Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Science link Tuesday

We come across a bunch of good articles related to fitness, so we'd like to start a new thing: Science link Tuesday.  Every Tuesday - or really, whenever we remember to do it, so don't panic (Brian) if the schedule isn't perfect - we'd like to link to an article and add our thoughts to it.

Today's article: Long term vegetarian diet changes human DNA raising risk of cancer and heart disease. The link is to some press coverage of a study, so it's not perfect, but it provides me with a good jumping-off point to talk about something that keeps coming up in things that I read: Epigenetics.

If you think of genetics as the "instructions" encoded in your DNA, epigenetics are how those instructions are interpreted. When you put together your Ikea furniture, you may not get the same result that the design engineer thought - that's because you didn't read the instructions the same way.

DNA works the same way, except it's even more vague in the way it gives instructions. The raw amount of data encoded in DNA is about 700 MB (about one CD's worth of data), but because of the redundancy, there's only about 4 MB of information in DNA (about 3-1.44 MB floppy disks, if you're as old at me and know what those are). Imagine being able to encode everything that happens in the human body in just a few megabytes of information - that's insane!  So how do we exist? Well, there are "things that happen" when DNA is read, and that's all epigenetics.

Generally, environmental pressures cause your body to read your genes differently. For example, you may have a gene that encodes for some disease, but if you never have the environmental pressure to cause that gene to be read, it doesn't matter that it's sitting there in your DNA. Likewise, you may want to turn a certain gene on and you can do that by changing something else in your environment. (Purposely being vague here, I don't want a huge treatise on epigenetics - I'm not qualified for that.)

From this article: Populations who historically have eaten a primarily vegetarian diet have changed how they read their DNA to encode for more ability to digest the vegetables. The side effect of that is that they also create more inflammatory byproducts which are linked with higher risk of cancer and heart disease. There's generally no free lunch in the universe and this is another example. The modification to get more nutrients out of plants (good) turned on something bad. See also: sickle cell anemia - those with that trait have extra protection against malaria.

Why do I think this is so important? The crazy thing about epigenetics is that it's all heritable.  The way your body reads its DNA and creates physical structures can be related to the diet of your grandparents. Think about that. What your grandparents ate can affect you today. And what you do today can affect your grandchildren. That's why it's so important to take health and nutrition seriously. Your high-sugar diet can create an overactive pancreas in your grandchildren that predisposes them to type-2 diabetes. If you're finding it hard to eat and sleep right and get into the gym, think about those that come after you.
strength - add weight from last time (more info) 

squat 3x5 


work up to a heavy clean and jerk
12-9-6 push press at 50%

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