies to feel totally exhausted after walking just a short dis-
tance. Poor concentration and low brain-wave activity may also be signs
of some mitochondrial myopathies, and sometimes the damage is
severe enough to result in mental retardation.

How Suzanne Fixed Her Energy Problems
Suzanne had felt weak and “foggy-brained” for as long as she
could remember. As a child she had no energy or stamina for ath-
letic activities, and as an adult, just walking around a grocery
store left her feeling exhausted. Friends often kidded Suzanne,
calling her “the ultimate couch potato” because sprawled on the
sofa seemed like her most natural position.
D N A DA M AG E , AG I N G , A N D D I S E A S E

At age twenty-six, Suzanne started to develop droopy eyelids
and a slight tremor in her left arm, and she went to a neurologist
for an exam and tests. The doctor arranged for a muscle biopsy,
which was used to analyze Suzanne™s mitochondrial DNA. The
tests found that she had probably been born with damage to her
mitochondrial DNA. She was diagnosed with a mitochondrial
By pinpointing the specific location of the mitochondrial
DNA damage, Suzanne™s physician was able to recommend an
appropriate treatment. He suggested that she take several sup-
plements, including vitamin B2 , coenzyme Q10, and alpha-lipoic
acid, all of which are involved in energy production. Suzanne™s
energy levels increased slowly, and several months after taking
these supplements, her improved stamina has allowed her to
enjoy more activities with her friends and family.

Acquired Mitochondrial DNA Damage
Interestingly, age-related accumulation of free-radical damage to
mitochondrial DNA is very similar to what occurs in people born with
mitochondrial myopathies. This explains, at least in part, why weakness
and fatigue are commonly part of old age.
Although mitochondrial DNA damage is extensive in the elderly,
signi¬cant damage can also occur at younger ages. One well-known
case involves Greg LeMond, the bicycle racer who won two world
championships and the Tour de France three times. Plagued with a
variety of health problems, LeMond was diagnosed at age thirty-two
with a mitochondrial myopathy. It was very unlikely that he was born
with such mitochondrial damage, because it would have prevented him
from excelling at bicycle racing. However, strenuous exercise generates
large numbers of free radicals, and LeMond™s intensive exercise (possi-
bly without appropriate nutritional support) may have damaged his
mitochondrial DNA.
A catastrophic loss of cellular energy production in mitochondria is
also a factor in cardiomyopathy and heart failure, diseases of the heart
muscle (as opposed to the more common coronary artery disease,
which involves a blockage in key arteries). Heart cells require enor-
mous amounts of energy to beat an average of 70 times a minute,
10,000 times a day, and 37 million times a year. All this energy must be
generated by mitochondria in heart-muscle cells. While cardiomyopa-
thy and heart failure sometimes result from damage to mitochondrial
22 F E E D YO U R G E N E S R I G H T

DNA, these diseases may also result from low levels of the vitamin-like
nutrients involved in energy production. These nutrients include co-
enzyme Q10, alpha-lipoic acid, carnitine, ribose, and creatine (all of
which will be discussed in chapter 4).

Some Nutrients That Protect DNA and Genes
Every nutrient directly or indirectly affects the health and performance
of DNA and genes. The genetic roles of some nutrients, such as folic
acid, vitamin D, and zinc, are well understood. The roles of others, such
as carotenoids and ¬‚avonoids, are only now emerging. The following is
a list of the most important nutrients affecting DNA and genes:

Vitamin A. In¬‚uences the growth of cells and their differentiation into
specialized cells.
B-Complex Vitamins. Play diverse roles in DNA synthesis, repair, and
Vitamin C. Enables generic stem cells to become specialized heart cells;
it is also needed in energy-generating chemical reactions and the for-
mation of proteins.
Vitamin D. Performs diverse hormonelike functions affecting bone
density, immunity, and cancer risk.
Vitamin E. Protects DNA from free-radical damage and also helps reg-
ulate some genes.

Alpha-Lipoic Acid. Plays key roles in the production of energy and, as
an antioxidant, in protecting DNA from damage.
Coenzyme Q10. Has a major role in producing energy in mitochondria.
Carnitine. Needed to transport fats into mitochondria so they can be
burned for energy.
Carotenoids. A family of plant-based antioxidants that affect the
activity of many genes; they also suppress a gene involved in skin
Flavonoids. A large family of plant-based antioxidants; the ¬‚avonoid
quercetin binds with DNA and may protect it against cancerous
D N A DA M AG E , AG I N G , A N D D I S E A S E

N-Acetylcysteine. Regulates many genes and also protects them from
free-radical damage.

Chromium. Essential for the body™s use of the hormone insulin, which
in¬‚uences genes involved in fat- and muscle-cell production.
Selenium. Needed for the normal functioning of the p53 cancer-
suppressing gene.
Zinc. Provides key structural components, known as zinc ¬ngers, to
many genes.

DNA Mistakes during Cell Replication
Your body makes new cells when you are growing up, during the heal-
ing of injuries, and when old cells stop functioning or die and must be
replaced. During cell replication, DNA makes a copy of itself, with the
copy becoming part of the new cell.
The accuracy of DNA replication is exceptional”far better than
that of the best typist”but it is not perfect. The replicated DNA may
look virtually identical to the original, but typographical errors form in
the chemical letters making up DNA.
These mistakes, or mutations, change a cell™s programming, usually
affecting it in a negative way. Most DNA mutations age our cells”and
little by little our entire bodies”eventually making us more prone to
organ dysfunction and disease. Furthermore, these mutations increase
each time a cell makes a copy of itself, with errors leading to still more
errors. That is why a fifty-year-old woman looks different from a
twenty-year-old woman”the former has more DNA mutations.
We don™t see the consequences of these mutations in the short
term, but we do over a period of years. For example, you may not notice
sun damage to your skin (re¬‚ecting underlying damage to skin-cell
DNA) from one day to the next, but you will see changes to your skin
over ten or twenty years.

DNA Errors during Transcription
During DNA transcription, the information encoded in speci¬c genes is
transferred to RNA, which then uses the information as a template for
creating specific proteins or enzymes. These proteins and enzymes
24 F E E D YO U R G E N E S R I G H T

consist of chemicals known as amino acids. When you eat ¬sh, chicken,
eggs, or other protein-containing foods, the protein is broken down
into amino acids in the digestive tract. The amino acids are subse-
quently delivered to cells and ultimately reassembled, following DNA
instructions, into new proteins.
Problems occur when various amino acids are not present during
transcription. If a needed protein or enzyme cannot be created, its
absence may have enormous repercussions, such as low levels of the
neurotransmitter serotonin and resultant depression.
Even when DNA transcription occurs with reasonable accuracy,
other obstacles can prevent the production of proteins. For example,
overcooking proteins creates substances known as advanced glycation
end products, or AGEs. Like free radicals, AGEs easily damage DNA.
There are ways to reduce production of AGEs, and these will be dis-
cussed in chapter 5.

Erik™s Leukemia: Diffusing a Genetic Time Bomb
Erik, a physician, didn™t know that he carried a genetic time
bomb in his body.
One night in 1996, he felt nauseated and woke up with an ele-
vated temperature and a pain in the side of his chest. His wife
drove him to the hospital, where tests found that his white blood
cell count was four times above normal. He was diagnosed with
acute myelogenous leukemia, and the prognosis was chilling:
without immediate treatment he would live no more than a few
days. With treatment the odds were that he would not live much
Erik was familiar with and had used nutritional therapy in his
own medical practice, but he knew that it took time to work.
With no time to spare, he decided to undergo conventional
chemotherapy and tried to emotionally brace himself for the
painful side effects.As best he could, because of regular vomiting,
he took 10 grams of vitamin C, 400 IU of vitamin E, 500 mg of
vitamins B1 and B6, and other supplements daily.
The chemotherapy bought Erik the time he needed, and after
several weeks he increased the dosages of some supplements and
added others, such as coenzyme Q10, to his regimen. As his
leukemia went into remission and his white blood cell count
normalized, he reduced the dosages of his supplements.
Erik beat overwhelming odds against him. A year after his
D N A DA M AG E , AG I N G , A N D D I S E A S E

diagnosis, he was strong enough to resume his medical practice.
After two years, a rare length of survival for this type of cancer,
his doctors told him he had a 98 percent probability of remaining
healthy for another three years. After that, he was venturing into
medically unknown territory.
Now, in 2005, more than nine years after his initial diagnosis,
Erik remains well. He attributes his long-term recovery to the
bene¬ts of high-potency nutritional supplements, many of which
he still takes. Meanwhile, he focuses on his medical practice. “I
have found it to be so rewarding to be able to concentrate on the
problems of others rather than on my own fears for the future,”
he says.

How DNA Can Repair Itself
Like a publishing company, DNA also has proofreaders to catch and
correct typographical errors in our genes. These proofreaders are
enzymes that travel up and down the double strands of DNA, compar-
ing one strand to another and excising and replacing incorrectly copied
DNA-repair enzymes have their jobs cut out for them. More than
ten thousand DNA bases in each cell break down each day just from
normal body heat. Without DNA-repair enzymes, you would age much
faster and would experience a much higher risk of cancer. To function,
many of these enzymes depend on the presence of B vitamins, which
will be discussed in chapter 5.

DNA-Repair Enzymes
The body has more than a dozen types of DNA-repair enzymes, but
three appear to be the most important. Mismatch-repair enzymes
correct mistakes made when DNA is copied during cell replication.
These enzymes literally cut out and replace the errors. Transcription-
coupled repair enzymes fix DNA errors during the transcription
process, helping to prevent interruptions in the production of proteins
and enzymes. Nucleotide-excision repair enzymes fix DNA that has
become damaged, such as by free radicals.
The degree of accuracy in proofreading and correcting DNA mis-
takes is exceptional, but it is not perfect. Damage to a single strand of
DNA is relatively easy to repair, but identical damage to both DNA
26 F E E D YO U R G E N E S R I G H T

strands is dif¬cult to correct, because the repair enzyme then does not
have reliable DNA to use as a model to follow.
A person™s DNA-repair ef¬ciency can have a powerful bearing on
cancer risk. In a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer
Institute, researchers found that women with breast cancer consistently
had faulty DNA-repair processes. In contrast, only a small percentage
of healthy women had poor DNA-repair processes. Women with a high
risk of developing breast cancer were ¬ve times more likely to have
sluggish DNA-repair mechanisms.

RNA Repair Enzymes
Until very recently RNA was considered little more than a simple mes-
senger, transferring the information of DNA to create proteins and
enzymes. Studies have now found that short strands of RNA, called
microRNAs, help regulate cell growth.
RNA also plays a major proofreading role during DNA transcrip-
tion. According to recent research, strands of “RNA interference” scan
DNA for mutated genes. When RNA interference identi¬es a mutant
gene, it signals other repair enzymes to come in and remove it.

Limitations of DNA Repair
Some people seem to be particularly prone to unstable DNA. This lack
of structural stability can increase the risk of DNA mutations and can-
cer. In addition, some environmental contaminants, such as cadmium,
directly interfere with normal DNA-repair processes. Also, aging cell
membranes, which are basically the exterior and interior walls of cells,
can prevent DNA-repair enzymes from moving from one part of a cell
to another where they are needed.

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