Thursday, 16 June 2016

8 top tips for looking after your genes

Today's post is by Sophie Tully BSc MSc, a Nutrition Scientist at Igennus Healthcare Nutrition with some sound advice about how you can take care of your genes for better health.

Our genes contain the complex code that programmes every single function of our cells and body but, despite what you may have been led to believe, our genetic instructions are not set in stone. Throughout our lives, the way our genes are ‘read’ can change as a result of environmental, emotional and nutritional ‘edits’ made to how our genes are accessed and translated.

Along our strings of genetic code are a number of tags that act as signposts, guiding the cellular processes responsible for reading our genes to focus their efforts on the right sections. Much like you might highlight or add a coloured post-it note to a page of a book, these tags allow for quick and easy access to the right sections of our genetic code, so that they can be easily read and activated.

Until relatively recently, it was assumed that we were all born with our genes fixed, with all the right tags in the right places; however, over the past decade or so, Epigenetic research (Epi meaning upon or above)- the study of changes to cellular and physical traits caused by external or environmental factors that lead to switching genes ‘on’ and ‘off’ and how cells read genes - has increased exponentially. Today we know that everything - how stressed you are during pregnancy, whether you were bullied as a child, what’s in the air you breathe, how often and in what way you move, the foods you choose to eat - has the power to alter these genetic tags and subsequently the way our genes are activated. Far from our fate being ‘written in our genes’, epigenetic changes with the potential to alter our genetic expression, occur throughout our lives and can even be passed down through the generations.

It is now understood that the risk of diseases such as cancer, mental illness, neurodegeneration and even cardiovascular disease all increase with certain epigenetic changes and so, more than ever, we need to understand which factors in our environment have the power to alter these genetic tags, for better or worse, and what can be done to manipulate this for personal gain.

If you want to find out more about epigenetic mechanisms this is a good place to start. 

What can we do to safeguard our genes and reduce the potential for negative health outcomes associated with epigenetic changes? 

Here are my top tips for supporting healthy genes and preventing activation of unwanted, rogue tags:

1. Avoid stress and deal with historical trauma

Recent advances in the field of epigenetics show that stress, throughout our lives, can lead to significant epigenetic changes and increase our risk for numerous negative health outcomes. Daily stress management such as mindfulness, spending time in nature and deep breathing exercises can be really helpful to combat stress and overwrite detrimental epigenetic changes with beneficial ones that seek to promote and improve our long-term health. Addressing and dealing with historical emotional and physical trauma is also important to reduce the impact this can have on our genetic tags, as well as our likelihood of passing these on to our children.

Check out these links for more information and support:
Head Space
Stop Breathe & Think App
The Abundant Energy Expert

2. Check your fatty acid levels and consume healthy fats

The foods we eat have a huge impact on how our genes are tagged and, when it comes to fats, it’s important to include enough of the right fats in our diets. Research consistently links high total fat and saturated fat intake with adverse genetic alterations. Consuming healthy fats such as those from nuts, seeds, coconut, oily fish, olives and their oil and free range organic eggs, whilst avoiding vegetable oils, margarine, intensively farmed animal fat and dairy, is the best way to ensure you have a healthy balance. Ideally, fats should be consumed with most meals and snacks in moderate quantities (approx. 10-20g at a time). Testing cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as red blood cell fatty acids, can help you determine if you have a good level of healthy fats in your body.

The Igennus Opti-O-3 is a convenient home test kit and comes with a free consultation to help you interpret your results.

3. Measure homocysteine and supplement with B Vitamins

Homocysteine is the by-product of our methylation cycle, a process vital for looking after our DNA and where the tags are placed. If we over or under methylate, this can be problematic and leaves us susceptible to a range of health issues such as fatigue, poor cognitive function, reduced detoxification and diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular conditions. The B vitamins, in particular folate, vitamins B12 and 6, with the help of B2 and 3, are the most important when it comes to a healthy methylation cycle and high homocysteine levels may indicate low levels of these nutrients, or a block somewhere in the process. Eating a range of leafy greens, beans, pulses and good quality animal proteins will help keep these nutrient levels topped up. If you feel you need a little extra support, choosing a good B vitamin complex that does not contain very high levels of each ingredient can help provide gentle support for healthy DNA methylation.

4. STOP taking folic acid – opt for 5-MTHF instead

Those of us with issues throughout our methylation pathways often struggle to use folic acid, the most commonly used form of folate in supplements. Recent research now links folic acid use with a range of adverse effects from increased cancer risk to autism. Folic acidis the synthetic form of folate and people with certain alterations in their genetic code tags are less able to absorb and process folic acid, which can lead to accumulation, causing toxicity. Without testing, switching your folic acid for folate-rich foods and supplements containing Quatrefolic (such as the products mentioned above) is the safest way to avoid the risks of folic acid use and provide gentle support for healthy methylation.

5. Support your SIRT genes

Our sirtuins, controlled by SIRT genes, are superstars when it comes to epigenetic regulation and play an important role in promoting the health of not only our DNA but of the whole body. Many plant-based whole foods are packed with polyphenols that help activate SIRTgenes, so these foods are a safe and exciting addition to any gene nourishing diet. Commonly available and delicious, adding just a few ‘SIRT foods’ to your meals and snacks can help support optimal genetic tagging and healthy cell activities. Examples you might like to try include: cocoa, kale, buckwheat, red onions, parsley, red grapes and matcha green tea. Find out more here. 

6. Remove toxins

When we are thinking about healthy genes it’s important to also consider what can contribute to unhealthy tagging. We are regularly exposed to dietary and environmental factors that have the potential to change our epigenetic markers and even encourage DNA breaks. Certain chemicals can also mimic or block natural compounds that would otherwise promote health. Removing chemicals and toxins from your environment is an important step in protecting your genetic health. Swapping to natural cleaning and cosmetic brands (such as Method and Green People) can help reduce your exposure to numerous DNA damaging chemical. It’s also important to keep fatty food away from plastics and aluminium foil, especially when hot. Choosing organic products, or growing your own where possible, will also help reduce the amount of toxins in your food.

7. Control inflammation

High levels of inflammation can not only lead to epigenetic changes but also increase the risk of subsequent disease developing. It can be hard to tell if you are ‘inflamed’ as many of us walk around with no symptoms. Whilst swelling, pain and allergies suggest a higher than normal inflammatory load, any form of mental or physical stress, cell damage or infection can lead to inflammation being triggered. Without adequate cellular capacity to resolve inflammation, or in the presence of persistent inflammatory triggers such as regular exposure to foods you might be sensitive to, your body may fail to switch inflammation off and this can lead to long-term health issues as well as unwanted DNA tagging. Consuming lots of anti-inflammatory foods such as omega-3 fats, herbs and spices including turmeric, brightly coloured vegetables, fresh berries, pineapple and green tea can be really helpful in controlling inflammation.


Exercise is a very powerful therapy and even better when conducted outside in nature. Studies show that exercise elicits many of its health-enhancing benefits (beyond getting fitter and leaner) via epigenetic mechanisms, many of which are linked to improved cellular processes, enhanced metabolism and longevity. A lifestyle that incorporates movement as often as possible is associated with better health, longevity and quality of life. Find out more about how to get active here. 

If you would like to know more about any of the above, please feel free to call Nina, Sophie or Kyla, all of whom will be very happy to answer your questions.

They can be reached at 0845 1300424 (not a premium rate number) or you can email them at You can also find out more on the Igennus website.

Don’t forget all Yes to Life blog readers are entitled to 15% discount with Igennus and for every purchase made using the coupon code ‘YesToLife’ Igennus will donate a portion back to Yes To Life to help fund our ongoing support for you.

Read more top tips from Igennus here.

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