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Epigenetics and Sugar

By Ryan Lester | Articles

Most Americans consume more sugar than they realize.  Sugar can be found in one form or another in most packaged foods from condiments to boxed dinners.  The U.S. population indulges in sweet treats more than any other nation with the highest sugar consumption rate of any other country in the world.  What is the impact of this added sugar?  Is it harmless to have the occasional sugary treat or could we be permanently affecting the expression of our DNA?

Energy Creation

Cells create energy in two different ways, glycolysis, and ketosis.  In glycolysis, the body’s cells use glucose (sugar) to make energy. If there is more glucose than is needed at that time, the body will convert the excess glucose into fat for future use.

Ketosis occurs when the stored fats are used to produce energy.  The body can metabolize the fatty acids into ketones which is used for energy; however, the process of ketosis can make the body enter a scarcity state where it senses limited resources.  This can alter metabolism, hunger signals, and other various bodily functions.

Epigenetic Benefits of Ketosis

The Ketogenic diet relies upon creating a state of ketosis in the body.  A primary advantage of ketosis is the body will burn excess fat for energy production which results in weight loss.  Ketosis can also contribute to epigenetic benefits for the individual.

Epigenetics is the science of how your environment and lifestyle can affect how your DNA is expressed and the how that DNA is inherited by your children.

Ketosis increases the activity of sirtuins which are proteins that can turn off gene expression. Click To Tweet The power of sirtuin 1 is in the hippocampus where memory formation occurs. Sirtuin 1 down-regulates microRNA which can impact the learning and memory genes CREB and BDNF.  With those two genes at an elevated level, memory and learning abilities are boosted.

Gene Memory

Gene memory is variable for different factors and types of genes.  In the case of sugar, genes have a two-week memory for even a single exposure to short-term high glucose levels caused by eating food or candy high in sugar.  This means that a one-time treat of sugar can alter gene expression for up to two weeks and impact the body’s cravings for more sugar. 

Studies have shown that even in individuals who consume a healthy low glycemic diet, this gene memory is the same as those who consume high sugar regularly.  The organs that retain the memory longest include the kidneys, heart, and eyes.

Perils of Sugar

The length of time a high glycemic state or diet is experienced can have a long-term impact on the individual. As the body works to metabolize the high amounts of sugar we eat and store the excess glucose as fat, the genetic expression is altered over the short and long term. Click To Tweet

In the short term, genes are negatively impacted regarding our ability to form memories, learn, fight infections, and there is an increase in the inflammatory state of the body.  The long-term impact of diets high in sugar includes genetic expressions that increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s.  These negative genetic expressions can also be passed on for several generations through a mechanism known as transgenerational epigenetic inheritance, meaning what you put in your body can impact your children and grandchildren.

In pregnancy, poor dietary choices in the mother’s health habits can have a profoundly negative impact on the unborn child.  When a mother consumes a traditional American diet high in processed foods, male children have an increased risk of obesity.  Adoption studies have validated these concerns. Despite being raised in a nutritionally healthy environment, adopted children born from obese parents, were at an increased risk of becoming obese when reaching adulthood.

Healthy Sugars

Not all sugar is created equal.  Some forms of sugar are better or safer to eat than others.  In general, the sugar we want to avoid is processed or refined sugar that has been stripped from the natural plants such as sugar cane or corn.

Natural sugars that occur in fruits and plants are safer to consume in their whole form. These complex sugars/ complex carbohydrates are low on the glycemic index because of how they are metabolized in the body with the natural fiber, fat, and protein in the plants.  This leads to a stable level of glucose being provided to the body to use as fuel.

Conclusion

Sugar might seem harmless or part of a natural diet that allows for treats; however, it is essential to consider the short and long-term impact the sugar will have on your body and your how your genes express.  Some individuals possess the “sugar gene” which makes them more susceptible to the effects of sugar and can lead to intense cravings for sugar and the inability to stop consuming sugar once you begin to eat it.

If you find that kicking the sugar habit is harder for you than others, have binge sessions with sweet treats, or have trouble losing weight consulting with an epigenetic coach could greatly benefit you.  These specialized coaches can look at the unique markers on your DNA and help you learn how to make lifestyle and diet modifications to reach your ultimate health and weight loss goals.

Conclusions

Ryan Lester

Ryan Lester

Ryan Lester, PA-C is physician assistant in the Apeiron Center Austin. He is also a certified Epigenetic Human Performance Coach.
Ryan Lester

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