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Still, every person has a tremendous capacity for DNA repair, and
you can enhance your ability to repair and maintain healthy DNA.
Your DNA-proofreading and -repair enzymes depend in large part on
the B vitamins.Antioxidants, such as vitamins E and C, can help protect
DNA from damage. (We will discuss these vitamins in more detail in
chapters 5 and 6.) There is compelling scienti¬c support for using these
vitamins to shore up the body™s DNA-repair enzymes.

In the next chapter, we will consider how both longer life spans and
modern eating habits have placed unprecedented stresses on genes,
leading to their malfunction and hence to a greater risk of diseases.
3

Con¬‚icts between Ancient
Genes and Modern Foods




Despite the well-known relationships between poor eating habits and
the risk of many common diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, heart dis-
ease, and cancer, most of us do not pay much attention to the quality of
the food we eat. We do not usually associate food with how we feel
from day to day, let alone with our long-term risk of disease. Nor do
most of us realize that behind the more visible signs of health and dis-
ease, the foods we consume affect the activity of our genes.
All too often we eat to satisfy hunger pangs or cravings, instead of
seeking good nutrition to maintain our health and, in the context of
this book, normal or optimal gene function. We will often pick up a
quick drive-through meal or pop a package into the microwave oven,
because we have not allowed ourselves time to prepare a more whole-
some meal. After we eat, we feel better for having quenched our
immediate hunger, but many of the serious health consequences are
usually years away, preventing us from connecting our eating habits
with health.
Considerable research now points to speci¬c ways that nutrients
can positively affect genes and how we can put this information into
practice. These boil down to three key areas that will be discussed at
greater length subsequently:
27
28 F E E D YO U R G E N E S R I G H T


1. Many of the individual nutrients a person routinely eats (or does
not eat) directly affect the functioning of genes, which in turn
in¬‚uences both the daily sense of well-being and the long-term
risk of serious disease.
2. Both inborn genetic weaknesses and age-related acquired genetic
damage can be largely offset through the use of supplemental
vitamins and other nutrients, fostering the optimal performance
of our genes and overall biochemistry.
3. Research in several scienti¬c disciplines, including the ¬elds of
nutrition, cell biology, molecular biology, and nutritional anthro-
pology, points to particular eating habits and nutritional supple-
ments that can enhance gene function in most people.

However, before turning to practical nutritional recommendations
to enhance gene function, we must brie¬‚y consider the context”that is,
our genetic and dietary heritage. This chapter focuses on some of the
ways that modern eating habits and lifestyles have created new and
unnatural stresses on our genes. It also provides a dietary framework
for getting the most out of our genes.


The Genetic Downside of Living Longer
Most people would like to live a very long time, but, surprisingly, there
are genetic consequences in doing so. One of the most signi¬cant con-
sequences of living longer is having more time to acquire free-radical
damage to our genes, resulting in an increased likelihood of developing
chronic degenerative diseases.
To explain, until about ten thousand years ago, the average human
life expectancy was approximately thirty years. Even as recently as
1900, most people in the United States lived only an average of ¬fty
years, and the leading cause of death was infection. Today the average
life expectancy is almost seventy-six years for American men and
almost eighty years for American women. Over the past century, life
expectancy in most other Westernized nations has increased signi¬-
cantly as well.
Instead of dying from extreme physical hardships, injuries, or infec-
tions at relatively young ages, most of us now live long enough to die
from diseases related to long-term, cumulative DNA malfunctioning
damage, such as heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer™s disease. If medi-
cine somehow reduced deaths from these diseases, another disease
29
CONFLICTS BETWEEN ANCIENT GENES AND MODERN FOODS


would emerge as the leading cause of death. After all, we will die of
something.
This discussion is not intended to be either wry or pessimistic.
Rather it begs a very important question: what can we do to slow the
inevitable genetic damage that develops during our longer lives? The
answer is that we must take conscious steps to maintain the health of
our genes.
For example, we know that smoking cigarettes and drinking large
amounts of alcohol accelerate gene damage, the aging process, and the
risk of various diseases. But we often forget that the opposite is also
true”that we can slow down the age-related accumulation of DNA
damage. Eating healthy foods, taking certain nutritional supplements,
engaging in regular physical activity, and limiting psychological and
emotional stresses all work to preserve and maintain normal or
enhanced gene function. While these health recommendations might
sound familiar, the rationale behind them and the speci¬c suggestions
in Feed Your Genes Right differ from those in other health books.


Ancient Genes, Modern Diet
Many modern health problems result from what amounts to a collision
between our ancient genetics and modern highly processed foods.
These foods, which include the vast majority of packaged products sold
in supermarkets as well as fast foods, have undergone substantial mod-
i¬cation from their original form, and they bear little nutritional resem-
blance to what people ate in the past.
As a result, our genes are routinely exposed to “genetically unfa-
miliar foods,” and they respond abnormally, such as by triggering
chronic in¬‚ammatory reactions.The solution is to bring our current eat-
ing habits more into line with our genetic requirements. This change
might initially seem a bit daunting, but it is actually relatively easy to
accomplish.
To ¬gure out what we should eat for normal gene function and a
relatively healthy and long life, it is useful to understand the nutri-
tional environment that coexisted with and helped shape our genes
over many years. For instance, we know that human beings and other
mammals developed in nutrient-dense environments. In other words,
nearly every calorie consumed came with relatively large amounts of
vitamins, minerals, proteins, and healthy fats but relatively little starch
(carbohydrate) and no pure sugars.
30 F E E D YO U R G E N E S R I G H T


Nutrient-Dense Foods
So what exactly did early humans eat in the distant past? Dr. S. Boyd
Eaton of Emory University and Loren Cordain, Ph.D., of Colorado
State University have conducted extensive research on ancient hunter-
gatherer diets, which is what all humans once consumed. People hunted
wild animals for meat and foraged for edible plants. If they lived near
an ocean, lake, or river, they likely caught and ate ¬sh and other types
of seafood as well. The relative percentages of animal foods versus veg-
etable foods varied from culture to culture, but, interestingly, no society
was entirely vegetarian. Many ancient diets were extraordinarily
diverse, including up to a hundred different types of plant foods, as well
as scores of land animals, many species of ¬sh, and wild bird eggs.
As varied as these ancient diets were, they all shared the common
characteristic of nutrient density. People rarely if ever consumed
“empty calories” largely devoid of other nutrients, as we often do today
with various types of sugars, refined starches, very fatty foods, and
alcohol.
So, over many years, nutrient-dense foods helped shape the struc-
ture and function of human genes. At the same time, our genes became
dependent on foods containing relatively large amounts of vitamins
and minerals but relatively small amounts of carbohydrate calories
from starches and sugars. Around ten thousand years ago, human eat-
ing habits started changing with the advent of agriculture, which led to
substantial increases in carbohydrate and sugar intake.
The consumption of nutritionally empty carbohydrates and sugars
has accelerated greatly over the past hundred years and especially over
the past thirty years, with the popularity of fast-food restaurants, con-
venience and microwave foods, soft drinks, and thousands of snack
items on supermarket shelves. Today 80 percent of the carbohydrate
calories consumed in the United States supply few nutrients besides
sugars and re¬ned starches.

How Are Ancient and Modern Diets Different?
Ancient and modern diets differ in many ways. Here are a few exam-
ples of those differences:

• Vitamins and Minerals. With the exception of sodium (in salt),
ancient humans consumed two to six times higher levels of most
vitamins and minerals.
31
CONFLICTS BETWEEN ANCIENT GENES AND MODERN FOODS


• Protein. Ancient protein consumption ranged from 19 to 35 percent
of total calories and sometimes up to 50 percent. Today protein
accounts for about 15 percent of all calories.
• Fats. Human diets once provided 38 to 58 percent of calories as fat,
compared with 34 percent today. However, the type of fat was sub-
stantially different.Ancient peoples consumed about equal amounts
of omega-6 and omega-3 fats, but today the ratio is about 30:1 in
favor of omega-6 fats. Both families of fats in¬‚uence gene activity
and provide biochemical building blocks for the immune system.
The omega-6 fats, found in corn oil, saf¬‚ower oil, and other common
cooking oils, promote in¬‚ammation. In contrast, the omega-3 fats,
found in ¬sh and grass-fed livestock, are antiin¬‚ammatory.
• Carbohydrates and Fiber. Ancient carbohydrates were found in
vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds, not in grain-based food products
(such as breads and pastas). In addition, these carbohydrates
were part of a ¬ber matrix that buffered their absorption. In the
past, people consumed about 100 grams of ¬ber daily; today it is
about 20 grams.

Different Diets, Different Genetic Messages
By comparing ancient and modern diets, it becomes clear that modern
re¬ned and processed foods are very different from the foods that orig-
inally nurtured our genes. This difference”the incompatibility of mod-
ern foods with ancient genes”accounts for much of the current
prevalence of degenerative diseases. But what, you might ask, are some
of the speci¬c genetic consequences of a diet incompatible with our
biological heritage?
When we consume a diet built around foodstuffs that did not exist
until recently, our ancient genes receive unfamiliar chemical signals.
Sometimes they misinterpret these signals and, not surprisingly,
respond abnormally. For example, diets high in sugars and refined
starches, which are relatively new components of human diets, turn on
genes that promote in¬‚ammation, obesity, and diabetes.
The response of genes to genetically unfamiliar foods is nearly
always abnormal. It is as if they are struggling to interpret and respond
to a foreign language. Imagine your genes as American tourists trying
to follow travel directions in Greek, and it might be somewhat comical.
But there is nothing funny when genes misunderstand chemical mes-
sages and their reactions then set the stage for chronic disease.
32 F E E D YO U R G E N E S R I G H T


Excess Carbohydrates Alter Gene Function
The significant difference between past and present eating habits
becomes clear in a simple comparison.Twenty thousand years ago, peo-
ple hunted and foraged for their food, eating lean meats, seafood, and
organic (pesticide-free) vegetables that resembled our modern kale,
rose hips, and crabapples. The diet could be described as high in
protein, relatively low in saturated fat, and high in nonstarchy (low-
carbohydrate) vegetables and fruits. Hunter-gatherers also had to be
physically active to obtain food, which stimulated genes to increase the
number of muscle cells and the number of mitochondria within muscle
cells. Under these circumstances obesity was rare, if it occurred at all.
Today many people still forage, but they do so by choosing highly
re¬ned and processed items from the menus of McDonald™s, Burger King,
Taco Bell, and other fast-food restaurants.A burger, fries, and a soft drink
provide mostly sugars, other re¬ned carbohydrates, and saturated and
trans fats but little quality protein and few vitamins and minerals. Such a
meal is calorie-dense and carbohydrate-dense but not nutrient-dense.
Eating large quantities of empty carbohydrate calories”the average
person now consumes 150 pounds of sugars each year”raises glucose
levels, which in turn increase the secretion of insulin, one of the body™s
principal hormones. Insulin helps move blood sugar into cells where it
should be burned for energy. However, insulin has far-reaching gene-
and cell-regulating roles beyond that of glucose metabolism. For exam-
ple, elevated insulin levels promote fat accumulation around the waist,
stimulate hunger, and increase the risk of heart disease and cancer.
All of these changes result from insulin™s altering the activity of a
variety of genes. Insulin turns on genes that increase levels of the stress
hormone cortisol, which accelerates aging. Insulin also increases the pro-
duction of C-reactive protein, a substance that promotes in¬‚ammation
and accelerates aging. One of the key steps you can take to minimize
DNA and gene damage is to keep your insulin levels as low as possible.
A fasting insulin of under 12 mcIU/ml of blood would be ideal, and
some physicians recommend levels under 8 mcIU/ml. You can achieve
this level by following the dietary recommendations in chapter 7.

Calorie Restriction: Reduced DNA Damage
and Greater Longevity
Reducing your overall caloric intake, while maintaining adequate
intake of vitamins and minerals, can reduce DNA damage, increase life
expectancy, and lower the risk of disease. Animal studies dating back to
33
CONFLICTS BETWEEN ANCIENT GENES AND MODERN FOODS


1935 have consistently shown that permanently cutting calorie intake by
one-third extends the life expectancy of rodents by about 30 percent.
However, experiments conducted in 2004 found that many of the bene-
¬ts of lifetime calorie restriction may be achieved during late middle age.
Researchers long believed that this increase in life expectancy was
the result of slowing down metabolism, and they were partly right.
Scientists now understand that calorie-restricted diets also reduce the
production of free radicals in mitochondria, largely because less food is
broken down for energy. With fewer free radicals being formed, there
is less opportunity for mitochondrial and nuclear DNA to become
damaged.
Ongoing studies with monkeys, close biological relatives of humans,
show that calorie restriction protects against many of the degenerative
diseases typical of aging. Middle-aged calorie-restricted monkeys have
lower blood sugar and insulin levels, look more youthful, exhibit higher
energy levels, and show few signs of age-related degenerative diseases
compared with animals that are allowed to eat as much as they want.
Granted, reducing caloric intake by one-third is not appealing for
most people. However, nearly everyone can afford to eat somewhat
smaller meals and resist the marketing of “supersized” meals that have
resulted in overweight (supersized!) people. In addition, research sug-
gests that some nutritional supplements, such as chromium picolinate
and coenzyme Q10, may decrease cell damage in ways similar to calorie-
restricted diets.

How Vitamins Reduced Barbara™s Symptoms
of Sickle-Cell Anemia
Barbara, age twenty-eight, was born with sickle-cell anemia, in
which a genetic mutation interferes with the normal function of
red blood cells and leads to their rapid breakdown. Her distant
African ancestors bene¬ted from this particular mutation, which
conferred a measure of protection against the parasite causing
malaria. But for Barbara, living in the malaria-free United States,
the disease meant only chronic anemia, blood clots, episodes of
pain, frequent colds, and most likely an early death from cardio-
vascular disease.
There is no way to ¬x or change the HbS mutation causing
sickle-cell anemia. However, Barbara™s physician had read recent
medical journal reports showing that moderately high doses of
some vitamin supplements could reduce the symptoms of sickle-
34 F E E D YO U R G E N E S R I G H T


cell anemia. He recommended that she take these supplements,
including 800 IU of natural vitamin E, 4,000 mg of vitamin C,
1,000 mcg of folic acid, 500 mcg of vitamin B12, and 4,000 mg of
garlic supplements.
After several weeks Barbara™s painful episodes began to
decline. Six months later she reported having fewer episodes of
pain and fewer colds, and tests indicated that her red blood cells
were not breaking down as quickly as they had been. While the
vitamins were not a cure for sickle-cell anemia, they did signi¬-
cantly minimize Barbara™s symptoms.

Nutrient De¬ciencies Inhibit Gene Activities
It is important to understand that inadequate levels of vitamins, miner-
als, and other types of micronutrients can impair normal gene function.
Micronutrients play myriad roles in the body™s production of new
DNA, cells, and tissue, as well as in energy production.
For years many scientists and physicians dismissed the health ben-
efits of vitamins and minerals. However, the importance of these
micronutrients in synthesizing, protecting, and repairing DNA and
genes is undeniable, if often buried in the technical language of bio-
chemistry textbooks. Inadequate levels of vitamins and minerals
become “rate-limiting” factors”that is, they slow or inhibit the rate of
necessary chemical reactions.
If this idea seems a bit arcane, consider that the rates of these chem-
ical reactions affect your heart function, your healing time, your energy
levels, your thinking and memory, your resistance to infection and can-
cer, your body™s ability to detoxify noxious chemicals, and every other
physical function. Low levels and outright de¬ciencies of micronutri-
ents slow and inhibit genetic activities and chemical reactions, resulting
at ¬rst in vague symptoms and later in diagnosed diseases. Optimal lev-
els of vitamins and other micronutrients promote the necessary genetic
activities and chemical reactions of health.

How Poor Nutrition Affects
Subsequent Generations
If nutritional de¬ciencies or imbalances can impair DNA function and
set the stage for disastrous health consequences in an individual, what
might be the effect of a genetically inadequate diet on that person™s
children and even grandchildren?
35
CONFLICTS BETWEEN ANCIENT GENES AND MODERN FOODS


Many studies have investigated how nutritional excesses or de¬-
ciencies early in life affect a person in later years, as well as subsequent
generations. They may permanently alter an individual™s lifelong nutri-
tional requirements, and genetic changes may be passed on to future
family members.
As one example, the Canadian psychiatrist Dr. Abram Hoffer
found that prisoners of war, who suffered severe nutritional de¬cien-
cies while in captivity, developed exaggerated requirements for many
micronutrients, such as the B vitamins. These increased requirements
for B vitamins suggest that the prisoners of war suffered a combination
of genetic damage and permanent biochemical impairments. The con-
sequences of nutritional de¬ciencies could be overcome through high-
dose vitamin supplementation.
In addition, physicians have recognized that people who are obese
or have diabetes are likely to have children who also develop these
conditions. Such diseases in the children of obese or diabetic parents
have often been vaguely attributed to either genetics or poor eating
habits. While parents often share bad dietary habits with their children,
there is strong evidence that some genetic changes in parents can be
passed on to children and grandchildren.
A recent study published in the European Journal of Human
Genetics con¬rmed the multigenerational effects of different eating
habits in people. Swedish researchers tracked three generations of peo-
ple, born in 1890, 1905, and 1920, and analyzed the effects of abundant
dietary carbohydrates (during times of food surplus) and carbohydrate
restriction (during times of famine) on subsequent generations.
The researchers found that if a person™s father or paternal grand-
father ate a lot of carbohydrates before puberty, his children and
grandchildren had a higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease
and were four times more likely to develop diabetes. However, if a
person™s father or grandfather consumed fewer carbohydrates, his
children and grandchildren were far less likely to develop either
diabetes or cardiovascular disease. These differences in disease risk
reflect fundamental alterations in gene behavior and biochemistry
from one generation to the next.
In a similar vein, recent studies have shown that the diet of preg-
nant mice can signi¬cantly in¬‚uence their offspring™s appearance and
risk of disease. Researchers at the Duke University Medical Center
experimented with a breed of mice possessing a gene that codes for yel-
low fur, obesity, and a greater risk of diabetes. But when the researchers
36 F E E D YO U R G E N E S R I G H T


gave pregnant mice extra B-complex vitamins, the gene was turned off
in the fetuses, so they grew up thin and with brown fur and had a lower
long-term risk of disease. This study, and its implications in people, will
be discussed further in chapter 5, while some of the implications of
prenatal stresses and nutrition will be described in chapter 9.

How Extra Vitamin D Offset a Sluggish VDR Gene
After experiencing two falls and fractured bones, Sandy, age ¬fty-
five, was diagnosed with osteoporosis. Her physician recom-
mended that she take a daily supplement containing 1,000 mg of
calcium and 400 IU of vitamin D. But the supplement did not
seem to help. A year later she fractured her wrist while loading
groceries into her car.
A new physician suggested that Sandy take part in a university-
based study on genetics and osteoporosis. Tests revealed that
Sandy had a common polymorphism (variation) in the vitamin D
receptor gene (VDR), which regulates how the body uses vita-
min D and calcium. Because of the VDR polymorphism, Sandy
did not ef¬ciently use vitamin D, and her blood levels of the vita-
min remained low.
Her physician recommended three steps. He increased Sandy™s
vitamin D intake to 2,000 IU daily. He suggested that she spend
¬fteen to thirty minutes a day walking in the sun, which would
help her body make its own vitamin D. He also recommended
that Sandy begin some moderate weight training, because resist-
ance exercise increases bone density.
Two years later bone scans have shown an increase in
Sandy™s bone density. In addition, despite her heightened level of
activity, she has not experienced any additional fractures. Her
higher supplemental intake of vitamin D, combined with regular
sun exposure, has successfully overcome an inef¬cient VDR gene.


The Genetic Basis of Optimal Nutrition
If our ancient nutrient-dense diet established our genetic baseline, what
guidelines might we follow for getting the most out of our genes today,
especially when we are living longer and acquiring more age-related
genetic damage?
After the discovery of vitamins in 1911, considerable medical atten-
tion focused on identifying and correcting the most severe nutritional
37
CONFLICTS BETWEEN ANCIENT GENES AND MODERN FOODS


de¬ciencies. These gross de¬ciencies”resulting in diseases like scurvy,
pellagra, beri-beri, and others”were relatively common during the
early part of the twentieth century. Providing vitamin-rich foods (and,
later, vitamin supplements) corrected the symptoms of these de¬ciency
diseases. However, nearly all researchers and physicians at the time
made an incorrect assumption: they believed that the symptoms were
the early signs of vitamin de¬ciencies. In truth, the de¬ciency diseases
were actually the most serious and advanced symptoms of vitamin de¬-
ciencies, representing a near-total breakdown of normal gene function
and biochemistry before death.
In 1939, which might seem like an eternity ago, Dr. Albert Szent-
Györgyi, the Nobel laureate who discovered vitamin C, proposed that
the medical community shift its focus from determining minimal or
adequate vitamin levels to gauging the optimal levels of vitamins that
people should consume. A growing number of nutritionally oriented
physicians have done just this, using dietary changes and nutritional
supplements to treat a wide variety of diseases.
As brief examples, many different diseases can be prevented or
reversed through a variety of nutritional therapies. Among them are
Alzheimer™s disease (vitamin E), carpal tunnel syndrome (vitamin B6 ),
macular degeneration (lutein) migraine headache (vitamin B2 or mag-
nesium), mood disorders (B-complex vitamins), multiple sclerosis
(vitamins D and B12), night blindness (vitamin A), Parkinson™s disease
(coenzyme Q10), periodontal disease (vitamin C), and stroke (vitamin
C). Underlying all of these diseases are damaged or malfunctioning
genes, a consequence of consuming inadequate amounts of the nutri-
tional precursors to DNA and various biochemicals.
It is important to remember that while we all require the same
nutrients for health, we often need them in substantially different
amounts. Research along these lines was first conducted by Roger
J. Williams, Ph.D., in the 1950s. In other words, you may achieve
reasonable good health by consuming about 200 mg of vitamin C daily,
whereas I may need ten or more times that amount. The reasons relate
to our underlying biochemical and genetic individuality.

In the next three chapters, we will explore how speci¬c nutrients are
involved in generating energy, creating new and replacement DNA,
and protecting and repairing DNA.
PART II



Gene-Enhancing
Nutritional Supplements
4

Nutrients That Enhance
Energy and Prevent
DNA Damage


To make new DNA, which is necessary for health, healing, and life
itself, your cells must have the energy to drive the underlying biologi-
cal construction processes. When large numbers of cells lack this
energy, the de¬ciency negatively affects the production of DNA and
the function of genes in different organs. You cannot feel a reduction in
the energy-producing chemical reactions in individual cells, but you will
notice some of their collective consequences in the form of fatigue,
mental fuzziness, and increased risk of illness.


The Role of Energy in DNA
Through a series of biochemical reactions known as bioenergetics,
mitochondria in cells break down simple food molecules, such as glu-
cose and fat, and convert them to adenosine triphosphate (ATP). The
health of your DNA is dependent on two crucial roles played by ATP.
First, ATP functions as the universal form of chemical energy in
cells, acting somewhat like an electrical capacitor that stores and
quickly releases energy to drive chemical reactions, including the activ-
ities of DNA and RNA. The importance of cellular energy cannot be

41
42 F E E D YO U R G E N E S R I G H T


overstated; it has been described as the “currency” of life or, if you
prefer, our “life force.” This chemical energy powers every cell in your
body.
Second, ATP is also an essential ingredient in the structure of
DNA, contributing a structure that biochemists call an adenine ring.
After being created in mitochondria, ATP molecules migrate through
each cell to form part of the structure of both mitochondrial DNA and
nuclear DNA.
Significantly, low levels of ATP or low levels of the nutrients
involved in ATP production reduce cell energy levels and prevent nor-
mal cellular and DNA activities. The more obvious symptoms may
include fatigue, organ dysfunction, and premature aging.
This chapter focuses primarily on the most important vitamin-like
“mitochondrial nutrients” involved in ATP production. As you read
about these nutrients, remember that as long as your cells can produce
large amounts of ATP, they will have the energy to function and remain
capable of making healthy new DNA and replacement cells. When you
eat foods or take supplements high in these nutrients, you will likely
sense an improvement in your energy levels, an outward sign of more
ef¬cient bioenergetics.

Bioenergetics: Converting Food to Energy
Bioenergetics occurs in two connected series of chemical reactions. The
¬rst group of chemical reactions takes place within what is known as
the Krebs cycle. This cycle is analogous to a water wheel that uses the
energy of moving water to rotate the wheel. During the Krebs cycle,
glucose (made from all sugars and carbohydrates) and fat are broken
down and converted to increasingly energetic compounds. Much of the
resulting energy is channeled into another biochemical pathway called
oxidative phosphorylation. You can envision this pathway as some-
thing like a trough carrying fast-moving water from the water wheel.
This energy eventually leads to the creation of ATP.
There is, however, a paradox in these energy-generating reactions.
While bioenergetics is absolutely essential for life, it also generates
nearly all of the destructive free radicals made within the body. Free
radicals are a necessary part of the chemical reactions, because they
transfer much of the energy through the many chemical reactions. Most
of the free radicals are contained within these chemical reactions, but
some do leak out, leading to mitochondrial damage and, little by little,
less ef¬cient energy production, leading to a kind of chain reaction:
43
N U T R I E N T S T H AT E N H A N C E E N E R GY A N D P R E V E N T D N A DA M AG E


As bioenergetics becomes less efficient, more free radicals manage
to escape. As these free radicals continue to increase and spread out,
they damage DNA. As damage to DNA accumulates, energy produc-
tion becomes even less ef¬cient, leading eventually to organ failure
or death.

Boosting Your Body™s Energy Production
The good news is that you can take steps to improve the ef¬ciency of
bioenergetics.All of the chemical reactions in bioenergetics are built on
nutrients, also known as nutritional substrates. While glucose and fat
provide the raw fuel for energy, their combustion depends on the pres-
ence of several key nutrients. For example, coenzyme A plays a crucial
role in the Krebs cycle, and coenzyme A is built around a molecule of
pantethene, a form of the B vitamin pantothenic acid. Coenzyme A also
helps molecules attach to each other, and it is essential for the creation
of DNA and RNA.
Increasing your intake of mitochondrial nutrients found in foods
and supplements can signi¬cantly improve the ef¬ciency of your bioen-
ergetics. The bene¬ts are more energy for your cells to do their jobs,
increased (nonstimulant) energy for you in your day-to-day activities,
less risk of certain diseases, and reduced free-radical damage to your
DNA. The crucial nutrients are coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), alpha-lipoic
acid, carnitine and acetyl-L-carnitine, ribose, creatine, and some of the
B vitamins. Again, as you read about the bene¬ts of these nutrients,
remember that they all enhance the production or utilization of ATP,
which helps drive normal DNA activity.


Coenzyme Q10
CoQ10 has an exceptional pedigree: it was the basis of the 1972 Nobel
Prize for Chemistry because of its key role in shuttling around the
energy-carrying electrons involved in bioenergetics. Although people
make small amounts of CoQ10 within their bodies, it is for all practical
purposes a vitamin.
The greatest concentrations of CoQ10 are found in the most energy-
dependent and metabolically active cells, including those that form the
skeletal muscle (in your arms and legs), the heart, the brain, the liver,
and the immune system. In the late 1960s, Japanese researchers discov-
ered that CoQ10 was bene¬cial in treating cardiomyopathy and heart
failure, diseases in which the heart muscle lacks the energy to pump
44 F E E D YO U R G E N E S R I G H T


blood. In the 1980s and 1990s, a small number of American and Euro-
pean physicians also began using CoQ10 to treat cardiomyopathy and
heart failure.

CoQ10, the Muscle Vitamin
One of the best ways to appreciate the role of CoQ10 is through a
particular group of relatively rare inherited diseases. As you read in
chapter 2, mitochondrial myopathies are caused by specific genetic
defects that interfere with normal bioenergetics. In people born
with mitochondrial myopathies, portions of mitochondrial DNA
are damaged or missing, which results in incomplete or incoherent
instructions for making energy. CoQ10 and other mitochondrial
nutrients have been used to successfully treat many patients with
these diseases.
Comparable damage to mitochondrial DNA develops during nor-
mal aging in otherwise healthy people. Many leading scientists,
including Bruce N. Ames, Ph.D., of the University of California at
Berkeley and Anthony Linnane, Ph.D., of Australia™s Centre for
Molecular Biology and Medicine, believe that problems with mito-
chondrial bioenergetics lie at the very root of the aging process and
DNA damage.
Like most other micronutrients, CoQ10 multitasks”that is, it per-
forms multiple functions in the body. Its primary function is in bio-
energetics, helping cells complete their energy-producing chemical
reactions. Its secondary function is as an antioxidant, in which it pro-
tects cell membranes from free-radical damage. Other CoQ10 func-
tions, which include reducing blood pressure and improving glucose
tolerance, hint at its ability to in¬‚uence gene behavior.

How Betty Got Her Heart Back
Betty, who lives in Dallas, was diagnosed at age ¬fty with dilated
idiopathic cardiomyopathy, a deadly weakening of the heart mus-
cle. Her heart was enlarged and weak, pumping only a fraction of
the blood her body needed and leaving her a virtual invalid. “It
took everything I had to go from the bedroom to the bathroom,”
she recalls.
For two years Betty™s physician treated her with conventional
heart drugs. In the early 1980s, he asked her to participate in a
clinical trial with CoQ10. In the study, Betty began taking 100 mg
of CoQ10 and, after about six months, noticed that she had
45
N U T R I E N T S T H AT E N H A N C E E N E R GY A N D P R E V E N T D N A DA M AG E


higher energy levels. Tests indicated that her heart had become
smaller and was pumping blood more ef¬ciently.
More than twenty years later, Betty remains in reasonably
good health. She currently takes 200 mg of CoQ10, sometimes
increasing the dosage when she feels stressed. On a recent vaca-
tion to Chicago, she was able to walk extensively with friends
without feeling unduly tired.
“I feel pretty good most of the time, and I do almost every-
thing except the heaviest yard work by myself,” she says. “I need
this vitamin to live. If I stop taking it, my heart will deteriorate
again, and I™ll be dead in a year.”

CoQ10 Improves Energy Levels
CoQ10™s role in energy production may be best illustrated by its value
in treating cardiomyopathy and heart failure, conditions that often war-
rant a heart transplant. For example, Drs. Peter Langsjoen, of Tyler,
Texas, and Stephen Sinatra, of Manchester, Connecticut, are nutrition-
ally oriented cardiologists who have consistently used CoQ10 supple-
ments, typically 300 to 400 mg daily, to treat cardiomyopathy and heart
failure in thousands of patients. On many occasions patients on a wait-
ing list for heart-transplant surgery regained normal heart function
after taking CoQ10 supplements and no longer required surgery.
CoQ10 supplements improve bioenergetics and increase ATP levels,
but it is also possible that higher ATP levels support the production of
new DNA and healthy new heart cells.
The ability of CoQ10 to boost mitochondrial activity and energy
levels has been demonstrated in a variety of other studies in healthy
and ill people. In one small study, Dr. Langsjoen asked several gener-
ally healthy octogenarian patients to take CoQ10 supplements. All the
patients reported improved energy levels, and one even gained enough
energy to chop ¬rewood, a pastime that advancing age had previously
forced him to give up.
Still other clinical research shows that CoQ10 can bene¬t people
with muscular dystrophy, a crippling disease. In two separate studies,
researchers found that patients receiving modest dosages (100 mg) of
CoQ10 supplements daily exhibited increased endurance and less
fatigue after three months. In a medical journal article, researchers
described the case of one particular patient, a lawyer, who had muscu-
lar dystrophy. He had been told by his neurologist to prepare himself
mentally for being con¬ned to a wheelchair within two years. However,
46 F E E D YO U R G E N E S R I G H T


the patient started taking CoQ10 supplements, and six years later he
was still leading an active life, swimming, playing golf, and practicing
law in a demanding practice. Comparable bene¬ts have been reported
in patients with postpolio syndrome, a type of muscle weakness that
returns decades after a person recovers from polio.

CoQ10 and Cancer
CoQ10 also improves the activity of immune cells, enhancing their abil-
ity to attack cancer cells. Cancer patients are typically deficient in
CoQ10, a condition that appears to increase their risk of posttreatment
cancer recurrence.
Dr. Knud Lockwood, a surgeon in Copenhagen, had been treating
breast cancers for more than thirty-¬ve years when he began recom-
mending CoQ10 to his patients. Lockwood found that high-dose
CoQ10 supplements (390 mg daily) prompted remissions in recurrent
breast cancers. He and his colleagues wrote that CoQ10 probably does
not have any direct antitumor properties but rather improves the ener-
getic activity of the body™s anticancer immune cells.

CoQ10 and Genetic Diseases
In addition to helping people with mitochondrial myopathies, CoQ10
supplements can also bene¬t those with some other types of inherited
diseases. Two such conditions are retinitis pigmentosa, a disease that
leads to blindness, and hereditary ataxia, which affects movement of
the arms and legs.
Retinitis pigmentosa is characterized by the steady degeneration of
the rods and cones of the retina, minute eye structures needed for nor-
mal vision. In a very small but promising clinical study, researchers
from Italy™s University of Bologna found that CoQ10 supplements
improved vision and reversed the progression of retinitis pigmentosa.
In other studies researchers used very high dosages (300 to 3,000 mg
daily) to treat six patients with hereditary ataxia. According to an article
in Neurology, all improved by an average of 25 percent over the course
of a year, gaining strength, developing better coordination and balance,
and suffering fewer seizures. Five of the patients who had been con¬ned
to wheelchairs regained the ability to walk with some assistance.

CoQ10 and Parkinson™s Disease
Parkinson™s disease, a neurological disorder characterized by decreasing
production of the neurotransmitter dopamine, results in symptoms such
47
N U T R I E N T S T H AT E N H A N C E E N E R GY A N D P R E V E N T D N A DA M AG E


as tremors, slowness of movement, and muscle rigidity. In its later stages,
Parkinson™s disease often includes an Alzheimer-like dementia. Treat-
ment with the drug levodopa temporarily slows the progression of the
disease, but it increases the likelihood of dementia.
To test the potential bene¬ts of CoQ10, Dr. Clifford W. Shults of the
University of California at San Diego directed a study of 80 Parkinson
patients at ten different U.S. hospitals. The patients received either 300,
600, or 1,200 mg of CoQ10 or placebos daily for sixteen weeks. At the
end of the study, all the patients taking CoQ10 had less severe symp-
toms than did those in the placebo group. Patients taking the highest
dosage of CoQ10 bene¬ted the most, and their symptoms were only
about half as severe as those of the people in the placebo group. An
analysis of cells taken from patients con¬rmed that CoQ10 increased
the energy-producing activity of their mitochondria.

CoQ10 Supplements Reenergize Jos©
Jos© knew all about energy”or at least his lack of it. At the end
of an average day, he would settle into his recliner, watch televi-
sion, and then doze off for an hour or two. That changed when he
started taking 30 mg of CoQ10 daily.
Jos©, who lives in the San Francisco Bay area, is in his mid-
¬fties and says that CoQ10 supplements enabled him to regain
the energy levels he had about ¬fteen years ago. “I™m able to go
out and have some semblance of a life, even after a hard day at
work,” he says.
And it™s not just that he has more physical energy. Before Jos©
began taking CoQ10 supplements, he found himself agonizing
over the simplest decisions. New tasks at work became dif¬cult to
learn, and he dreaded new assignments. He was also increasingly
forgetful, so much so that he thought he was suffering early signs
of Alzheimer™s disease.
“Since starting CoQ10, I™m much more able to concentrate, and
learning is no more dif¬cult than it was in my youth,” he added.
“I™m convinced that if CoQ10 is not life-extending, it is at the very
least life-quality-enhancing for those who are de¬cient in it.”

Statin Drugs Reduce CoQ10 Levels
Fatigue, liver disease, and heart failure are among the risks associated
with “statin” drugs, the largest category of cholesterol-lowering drugs
(which include Lipitor, Mevacor, Pravachol, Zocor, and the now
48 F E E D YO U R G E N E S R I G H T


banned Baycol). According to studies by Dr. Peter Langsjoen and
many other researchers, statin drugs also decrease the body™s produc-
tion of CoQ10.
These drugs work by reducing the activity of a key enzyme
involved in the production of cholesterol. However, the same enzyme
is needed for CoQ10 synthesis. So with great irony, drugs prescribed to
lower the risk of a heart attack increase the risk of fatigue and heart
failure.
For the most part, the pharmaceutical companies do not publicize
this side effect of statin drugs.Yet Merck, the maker of Zocor, owns two
patents describing the combination of its statin drug and CoQ10. So
anyone taking statin drugs should also take supplemental CoQ10.

How to Take CoQ10 Supplements
The striking results obtained from CoQ10 supplements may make this
nutrient seem a little like a panacea. However, whenever nutrients pos-
itively affect bioenergetics and DNA, they will likely have diverse
effects on health and well-being. Here are some supplement guidelines
to follow:

• If you are under age forty and in good health, take 30 to 50 mg
of CoQ10 daily.
• If you are over age forty and in good health, take 50 to 100 mg
daily.
• If you have risk factors for any of the diseases discussed in this
section, take 100 mg daily. This dosage is also appropriate for
people taking statin drugs, and you do not have to adjust the
amount of the statin.
• If you have cardiomyopathy, heart failure, or cancer, work with
your physician to establish a dosage of 300 to 400 mg daily. If you
take any kind of heart-stimulating medication, including but not
limited to digitalis or beta-blockers, your medication require-
ments will likely decrease as CoQ10 naturally improves your
heart function. Please work with your physician to adjust the
dosage of the medication.


Alpha-Lipoic Acid
Another vitamin-like substance, alpha-lipoic acid, serves multiple
functions in the energy-generating Krebs cycle. In addition to aiding
49
N U T R I E N T S T H AT E N H A N C E E N E R GY A N D P R E V E N T D N A DA M AG E


the breakdown of food into energy, alpha-lipoic acid improves the
ef¬ciency of insulin, a hormone that regulates blood-sugar levels and
some aspects of the aging process. Chronically elevated insulin levels
(hyperinsulinemia), which occur in diabetes, prediabetes, and Syn-
drome X, lead to abnormal gene activity, accelerated aging, and higher
risks of obesity, heart disease, and cancer. It is far healthier to maintain
relatively low and ef¬cient levels of insulin, and supplemental alpha-
lipoic acid can help you accomplish this.
Like other micronutrients, alpha-lipoic acid serves a multitude of
roles in maintaining and restoring health. It significantly increases
chemical reactions in the liver that in turn speed the breakdown of
toxins, including pollutants, and drugs. It boosts the body™s production
of glutathione compounds, the most powerful family of antioxidants
made by the body. It also helps regenerate vitamins E and C and
CoQ10 after they become chemically exhausted from ¬ghting free
radicals.
In addition, alpha-lipoic acid suppresses the activity of “nuclear
factor kappa beta,” a gene-transcription protein that turns on genes
that promote inflammation, cancer, and replication of the human
immunode¬ciency virus. Chronic in¬‚ammation is involved in nearly all
diseases, and so alpha-lipoic acid can reduce harmful gene activity.

Alpha-Lipoic Acid, Blood Sugar, and Insulin
Alpha-lipoic acid has been used (600 mg daily) for more than two
decades in Germany to treat diabetic polyneuropathy, a degenerative
nerve-disease complication of diabetes. The same dosage signi¬cantly
improves the function of insulin and lowers insulin levels, a change
that is often accompanied with a reduction in blood-sugar levels.
In addition to improving insulin function, supplemental alpha-
lipoic acid leads to increases in ATP. This role was clearly shown in the
description of a thirty-three-year-old woman treated by physicians at
the University of Bologna. As a child the woman had been thin, weak,
and intolerant of exercise. By her early twenties, she had developed
eye-muscle disorders and droopy eyelids, a common sign of mitochon-
drial myopathies. On examination in her early thirties, she had very
weak arm and leg muscles. A biopsy and other tests found that her
body™s cells were producing low levels of ATP. The woman™s treatment
consisted of 200 mg of alpha-lipoic acid three times daily. After several
months new tests indicated that her ATP production had increased
substantially and her symptoms had improved as well.
50 F E E D YO U R G E N E S R I G H T


Alpha-Lipoic Acid, Mitochondria, and Age Reversal
Recently Bruce N. Ames, Ph.D., of the University of California at
Berkeley and Tory Hagen, Ph.D., of Oregon State University con-
ducted a series of animal experiments to explore the combined bene¬ts
of alpha-lipoic acid and another nutrient, acetyl-L-carnitine, on mito-
chondrial energy production and several signs of aging. (Carnitine and
acetyl-L-carnitine will be discussed in the next section.) Although the
experiments were conducted on laboratory rats, the results have impor-
tant implications for people.
In one phase of the experiments, Ames and Hagen fed alpha-lipoic
acid and acetyl-L-carnitine to groups of old and young rats. Old rats are
typically lethargic and have only about one-third the energy of young
rats. After several weeks of supplementation, the two nutrients had a
dramatic rejuvenating and energy-boosting effect. The old rats™ physical
activity doubled and was almost identical to that of nonsupplemented
young rats. The improvements, according to the researchers, were like
taking a seventy-¬ve-year-old woman and restoring her to the vigor of
someone half her age. Ames and Hagen also reported comparable
improvements in the animals™ memories.

How to Take Alpha-Lipoic Acid Supplements
Alpha-lipoic acid is abundant in meat and broccoli, but only supple-
ments can provide higher and clearly bene¬cial levels. Here are some
supplement guidelines to follow:

• If you are in good health and plan to take alpha-lipoic acid as a
general antioxidant or in combination with other supplements
discussed in this chapter, take 50 to 100 mg daily.
• If you have diabetes, take the typical dosage used in Europe”200
mg three times daily”but do so under the guidance of a physi-
cian, since alpha-lipoic acid will probably decrease your require-
ments for glucose-regulating drugs, such as glucophage and insulin.
• For prediabetes, insulin resistance, or Syndrome X, take 200 mg
once or twice daily to improve insulin function and glucose
metabolism. For additional guidelines in blood-sugar disorders,
see my book Syndrome X: The Complete Nutritional Program to
Prevent and Reverse Insulin Resistance.

Alpha-lipoic acid, like any other supplement, will work best when
combined with a healthy overall diet. Speci¬cally, a nutrient-dense diet,
51
N U T R I E N T S T H AT E N H A N C E E N E R GY A N D P R E V E N T D N A DA M AG E


rich in lean, high-quality protein (¬sh and chicken) and vegetables will
help moderate spikes in blood sugar and insulin. For additional dietary
guidelines, see chapters 7 and 8.


Carnitine and Acetyl-L-Carnitine
Carnitine and acetyl-L-carnitine are two forms of the same vitamin-like
substance, which is naturally concentrated in meat, particularly organ
meats. Carnitine, in various chemical forms, helps transport fats into the
Krebs cycle, where they are broken down for energy. Without adequate
dietary or supplemental carnitine, fats are not ef¬ciently burned for
energy. Carnitine enhances the benefits of both CoQ10 and alpha-
lipoic acid in energy production.

Carnitine and Fatigue
In one of the best demonstrations of carnitine™s energy-boosting effect,
Dr. Audius V. Plioplys and his colleagues at Mercy Hospital and Med-
ical Center in Chicago treated 28 men and women diagnosed with
chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). The patients were given either 3
grams daily of carnitine or the prescription drug amantadine (some-
times prescribed for pain reduction in neurological diseases) for eight
weeks, after which time the treatments were reversed for another
eight weeks.
The differences between carnitine and the drug were striking.
Patients taking carnitine improved in all eighteen of the clinical tests
used to assess CFS, and the improvements were signi¬cant in twelve of
the tests. Only 1 patient stopped taking carnitine because of gastroin-
testinal upset. In contrast, only 15 of the patients were able to tolerate
amantadine for a full eight weeks, and none experienced any improve-
ment in symptoms.

Supplements Create a Newfound Sense of Vitality
Sharon, age thirty-eight, knew all about energy”or rather her
lack of it. Each weekday morning she™d drag herself and her two
small children out of bed, push them off to school, and drive the
“commute from hell” to her of¬ce. Nine hours later she™d do it all
in reverse.
Back at home by 6:30 P.M., Sharon would feed and bathe her
children, get them into bed, and do a load or two of laundry.
Ready to relax and read a book as the clock inched toward 11:00
52 F E E D YO U R G E N E S R I G H T


she would see that her evening had again slipped away.
P.M.,
Sharon had wanted to do more and wished she had the energy to
do more. She would collapse into bed wondering how she™d get
up the next morning and do it all over again.
Sharon™s life changed after being treated by Dr. Richard
Kunin of San Francisco. A dietary survey and blood tests indi-
cated that Sharon wasn™t either consuming or using some of the
nutrients essential to energy production. After she adopted a
protein-rich diet and started taking supplements of carnitine and
CoQ10, Sharon™s energy levels perked up. She discovered a new
vitality”feeling better than she had in years”and was now able
to juggle the many stresses of her life.

The Carnitine-Vitamin C-Energy Connection
Researchers have long known that fatigue is a symptom of scurvy, the
most severe stage of vitamin C de¬ciency, preceding death. But a study
by Dr. Mark Levine of the National Institutes of Health found that the
first two symptoms of short-term vitamin C deprivation (without
scurvy) were fatigue and irritability, two symptoms common among
North Americans.
Vitamin C is needed for the body™s own production of carnitine,
and low levels of the vitamin ultimately interfere with the burning of
fats for energy. Carol Johnston, Ph.D., a professor of nutrition at
Arizona State University, has pointed out that vitamin C supplements
led to a 15 percent increase in endurance among athletes, a sign of
improved bioenergetics. In addition, a 1984 study in the journal
Nutrition and Health suggested that vitamin C (and, by implication,
other mitochondrial nutrients) might even help promote weight loss.

How to Take Carnitine Supplements
Carnitine supplements are best consumed with a protein-rich meal,
such as an omelette for breakfast or chicken, ¬sh, or meat for dinner.
Here are some supplement guidelines to follow:

• If you are generally healthy but feel a need to increase your
energy levels, take 500 to 1,000 mg of carnitine daily.
• If you regularly feel fatigued, take 2,000 mg of carnitine with a
high-protein, low-carbohydrate dinner. There is a good chance
you will wake up the next morning feeling more energized. Con-
tinue daily supplementation.
53
N U T R I E N T S T H AT E N H A N C E E N E R GY A N D P R E V E N T D N A DA M AG E


• If you suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, take 3,000 mg of
carnitine daily. It may be helpful to take also 100 mg of CoQ10
and 100 mg of alpha-lipoic acid.

The acetyl-L-carnitine form of this nutrient seems to have more of
an age-reversing effect, particularly on cognition and recall. However,
it is considerably more expensive than regular carnitine. If you have
serious problems with concentration or memory, the acetyl-L-carnitine
form may be preferable to carnitine.


Ribose
Ribose forms the carbohydrate backbone of DNA and RNA, as well
as that of vitamins B2 and B12. It is also one of the building blocks of
ATP, the body™s principal energy-containing molecule, and research
suggests that ribose supplements can help maintain ATP levels.
Many runners, triathletes, and bodybuilders take ribose supple-
ments to boost their stamina and strength. By doing so they increase
their mitochondrial activity and fuel reserves for their cells. A study of
male bodybuilders at the University of Nebraska found that taking
supplemental ribose (10 grams daily) for several weeks led to increases
in stamina and bench-press strength, compared with those in men tak-
ing placebos.

Ribose and Energy Production
Considerable research also indicates that ribose supplements can
improve heart function in patients with congestive heart failure, as well
as reduce pain and stiffness in overused muscles. All these bene¬ts can
be traced to improved bioenergetics and the replenishment of ATP.
Signi¬cant quantities of ATP are often lost from heart and muscle cells
that are overworked or do not receive enough blood to supply
increased oxygen demands. In fact, your body uses ATP in amounts
equal (through recycling) to your total body weight each day.
To make and recycle ATP, your cells need adequate amounts of
chemicals called adenine nucleotides, the existence of which ulti-
mately depends on the presence of ribose. Although ribose is
produced in all cells, low levels of its building blocks in heart and
muscle cells can limit production. Supplements sidestep the body™s
production of ribose and make it available quickly for heart and mus-
cle cells.
54 F E E D YO U R G E N E S R I G H T


Ribose and the Heart
In a recent study published in the European Journal of Heart Failure,
Dr. Heyder Omran, a cardiologist at the University of Bonn, used
ribose to treat 15 patients with coronary artery disease and congestive
heart failure. The patients took either 5 grams of ribose or a placebo
three times daily for three weeks. The supplements were then switched
for another three-week period, so each patient took both ribose and
the placebo at some point during the study. Patients developed more
efficient heart-pumping action when taking ribose. The supplement
also improved exercise stamina and overall quality of life. No improve-
ments occurred when patients took placebos.

How to Take Ribose Supplements
If you are already taking CoQ10, alpha-lipoic acid, and carnitine, adding
ribose may lead to an incremental (rather than signi¬cant) increase in
energy.

• For improved energy levels, take 1,000 to 2,000 mg of ribose daily.
• If you regularly engage in strenuous exercise, consider taking up
to 5 grams of ribose before exercising and 5 grams immediately
afterward, during your cooldown phase.
• If you have heart disease, you might bene¬t from 5 grams of
ribose two or three times daily. However, take it under the guid-
ance of a physician, because your requirements for heart med-
ications may decrease.


Creatine
Just as they did with ribose supplements, bodybuilders pioneered the
use of creatine supplements for increasing strength, endurance, and
muscle mass. Creatine helps the body recycle used ATP back to full
strength. After ATP releases energy, it turns into adenosine diphos-
phate (ADP). Creatine helps ADP rapidly convert back to ATP. Con-
siderable research supports its use in boosting bioenergetics on the
cellular level and athletics and heart function on more obvious levels.

Creatine and Genetic Disorders
A study by Dr. Mark Tanopolsky of the McMaster University Medical
School in Hamilton, Ontario, tested the effects of creatine supplements
55
N U T R I E N T S T H AT E N H A N C E E N E R GY A N D P R E V E N T D N A DA M AG E


on 102 patients with muscular dystrophies, mitochondrial myopathies,
and other disorders affecting bioenergetics. The patients were given
10 grams of creatine daily for ¬ve days, followed by 5 grams daily for
an average of six days. People receiving the creatine had signi¬cant
improvements in strength, enabling them to better perform high-
intensity exercises.
Creatine might also prove helpful in the treatment of amyotrophic
lateral sclerosis (ALS), known also as Lou Gehrig™s disease. Dr. M.
Flint Beal of the Harvard Medical School fed either normal or creatine-
supplemented diets to mice bred to develop ALS. During the course of
the experiment, nonsupplemented mice had 49 to 95 percent declines
in the number of their brain cells. Meanwhile, animals receiving crea-
tine maintained better physical motor activity and lived longer than the
nonsupplemented mice. In the same experiment, creatine also outper-
formed the drug riluzole. Mice receiving a diet containing 2 percent
creatine lived thirteen days longer than mice receiving riluzole and
twenty-six days longer than the untreated animals.

How to Take Creatine Supplements
Start creatine supplementation by taking a “loading” dose of 10 grams
daily for one week to saturate tissues. After the ¬rst week, decrease the
dosage to 5 grams daily.


B-Complex Vitamins and NADH
Several B-complex vitamins play central roles in the Krebs cycle, liter-
ally functioning as the hub for all the other nutritional spokes. In par-
ticular, vitamins B2 (ribo¬‚avin) and B3 (niacinamide) sit at the center of
energy production, enabling cells to perform various tasks, including
the making of new DNA.
Patients with chronic fatigue syndrome are commonly de¬cient in
B vitamins, a factor in their poor bioenergetics and low energy levels.
High-potency B-complex vitamins (along with vitamin C to enhance
carnitine synthesis) are often helpful.
Another supplement, NADH, which is built around vitamin B3 , has
also been shown helpful in fatigue. Dr. Joseph A. Bellanti and colleagues
at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., treated 26 patients
suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome with 10 mg of vitamin NADH
or a placebo daily for four weeks. After the four-week “washout
period,” the NADH and placebo treatments were reversed. Eight (31
56 F E E D YO U R G E N E S R I G H T


percent) of the 26 patients responded to NADH supplements with
about a 10 percent reduction in chronic fatigue symptoms. In contrast,
only 2 subjects (8 percent) responded favorably to the placebo.

How to Take B Vitamins and NADH Supplements
If you take a multivitamin supplement, you are already getting
B-complex vitamins. However, the dosage in many brands is too low to
be of much bene¬t.
• For general health maintenance, be sure your multivitamin or
B-complex supplement contains at least 10 mg of vitamin B1, 10
mg of vitamin B2 , and 10 mg of B3.
• If you feel anxious, stressed, or depressed, take a B-complex vita-
min supplement that contains 50 to 100 mg each of vitamins B1,
B2, and B3. In general, the other B vitamins in the formula will be
in appropriate ratios.
• If you regularly feel fatigued, take a B-complex supplement with
100 mg each of vitamin B1, B2 , and B3, plus 10 mg of NADH.


Physical Activity and Gene Activity
While these nutrients are essential for your body™s normal production
of energy, physical activity also plays a crucial role. Exercise increases
the burning of calories, reduces fat, and increases muscle”all of which
improve utilization of various mitochondrial nutrients.
In an article in the July/August 2004 issue of Nutrition, researchers
from the University of Texas presented a brief overview of how exer-
cise turns some genes on and others off. These changes in gene activity
underlie the more obvious physiological changes related to endurance,
fat loss, and muscle gain. For example, exercise turns on the FAT/CD36
gene, which increases the burning of fats. It also enhances activity of the
PDH gene, which regulates the burning of carbohydrates. In addition,
exercise boosts activity of the ADRB2 gene, which promotes the burn-
ing of fat from the body™s fat cells.

In the next chapter, we will look at how B vitamins and other nutrients
are involved in the creation of new molecules, particularly those
involved in making, repairing, and regulating DNA.
5

Nutrients That Make and
Repair DNA




Whenever a cell in your body makes a copy of itself, which is neces-
sary for normal growth, repair of injuries, and replacement of damaged
or old cells, it must ¬rst duplicate all 3 billion of the chemical letters
forming its DNA. The DNA copy is earmarked for the new cell, and it
will direct the functions of that new cell.
Inevitably, the quality of your DNA deteriorates slightly during
normal cell replication, leading to errors in the new cell™s biological
instructions. It™s like taking a photograph of a photograph; the copy will
never be quite as good as the original. The mistakes made during nor-
mal DNA replication, as well as ongoing free-radical damage, lead to
age-related changes in cells and an increased risk of malfunctioning,
which eventually manifests as disease.
However, it is possible to enhance the accuracy of your DNA repli-
cation and repair processes through a good diet and the use of certain
nutritional supplements. Although healthy foods provide the founda-
tion of healthy DNA, supplemental nutrients (in capsules or tablets)
help ensure that adequate amounts of the DNA building blocks are
present in cells.
Two families of nutrients play critical roles in this regard. First, sev-
eral B-complex vitamins are vital to the synthesis, repair, and regulation
57
58 F E E D YO U R G E N E S R I G H T


of DNA. Second, amino acids, which make up the protein you eat, are
needed by DNA to make your own body™s proteins, enzymes, and hor-
mones. The ¬rst part of this chapter will focus on DNA synthesis, repair,
and regulation, and the second part will describe the role of amino acids.


Vitamins as the Building Blocks of Your DNA
Despite the billions of dollars that have been spent on gene research,
most scientists have ignored the fundamental dependence of DNA on
B-complex vitamins. Indeed, much of the science of B vitamins and DNA
synthesis and repair is mentioned only brie¬‚y in biochemistry books.

Key B Vitamins for DNA Synthesis
Your body needs several B vitamins to make DNA nucleotide bases,
the molecules that form the chemical letters”adenine, cytosine, gua-
nine, and thymine”of the DNA alphabet. In the simplest terms,
thymine synthesis requires vitamins B3 and B6 and folic acid; cytosine
needs vitamin B3; and guanine and adenine require vitamin B3 and
folic acid. Without these vitamins, DNA would not exist”that is why
they are cofactors to normal DNA synthesis, repair, and function.
These B-complex vitamins support what biochemists refer to as
“one-carbon metabolism.” Carbon, as you probably learned in school,
forms the basis of all life on earth, and its role in DNA synthesis is but
one example of its essential role in your life and health. In addition to
supporting DNA synthesis, these vitamins have many other roles in
maintaining physical and mental health.
Folic Acid. While several B vitamins donate carbon atoms to the bio-
chemical reactions involved in DNA synthesis, folic acid may be the
most crucial. It both donates and accepts (for transfer to additional
chemical reactions) one-carbon atoms, while varying chemical forms of
folic acid foster a variety of biochemical reactions. For example, one
form of folic acid is required for the synthesis of DNA, while a slightly
different form works with vitamin B12 to build more complex mole-
cules throughout the body. In addition, a speci¬c type of chemical reac-
tion, called DNA methylation (to be discussed shortly) in¬‚uences the
behavior of DNA with far-reaching consequences.
Vitamin B12 . Cells require vitamin B12 during the synthesis of new
DNA, as well as for the molecule-building process of methylation.
Studies by Michael Fenech, Ph.D., a researcher at Australia™s Com-
monwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, have
59
N U T R I E N T S T H AT M A K E A N D R E PA I R D N A


found that both young and elderly men with low blood levels of vitamin
B12 and folic acid suffer a high rate of serious DNA damage. Such dam-
age accelerates the aging of cells and also increases the risk of devel-
oping cancer.
Vitamin B6 . Known also as pyridoxine, vitamin B6 is converted by cells
to pyridoxal 5′-phosphate, the biologically active form of this nutrient.
(Pyridoxal 5′-phosphate is available in supplement form, but it is more
expensive than regular vitamin B6.) Vitamin B6 is needed for the pro-
duction of serine hydroxymethylase, an enzyme involved in one-carbon
metabolism and in the synthesis of DNA.
Vitamin B3 . Known as niacin (nicotinic acid) and niacinamide (nicoti-
namide), vitamin B3 plays a central role in the production of energy
and ATP. As discussed in chapter 4, some ATP is incorporated into the
structure of DNA.
Vitamin B3 is also required for the cellular production of a key
DNA repair enzyme, poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase. This enzyme,
known simply as PARP, is literally built around vitamin B3.Without suf-
¬cient vitamin B3 to make PARP, cells cannot repair DNA damage
from cancer-causing chemicals, and thus the risk of cancer is increased.
Supplemental vitamin B3 helps reinforce DNA, especially when it is
exposed to cancer-causing chemicals.

How B-Vitamin De¬ciencies Affect DNA Repair
Many people are fearful of radiation exposure from nuclear power
plants and other sources. However, according to Bruce N. Ames, Ph.D.,
one of the world™s leading cell biologists and professor emeritus at the
University of California at Berkeley, DNA damage from B-vitamin
de¬ciencies is identical to damage caused by radiation. In both cases
strands of DNA break apart. No reasonable person would unnecessar-
ily expose himself to radiation, so why would anyone want to suffer the
same damage from low intake of B vitamins?
Unfortunately, up to 10 percent of Americans are de¬cient in at
least one B vitamin, based on very conservative governmental recom-
mendations for intake. In actuality, the number of Americans with
either marginal intake or one or more B-vitamin de¬ciencies is likely
several times higher. Low intake of any one of the B vitamins will slow
or inhibit the synthesis of new DNA and its repair.
Speci¬cally, low levels of vitamin B3 lead to genetic instability, chro-
mosome fragility, and breaks in DNA strands. Studies have found that
low levels of vitamin B2 , which plays a role in DNA repair enzymes,
60 F E E D YO U R G E N E S R I G H T


also lead to more breaks in DNA. Similarly, low intake of vitamin B6
inhibits the effectiveness of enzymes involved in DNA synthesis.
People with marginal intake of folic acid also have a high rate of
chromosome damage, which can be corrected with supplementation.
Folic acid de¬ciency during the early weeks of pregnancy can impair
DNA synthesis in the rapidly growing fetus and cause a variety of birth
defects, including spina bi¬da, cleft palate, and cleft lip.
How exactly does folic acid de¬ciency lead to DNA damage? When
people are deficient in folic acid, cells cannot synthesize adequate
amounts of thymine, one of the chemical letters of DNA. Instead DNA
incorporates large amounts of uracil, which is normally used only to
make RNA. But uracil has no function in DNA, and so DNA repair
enzymes remove the uracil, which leaves breaks in the DNA. These
breaks are like missing links in a chain, and they wreak havoc on a cell™s
genetic programming. With the restoration of adequate levels of folic
acid to the diet, thymine is properly incorporated into DNA. Low lev-
els of vitamins B6 and B12 also interfere with thymine production, with
an effect similar to that of folic acid de¬ciency.
On a daily basis, you cannot feel a decrease in normal DNA syn-
thesis. However, you can see the end result. People who are slow to heal
from cuts and scrapes are often de¬cient in these and other nutrients,
and slow healing is just one sign of sluggish DNA synthesis. Long-term
poor DNA synthesis and higher levels of uncorrected DNA damage set
the stage for cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer™s disease, birth defects,
and miscarriage. Some research even indicates that low levels of folic
acid can interfere with normal brain development.

Vitamins Help Crystal Have a Healthy Baby
Crystal, age thirty-three, had experienced more than her share of
dif¬culties on the road to motherhood. During her twenties she
miscarried once, gave birth to a stillborn baby, and delivered a
son with spina bi¬da, a serious birth defect that led to his death
several months later.
A new physician, looking at Crystal™s medical history, recom-
mended that she undergo genetic testing for a subtle defect in the
gene coding for methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR).
MTHFR is an enzyme needed for the normal utilization of folic
acid, and both the genetic defect and low folic acid intake have
been associated with a higher risk of birth defects.
It turned out that Crystal did have that genetic defect, and a
61
N U T R I E N T S T H AT M A K E A N D R E PA I R D N A


simple blood test also revealed that she had elevated levels of
homocysteine, a sign of inadequate folic acid intake. Following
her physician™s recommendation, Crystal began eating more
spinach and dark green lettuces, good sources of folic acid, and
taking a B-complex supplement plus 1,000 mcg of extra folic acid.
Her doctor also recommended that she eat fewer sweets, because
diets high in sugar have also been linked to a greater risk of birth
defects.
Last year Crystal gave birth to a healthy eight-pound girl, and
she and her husband are planning to have another baby in the
next couple of years. Crystal™s improved eating habits and the
B-vitamin supplements she now takes successfully counteracted
an inborn genetic weakness.


How B Vitamins Regulate Gene Function
The behavior of your genes is also in¬‚uenced by methylation reactions
and the presence of “methyl groups.” These methyl groups, which are
molecules containing three hydrogen atoms and one carbon atom,
attach to DNA under a variety of circumstances and influence the
expression, or activity, of genes.
DNA methylation most often serves to shut down speci¬c genes
when they are not needed, according to Craig A. Cooney, Ph.D.,
an assistant professor and expert on methylation at the University
of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Without DNA methylation, genes
would operate with no restraint. For example, genes involved in liver
function would become active in heart cells, leading to a cacophony of
unwanted gene activity. (Each cell contains a full suite of DNA, so it is
important that not all genes be operating simultaneously.) Thus DNA
methylation helps regulate the normal behavior of DNA, much the
way a traf¬c light regulates the ¬‚ow of traf¬c.
This control of DNA activity through methylation becomes
dysfunctional in cancer cells, which grow in an uncontrollable fashion.
Cancer-causing genes, called oncogenes, turn on when they are not sup-
pressed through methylation. Meanwhile, established cancers usually
have an abnormally low rate of methylation. In the chaos of cancer, a
lack of folic acid leads to poor suppression of oncogenes and damage to
the p53 gene, changes that prevent this gene from performing its
cancer-suppressing job.
Recent research has shown that supplemental B vitamins can
62 F E E D YO U R G E N E S R I G H T


sometimes permanently alter DNA methylation patterns and in the
process change what scientists have believed to be ¬xed genetic traits,
such as physical appearance.
In separate experiments two teams of researchers worked with
mice having a strong genetic propensity for yellow fur, obesity, dia-
betes, and heart disease, characteristics that have been traced back to
the activity of the animals™ “agouti” gene. Because of the agouti gene,
these mice usually give birth to offspring that have yellow fur, are likely
to become obese, and suffer a high risk of diabetes (related in part to
obesity) and cancer. But when the researchers fed pregnant mice extra
folic acid, vitamin B12, choline, and betaine (all nutrients involved in
methylation reactions), their offspring were thin, had brown fur, and
had a low risk of disease.
Although the scientists involved in these experiments were reluc-
tant to extend their animal ¬ndings to humans, they did demonstrate
the powerful”and previously unknown”effect nutrients have on gene
activity, without altering or mutating the structure of the gene. The
implications in the ¬eld of genetics are profound: it is conceivable that
any number of nutrients are capable of altering genetically “¬xed”
traits during fetal development. These particular studies also suggest
that the current epidemic of obesity”two-thirds of Americans are
overweight or obese”might be related to low intake of B vitamins
(and poor methylation reactions), as well as to excess consumption of
carbohydrate and fat calories.

How Vitamins Prevented Schizophrenia
An estimated 1 percent of people have a genetic predisposition
for schizophrenia, which may be triggered by extreme psycho-
logical stress. The child of one schizophrenic parent has a 10 per-
cent chance of developing the disease, characterized by
hallucinations and delusions, and the child of two schizophrenic
parents has a 50 percent chance of developing the disease.
Robert was diagnosed with schizophrenia and referred for
treatment to Dr. Abram Hoffer, a Canadian psychiatrist. Hoffer,
one of the pioneers in the medical use of vitamins, treated Robert
with 3,000 mg of niacin (a form of vitamin B3) and 3,000 mg of
vitamin C daily. Robert recovered, became gainfully employed,
married, and fathered four children. Several years later another
psychiatrist told Robert that the vitamins were of no value, so he
stopped taking them. His psychotic behavior returned and
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