A recent study published in Nature Microbiology and led by Dr. Markus Ralser from the University of Cambridge and the Francis Crick Institute in London has confirmed the saying, “we are what we eat.” This confirmation comes out of the finding that our genetic makeup and our metabolism are interrelated. The study revealed that our genes are responsible for regulating how our food is broken down and that the way our food is broken down regulates our genes as well. It goes even further to suggest that almost all of our genes are affected by the food we eat, which is undeniable truth that we are what we eat.
Before we get into the specifics of the study, let’s look at how cells work in order to better understand the findings. The way cells behave is determined by how the genes of each cell act, as well as the biochemical reactions that maintain the cells (this is called metabolism). Metabolism is responsible for breaking down molecules into energy for the body as well as producing all of the compounds that cells need to function. Metabolic reactions are mostly dependent on the nutrients that are available within a cell, which come from the food we eat.
The researchers used yeast cells to determine the role of metabolism in genes and the molecules they produce. Yeast was used because it is simpler to manipulate than animal cells and has very similar cellular mechanisms as those in animals and humans. The team manipulated the levels of the end-products of the metabolic reactions in the yeast cells and then examined how those changes affected the behavior of the molecules that were produced as a result.
They discovered that the changes in cellular metabolism affected almost 90% of the genes and their products, demonstrating that metabolism is much more important in the role of cells than previously thought. We’ve known that genes control the way that nutrients are broken down but this research has demonstrated that the opposite is also true because the way that the nutrients are broken down also affects the way that the genes behave. Not only that but changing a cell’s metabolic profile can make some genes behave completely differently than expected. This means that the genes in cells are strongly affected by the nutrients they have access to, leading us back to the notion that “we are what we eat.”
This research goes beyond food and might even explain why some drugs work for some people but not for others. For example, it can help scientists understand cancer and the drugs that can and can’t help individuals with cancer since tumor cells develop genetic mutations, which in turn influence cell metabolism and the behavior of genes. Further, it also explains why certain biological experiments can be difficult to reproduce since small metabolic differences can change the results of the experiment.
Now that we know that we are what we eat, it’s important to consider what we are made of. What have you been eating? Are you composed of greasy fried foods, sugar and chemical additives or are you composed of whole foods that come from nature and work efficiently in your body?