The term Epigenetics means a change in the expression of the DNA, often due to changes in the environment of the organism. This change can be inherited across generations, but the underlying DNA code does not change. Genes are turned on or off by epigenetic mechanisms which live on top of the DNA code. Think of your DNA as being the digital code for your body, and the epigenetic mechanisms are analog dials that regulate genes up or down. A consensus definition of the concept of epigenetic trait as a \”stably heritable phenotype resulting from changes in a chromosome without alterations in the DNA sequence\” was formulated at a Cold Spring Harbor meeting in 2008, so this is a relatively recent concept. It is likely that a significant percentage of the Blue Zone Vitality is due to epigenetic mechanisms.
This term was coined in 2005 in a National Geographic report. The National Geographic Blue Zones were identified as Sardinia in Italy, Okinawa, Loma Linda (Seventh Day Adventists), the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, and Icaria in Greece. Analysis of the Blue Zones reveals some traits that are common to all Blue Zones, specifically strong family ties and social engagement, no smoking, a plant-based diet including legumes and constant moderate physical activity. Additional longevity and vitality enhancing factors in most, but not all zones, are high polyphenol wine, empowerment of women, gardening, no time urgency, whole grains, culturally isolated, high soy and nut consumption and a strong spiritual community.
Epigenetic Management of Aging
Eat-Although there is a lack of consensus on the one perfect diet, a plant-based diet is a front-runner. That means a variety of fruits, whole grains and vegetables, consumed fresh, seasonally, and with minimal transportation. Organic produce, dairy and meats are more nutritious, period. The lack of a diverse, plant-based food supply is a consistently cited as a major contribution to cognitive decline. Currently we consume about 25 different vegetables at most, when we should have more than 200 in a diversified diet. In “the Old World” many unfamiliar foods such as purslane, sour grass, spring greens, dandelion and a variety of ferments were consumed daily.
Books discussed during the Mini-Med are listed here as evidence-based information sources. Dr. Taylor does not endorse any specific diet.
Gundry MD, S. Dr. Gundry’s Diet Evolution
This is a thoughtful discussion of the evolution of our diet and recommendations for optimizing that physiology. Contains actionable guidelines.
Bredesen MD, Dale, The End of Alzheimer’s: The first program to prevent and reverse cognitive decline
This is a more technical book and is also evidence-based. Dr. Bredesen’s protocol has a certification process for doctors, which is continuously evolving. I would recommend searching for a Bredesen certified practitioner on the Institute of Functional Medicine website https://www.ifm.org/
Just when you thought organic certification was safe, counterfeit organics have arrived. Also, organic hydroponics (grown only in nutrient water) are under consideration for organic certification. This is controversial as the quality of the food depends on the quality of the soil. Aside from the beneficial health issues, a well-managed soil is one of the highest carbon trappers and essential to the health of the planet. Resources for additional help and information in finding quality organics are:
The Cornucopia Institute https://www.cornucopia.org/
The Real Organic Project https://www.realorganicproject.org/
Love- The importance of social connection cannot be under-emphasized. Humans and their dogs evolved to be sociable and friendly.
Play- Many activities are recommended to delay cognitive decline, but they may exercise only one cognitive domain (puzzles for example). You become excellent that skill, but that skill may not generalize to other cognitive capacities. Choose a task that engages as many intellectual and physical capacities as possible. Consider food foraging in a novel environment. Playing music, which is both physical and intellectual, has striking effects on neuroplasticity and brain development. Both Love and Play will be discussed in depth in the next Mini-Medical School.
Epigenetic Management of Aging, Part Two will be Feb 1, 2020.