Sunday, February 19, 2012

You Are What You Eat . . . How What You Eat Changes Your RNA

To augment the story I posted yesterday, here is an article from Discovery Magazine followed by Dr. Mercola's interpretation.  These articles explain, in some detail, the way that these chemicals can effect our health, down to the RNA in our cells.  I know this is a rather lengthy post, but I think it's worth it to read or at least skim it.
I also think it will give you a bit better perspective on this 100 Days of Fun with Real Food challenge. 

What You Eat Affects Your Genes: RNA From Rice Can Survive Digestion and Alter Gene Expression

Image courtesy of AMagill / flickr

What’s the News: It’s no secret that having lunch messes with your biochemistry. Once that sandwich hits your stomach, genes related to digestion have been activated and are causing the production of the many molecules that help break food down. But a new study suggests that the connection between your food’s biochemistry and your own may be more intimate than we thought. Tiny RNAs usually found in plants have been discovered circulating in blood, and animal studies indicate that they are directly manipulating the expression of genes.
What’s the Context:
  • MicroRNAs, or miRNAs, are molecules involved in regulation of gene expression, the transcription of genes into proteins. miRNAs bind to the messenger RNAs that ferry genetic information from DNA to the ribosomes, which translate messenger RNAs into proteins.
  • When a miRNA binds a messenger RNA, it keeps it from being translated, thus preventing that gene from being expressed.
How the Heck:
  • This team of researchers at Nanjing University had been studying the miRNAs that circulate in human blood and were surprised to find that some of the miRNAs weren’t homegrown but instead came from plants. One of the most common plant miRNAs was from rice, a staple of their Chinese subjects’ diets. Intrigued, they confirmed with a variety of tests in mice that the miRNA, which, in its native environs, usually regulates plant development, was definitely coming from food.
  • When they put the rice miRNA in cells, they found that levels of a receptor that filters out LDL, aka“bad” cholesterol, in the liver went down. As it turned out, the miRNA was binding to the receptor’s messenger RNA and preventing it from being expressed, sending receptor levels down and bad-cholesterol levels up. They saw the same effect when they tried it in mice.
  • Going further, when they fed rice to mice but also gave them a molecule that would turn off the miRNA, the liver receptor bounced back and bad cholesterol levels went down.
  • The team concludes that miRNAs may be a new class of functional components in food, like vitamins or minerals—even in an animal that’s pretty far removed from their home organism, they can manipulate gene expression and have an effect on nutrition.
The Future Holds:
  • It’s only logical that what we eat has an effect on the expression of our genes, in the general sense that nutrients from food are involved in cellular processes that control and are controlled by gene expression. But this is an unusually direct route, and surprising from an organism that’s so different from mammals.
  • Since miRNAs from plants haven’t been on scientists’ radar before, this should be a field ripe for further exploration. Do corn miRNAs circulate in the blood of people in societies that eat gigantic quantities of corn, like the US? What receptors might those miRNAs control?
Reference: Zhang, et al. Exogenous plant MIR168a specifically targets mammalian LDLRAP1: evidence of cross-kingdom regulation by microRNACell Research, (20 September 2011) | doi:10.1038/cr.2011.158

Dr. Mercola's Interpretation
"You are what you eat" is one of the most profound and instructive sayings ever to be passed down to us through the ages, and thanks to an explosion of exciting new research into the way that food directly affects your genes, it can no longer be written off as merely a metaphorical expression. 
In fact, food provides far more than just the material "building blocks" and "fuel" for the 'body-machine; it is also a source of genetic information, which is capable of informing the cells and processes within your body, for better or for worse.
What is quite amazing is the difference in biological response when comparing the right and wrong typesof foods.
In fact, new research has revealed that eating thewrong plants can actually directly alter your genetic expression, which can lead to a myriad of diseases.

Micro-RNA Molecules from Your Food May Control Up to 30 Percent of Your Genes

Groundbreaking new research shows that microscopic RNA in the plants you consume enters your body and is actually capable of affecting theexpression of up to 30% of your genes!
Never before could it have been imagined that your "genes" could be so profoundly affected by things you eat.
There is also the field of lectinology, which has opened our eyes to how plants – particularly grains and legumes – have a set of defenses, not unlike "invisible thorns," which can cause direct, non-immune mediated harm to a wide range of tissues and organs within your body.
Medical science is beginning to awaken to how profoundly food is intertwined with health and disease, and how nutrients affect genes, and how our genes respond to nutrients. This, in fact, is the field of study known as Nutrigenomics – something, I believe, you will be hearing far more about as the science begins to gain wider appreciation. It is a burgeoning new field, in fact launched soon after the completion of a working draft of the Human Genome project (2003), which failed to provide the long sought after "holy grail" of modern biology.
In a nutshell, the project failed to identify one gene for every one protein in the human body, forcing researchers to look to epigenetic factors --  namely, "factors beyond the control of the gene" – to explain how the body is formed, and how it works.  What is the most important factor beyond the control of the gene? Diet.

Eating the Wrong Plants Can Mess With Your DNA Expression

Chances are you've never heard of micro RNA (miRNA) … but that doesn't mean it hasn't already been impacting your health …  RNA is one of three major macromolecules, like DNA. Micro RNA are basically small pieces of RNA that interact with your genes, essentially stopping certain genes from being expressed.
MiRNA exists in human body fluid naturally; for instance, researchers have detected high expression levels of immune-related miRNAs in breast milk, particularly during the first 6 months of lactation. It's thought that this genetic material is transferred from mother to baby to help modulate the development of the infant's immune system. Cow's milk also contains miRNA, which is currently being explored as a possible new standard for the quality control of raw milk.
However, micro RNA also exists in plants, and for the first time research has shown that eating the wrong plants may transfer this plant miRNA  to humans -- with potentially devastating implications.
The study, published in the September 2011 edition of the journal Cell Research, determined that microRNA from cooked plant foods like rice, wheat and potatoes can in fact collect in your blood and tissue, leading to a number of potential health problems.
The study further revealed that microRNA remains completely stable after not only cooking, but through the digestion process as well. Most importantly, the researchers found a significant quantity of microRNA in the human body, concluding that:
" … plant miRNAs are primarily acquired orally, through food intake."
So whenever you eat rice and certain other plant foods, including potatoes and wheat, you are ingesting genetic material that may turn certain genes "off." To date, microRNA has been implicated in a number of diseases ranging from cancer and diabetes to Alzheimer's disease. But what exactly is microRNA, and why is it so important?

"Gene Regulators" in Your Rice, Wheat and Potatoes

MicroRNA has been widely shown to alter many critical biological processes, including apoptosis – the process of programmed cell death and DNA fragmentation. As a result, the dysregulation of microRNAs has been linked to cancer and various other diseases. However microRNA are also responsible for regulating your genes on a very large scale. As mentioned, it has been estimated that miRNAs account for less than 1% of genes in mammals, but that up to 30% of genes are regulated by them.
Amazingly, microRNAs are known to regulate the flow of genetic information by controlling the translation or stability of something known as messenger RNAs, which is a molecule of RNA that carries valuable genetic coding information within your body.
What's more, this plant miRNA has been shown to interfere with human microRNA by mimicking it and binding to the receptors. In the study, researchers examined the two highest levels of these microRNAs in human participants, and found that it is shockingly prevalent among many dietary plant staples.
As results of the study show, three microRNAs were detected in rice and other foods including Chinese cabbage, wheat, and potato. Of course these are all highly common food staples for many families not only in the United States, but around the world. This means that you may be unknowingly consuming plant microRNAs that could be increasing your risk of cancer and other disease. Even more concerning is the fact that the study authors observed this effect in both healthy men and women, reporting:
"Upon investigation of the global miRNA expression profile in human serum, we found that exogenous plant miRNAs were consistently present in the serum of healthy… men and women."
What you eat, therefore, is who you are in the most literal sense possible.
This fact, while often overlooked, is fundamental in understanding how to optimize your health. If you eat the right foods, you thrive; eat the wrong foods, and you suffer. The problem is the field of nutrition is infused with the same intensity of impassioned debate and confusion as religion and politics – and rarely, only rarely do you get a clear picture of what is good for you, as an individual.
It can take a lifetime to figure out how to perfect a diet, particularly one suitable for you as an individual. The good news is that modern research is beginning to make headway in figuring out what is good for virtually all humans, at least in most cases. Certain foods appear to be problematic for many … and most grains continue to be at the top of this list.

Lectins: "Invisible Thorns" of the Plant Kingdom

MicroRNAs are only one component of plant foods that stretch beyond the scope of vitamins and minerals … Did you know, for instance, that many of the plants we consume for food, particularly grains and legumes, contain chemical and physical defenses that protect against being eaten?
These include anti-nutrients that interfere with the digestion of starches (anti-amylase), proteins (protease inhibitors), minerals (phytate), and many other similar molecules. Sprouting, fermentation, cooking and processing can sometimes reduce and/or eliminate these substances, but not in all cases.
There is one category, of particular interest, known as lectins. Lectins get their name from the Latin word legere, from which the word "Select" derives – and that is exactly what they do: they select (attach to) a very specific number of biological structures.
Lectins are capable of disrupting the health of the creatures that consume them, often piercing through the protective coating of their digestive tracts, and gaining entry into systemic circulation.
Wheat, for instance, contains an exceptionally small lectin known as wheat germ agglutinin or WGA, which is capable of attaching to the surface proteins of nearly all of its natural predators, from bacterial to fungi, worms to insects, mice to men.
Because all of the these creatures are composed, in part, of the biopolymer n-acetyl-glucosamine, and because WGA is designed to attach – exactly and exclusively – to this glycoprotein (part sugar, part protein), it is Nature's ingenious way of saying: "Hey, back off!" – at least when it comes to eating excessive amounts of the seed storage form of the mature grass plant, e.g. cereal grains.
In an article published on, Sayer Ji describes lectins as "invisible thorns," explaining:
"Nature engineers, within all species, a set of defenses against predation, though not all are as obvious as the thorns on a rose or the horns on a rhinoceros. Plants do not have the cell-mediated immunity of higher life forms, like ants, nor do they have the antibody driven, secondary immune systems of vertebrates with jaws. They must rely on a much simpler, innate immunity.
It is for this reason that seeds of the grass family, e.g. rice, wheat, spelt, rye, have exceptionally high levels of defensive glycoproteins known as lectins. These  'invisible thorns' are an ingenius means of survival."
Lectins were first discovered in castor bean casings, which contain the lectin ricin. Ricin is so toxic that only a dose the size of a few grains of salt can kill an adult if injected or inhaled. In fact, the US military investigated it for potential military use in the First World War.  Like micro RNA, lectins are capable of directly affecting gene expression within cells.

The Very Real Danger of Genetically Engineered Foods

Given the fact that research now shows microRNA are appearing in humans who eat rice, it brings up many questions about the way the food we eat interacts with our physiology. While the Cell Research study had nothing specifically to do with genetically modified foods, the implications have everything to do with them.
MicroRNA appears to have dangerous implications for human health, so it stands to reason that genetic modification, which by definition involves organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered, may too. Further, it brings up a whole new way by which GM foods might harm human health, considering researchers have been using genes very similar to micro RNA to "turn off" certain plant genes.
As reported in The Atlantic:
"Researchers have been using this phenomena to their advantage in the form of small, engineered RNA strands that are virtually identical to miRNA. In a technique called RNA interference, or RNA knockdown, these small bits of RNA are used to turn off, or "knock down," certain genes.
RNA knockdown was first used commercially in 1994 to create the Flavor Savr, a tomato with increased shelf life. In 2007, several research teams began reporting success at engineering plant RNA to kill insect predators, by knocking down certain genes. As reported in MIT's Technology Review on November 5, 2007, researchers in China used RNA knockdown to make:
 ' ...cotton plants that silence a gene that allows cotton bollworms to process the toxin gossypol, which occurs naturally in cotton. Bollworms that eat the genetically engineered cotton can't make their toxin-processing proteins, and they die.'
'Researchers at Monsanto and Devgen, a Belgian company, made corn plants that silence a gene essential for energy production in corn rootworms; ingestion wipes out the worms within 12 days.'
Humans and insects have a lot in common, genetically. If miRNA can in fact survive the gut then it's entirely possible that miRNA intended to influence insect gene regulation could also affect humans."
The research on micro RNA also has implications on the very doctrine by which biotech companies make claim to GM food safety:substantial equivalence (the idea that there is no difference between GM and non-GM crops). There is obviously much left to be discovered about how DNA and RNA interacts with human beings … and it is becoming increasingly clear that plants with altered DNA cannot be "substantially equivalent" to their natural counterparts. The Atlantic continues:
" … if companies like Monsanto want to use processes like RNA interference to make plants that can kill insects via genetic pathways that might resemble our own, some kind of testing has to happen. A good place to start would be the testing of introduced DNA for other effects -- miRNA-mediated or otherwise -- beyond the specific proteins they code for. But the status quo, according to Monsanto's website, is:
'There is no need to test the safety of DNA introduced into GM crops. DNA (and resulting RNA) is present in almost all foods. DNA is non-toxic and the presence of DNA, in and of itself, presents no hazard.'
Given what we know, that stance is arrogant. Time will tell if it's reckless. There are computational methods of investigating whether unintended RNAs are likely to be knocking down any human genes. But thanks to this position, the best we can do is hope they're using them. Given it's opposition to the labeling of GM foods as well, it seems clear that Monsanto wants you to close your eyes, open your mouth, and swallow."

How Can You Eat to Optimize Your Genetic Expression?

Given the knowledge that the food you consume ultimately becomes the life source of your entire body, it is important that you eat well not only to utilize vital nutrients but also to optimize your genetic expression.
This is cutting-edge information, but it is becoming very clear that there is far more to "food" than vitamins and minerals. Research has only scratched the surface into micro RNAs and their impacts on human health, but the preliminary research suggests they may provide one more method by which grains may harm your health.
For most, it appears healthy eating entails limiting carbohydrates from grains and potatoes, and instead focusing on carbs from vegetable sources. This is in line with the "Paleo" way of eating, which involves focusing on foods that are in line with your genetic ancestry, such as vegetables, nuts and grass-fed meats, while limiting sugars and grains. Cereals, potatoes and bread were non-existent prior to the dawn of agriculture, and there's reason to believe these foods are discordant with our ancient genome. We need to relearn what foods are ideal for our bodies not just to live on, but to thrive on.
You can find more information about how to eat to support positive genetic expression in my nutrition plan. Also keep in mind that your diet is but one way to influence your genetic expression. Your emotions, pharmaceutical drugs, exposure to pollutants, and even exposure to sunlight (vitamin D) and supplements like curcumin play a role in how your genes are expressed.

Now that you've read the articles, I do want to be totally upfront about the fact that I do not totally agree with Dr. Mercola's dietary suggestions for a strict Paleo diet plan.  I do not believe that everyone needs to restrict themselves from entire food groups (grains, legumes, sugars and starches).  While this may be necessary for some people, it can be equally unnecessary or even harmful to others.  I believe that as unique individuals there is never a "one size fits all" dietary plan that works for everyone. 
Additionally, I do want to ask you to take this idea a bit further . . . if plants are grown with chemicals they uptake those chemicals into their structure and become a part of the plant.  Now their seeds - which would be their offspring - are altered.  When we consume these foods, our genetic codes (the RNA shifts Dr. Mercola spoke of) are also changed.  This leads to a breakdown in the way our bodies function on a cellular level.  Add to that the hybridization of foods that change their genetic codes as well.  Now the animals who eat the plants and the humans that eat the animals are all subjected to a radical change in an RNA signature of a food that was originally digestible.  This can lead to some very real problems in the ability to break down foods into particles that can be used by individual cells, creating fractures in the ways that our bodies were designed to function.  
In the coming days I will post, what I believe to be, the most radical ways to shift this quickly and efficiently.  
It's my desire to help you by arming you with facts, guiding you with suggestions and supporting you with ideas and recipes to inspire you to reach your own optimal health! 

Here's to Your Best and Healthiest Life,  

Dr. P


  1. Wow! That is some heavy duty stuff. It makes sense that plants would have some kind of innate self-defense mechanisms, but who would have thought that they would be able to actually change those who consume them in such a profound way. This is an exciting and scary time to live, science-wise. Thanks Dr. P for your mission to help others.

    1. Shamans and herbalists believe that the "spirit of the plant" is the healing capacity of a plant, so it makes sense this would have some merit.

  2. thanks for the information. Now to explore how to utilize it best.