As human beings we have a biological imperative to pass on our genes in the hope that our legacies and names will be remembered long after we are gone. But in order to ensure our offspring a head start in the rat race, and prevent our DNA from decaying, causing disease and ageing, new research is showing that it is crucial that we stay active and healthy.
Not too long ago a good friend of mine was asked if he wanted kids. “Sure, why wouldn’t I want something that hates everything I hate and loves everything I love?” he replied. He then jeeringly added, “And anyway, I think it’s in mankind’s best interests if I reproduce.” He uses fluoride free toothpaste, alcohol-free mouthwash, organic coconut shampoos and natural goats milk soaps, eats only grass-fed, free range meats, drinks from a two liter BPA-free water bottle that could easily double as a whacking stick, and strength trains three to five times per week. Whilst some people may call my friend ‘excessive’ or claim he is in the ‘unrealistic’ one-percent, recent research shows that our lifestyle, diet, and exercise habits can actually shape and change our genes, and therefore our eventual offspring, for better or worse. If that is the case, then maybe my friend should breed for the sake of humanity.
Even though it is impossible to change our actual DNA – sadly, I’ll never have a mutant healing factor – it is possible to adjust what genes are turned on or off. For example, ‘turning on’ certain DNA strands can result in cancer and other diseases. Exercising helps to determine which genes are active and which are inactive and can alter our genomes, leading to better overall health, reduced risk of cancer and other nasty illnesses.1,2 Consequently, every time you hit the pavement or bust out one more rep you are repairing damage done to your genes through environmental factors such as UV rays, oxidization (when free radicals in our bodies attack our DNA) leading to increased aging of our cells and physical appearance, chemical solvents, and improper cell replication.3,4
But diet also plays a significant role in fortifying your DNA and can subsequently help to ensure you pass on strong genes. Fortifying your diet with fruits and vegetables can decrease DNA oxidization and inflammation in the body, thanks to the presence of carotenoids and vitamin C intake.5 Similarly, calorie restrictive diets in transgenic mice (mice who have been genetically altered in a lab to be more human-like) have shown the ability to strengthen the chromosomes, reducing the signs of ageing, diminishing the growth of cancerous cells, longer life, decreased signs of osteoporosis, and greater glucose uptake.6 Intermittent fasting and caloric restriction diets in humans seem to replicate the results found in mice by helping to reduce the stress on the nervous system, decrease DNA oxidization and cellular stressors, helping to keep your DNA fresh, young and clean.7
Socrates said, “What a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.” I’d like to supplement this with something I think is even more important. We’ve all heard how Hugh Jackman or Bar Refaeli won the genetic lottery – this imaginary luck of chance draw that predetermines whether or not you’ll be beautiful, successful, intelligent, well adjusted and perfect in every other way – but allow me to profess another hypothesis.
Exercising, eating properly, and supplementing correctly help to strengthen our DNA against terminal illnesses, degradation, and aging. Eventually, for those of us who don’t have kids yet, when it comes time to reproduce these will be the genes we pass on and imprint onto our children. People often look at the children of celebrities such as Beyonce and Jay-Z, Brad and Angelina, or Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin and wonder how they always seem to produce such adorable babies. One thing is for sure – it isn’t because of Tracey Anderson.
These people, and nobility throughout the ages (with the exception of Cersei and Jamie Lannister who produced the hell-spawn known as Joffrey), always have access to the best foods, freshest ingredients, most natural products, and best exercise regimes. Through their desire to achieve bootylicious status, they are inadvertently fortifying their genes and helping to create a race of super babies. Unfortunately we don’t all have the same time or resources as famous people. Some of us don’t even have the extra cash for free range beef instead of (shudder) corn fed cow, let alone the time or patience to purchase organic coconut shampoos. But there are some things we can do: We can stay hydrated, eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, regularly engage in cardio and resistance training, and avoid overeating just because your Italian mother-in-law tells you to “mangia, mangia.”
If you have already knocked out a few happy and healthy little tykes, congratulations, the above suggestions will help keep your DNA happy, free of terminal illnesses, healthy and fresh throughout the rest of your life. If, like me, you’re still young and still to start your clan keep with the exercise and healthy habits and your child just may win the genetic lottery – even if you didn’t.
1. Barrès R, Yan J, Egan B et al. Acute Exercise Remodels Promoter Methylation in Human Skeletal Muscle. Cell Metabolism, Volume 15, Issue 3, 405-411, March 7 2012
2. Romain Barrès, Jie Yan, Brendan Egan, Jonas Thue Treebak, Morten Rasmussen, Tomas Fritz, Kenneth Caidahl, Anna Krook, Donal J. O’Gorman, Juleen R. Zierath. Acute Exercise Remodels Promoter Methylation in Human Skeletal Muscle. Cell Metabolism, 2012; 15 (3): 405 DOI: 10.1016/j.cmet.2012.01.001
3. http://healthy-living.org/html/antioxidants_explained.html accessed on 4/2/13
4. Clancy, S. (2008) DNA damage & repair: mechanisms for maintaining DNA integrity. Nature Education 1(1)
5. Rikard Asgard (2008) Oxidative DNA damage and other risk factors, in relation to lifestyle in diabetes type 2 and metabolic syndrome patients. Karolinka Institutet, Stockholm.
6. Elsa Vera, Bruno Bernardes de Jesus, Miguel Foronda, Juana M. Flores, Maria A. Blasco. Telomerase Reverse Transcriptase Synergizes with Calorie Restriction to Increase Health Span and Extend Mouse Longevity.PLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (1): e53760 DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0053760
7. Martin B, et al, 2006, Caloric restriction and intermittent fasting: two potential diets for successful brain ageing. Ageing Res Rev. 2006 Aug; 5(3):332-53.
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