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Nature Vs. Nurture And The Role Of Nutrition
The top two causes of death in the U.S. are both preventable and treatable through dietary measures.Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in the U.S., followed by cancer. The third? Medical error.  I’m not referring to the misuse and abuse of prescription medications or surgical mishaps; I’m referring to the deliberate and responsible use of prescription medications, as directed by a doctor or pharmacist. Recognizing that all food either feeds disease or fights it, while synthetic chemical substances (prescription medications) often do more harm than good when addressing disease, might it be sounder to employ dietary adjustments as your first line of defense when facing imbalances?
Spoiler Alert: The answer is yes.
Nutrition science upholds that our food choices and dietary patterns are directly linked to our physical, physiological, and even psychological wellbeing.  While most people understand that poor lifestyle habits can increase their risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and cholesterol, fewer are aware that common conditions, like arthritis, acne, many cancers, even anxiety and depression, are associated with dietary imbalances, such as nutrient deficiencies and overloads, as well as the proliferation of toxic and addictive food additives. 
Many of the health problems we face in Western society are rooted in the influx of “Franken-foods.” Products that are heavily processed and packaged (canned, bottled, boxed, or bagged), which tend to be loaded with saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, and sugar, are also often enhanced with artificial colors, sweeteners, flavors, chemical preservatives and conditioners. These additives are known risk factors for such conditions as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, acne, IBS, GI/digestive disturbances, psoriasis, eczema, dermatitis, candida overgrowth, arthritis, fatigue, asthma, seasonal or food allergies, fibromyalgia, osteoporosis, liver and kidney diseases, behavioral and mood disorders, pancreatitis, anxiety and depression, gall bladder conditions, neurological and cognitive disorders, migraines, hypo/er-thyroidism, adrenal fatigue, Crohn’s Disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Celiac Disease, and many more.
Every single one of these conditions is preventable, treatable, and often reversible… WITH FOOD.
Here’s the caveat: there is a genetic component to every disease. We are all coded with DNA and RNA blueprints at the moment of conception, which are dynamic and evolving. Our DNA is made up of tens of thousands of genes, each coding for different traits, and those genes can run the gamut of ultra-thin to morbidly obese, allergy-free to epi-pen-armed, or clear-skinned to acne-cursed! But let’s look closely, for example, at what would happen if an “addict” never tried an addictive substance or behavior?
If your father is an alcoholic and your mother is a smoker, chances are you’re also an “addict,” genetically speaking. Specifically, you have “addiction genes,” and they’re just waiting to be tripped. How does a potential addict become a practicing addict? By partaking in an addiction. But if said potential addict never drinks alcohol, never smokes a cigarette, never experiments with illegal drugs, and refrains from deviant sexual conduct, s/he can’t possibly become addicted to these behaviors. This relationship between biochemistry and behavior is called epigenetics, a relatively new field of study that has profound implications for nutrition and health.
Epigenetics theory posits that the genetic codes in our DNA must be triggered to be expressed, but otherwise remain suppressed. These triggers are dietary habits and lifestyle factors, such as exercise, stress, and sleep. No other factors contribute to the expression and suppression of genes,  and changes in these factors can quite literally turn our genes “on” and “off” like a light switch.
Feeling powerful? Good! The key, of course, is to determine which genes are encoded, which are undesirable, which dietary and lifestyle factors “trigger” them, and then avoid those. That sounds easy enough, right?
What if a variety of diseases and disorders are encoded? For instance, what if a patient is obese, which leads to type 2 diabetes, and eventually heart disease? Or what if a patient suffers from both depression and anxiety?
GOOD NEWS! The same diet works for every disease!
But there’s another caveat: this is only true at the start. You see, all humans are born needing the same basic provisions: food, shelter, water, air, and space (just like all living things). And not surprisingly, like other species, all humans have the same nutritional requirements, at the start of life. Unfortunately, as we live, and exercise our free will to form food and lifestyle patterns, based primarily on preference, rather than requirement, we tend to throw the balance off and alter our individual DNA and, thus, our needs. If addressed, ideally, we all land back on the same plane once again, eating our shared and natural human diet.
What is this diet? It’s a whole-food, plant-based diet. Ounce for ounce, plants pack more nutrients and fewer calories than meat, meaning you can eat much more, and feel less heavy or lethargic. And while animal proteins are loaded with saturated fat and cholesterol, plants contain both the macro- and micronutrients necessary for metabolic function, and therefore every function, with minimal fat and zero cholesterol.
Nutrients are found in vivid and varied colors, for instance: carotenoids are present in orange and yellow foods, like carrots, pumpkin, and sweet potato; antioxidants are abundant in dark berries, such as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries; vitamins A, C, E, and K, comingle with potassium, fiber, iron, calcium, and protein in nearly all dark leafy greens; nuts, seeds, grains, and pulses contain fiber, iron, protein, and monounsaturated fats, which help lower LDL cholesterol, and raise HDL cholesterol, as well as regulate blood sugar.
Animal products offer protein and iron. Food products like red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy have negative health implications far beyond fat and cholesterol, however.
Consuming animal protein has an acidifying effect on the blood, which weakens the endothelial walls of the blood vessels, risking collapse and blockages. This also allows free radicals to enter the bloodstream, resulting in oxidation. Free radicals form when we are exposed to environmental toxins in our food, air, or water, in our work environments, and in our homes. Pollutants can include heavy metals, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, cigarette smoke, industrial waste and chemicals, household cleaners, and food additives.
In addition to weakening the arteries, free radicals cause damage to fat cells and immune cells, storing dangerous hormone loads, and compromising the body’s defense systems. Free radical damage, or oxidation, has thus been linked to most (chronic) diseases, such as heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes, as well as every degenerative disease including cancer, cataracts, and the aging process itself. 
With our limited ability to control our exposure to environmental toxins, it is imperative that we greatly reduce their adverse effects, by incorporating antioxidants, the phytochemicals in plants, into our diets.
If we can’t control our environments, can’t we at least take control of our food?
1. The British Medical Journal, Medical error – the third leading cause of death in the US, Martin A. Makary, professor; Michael Daniel, fellow.
2. WHO Technical Report Series No. 916. Diet, nutrition, and the prevention of chronic diseases. 2002.
3. Chemical risks and the JECFA. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 1958-2016.
4. Journal of Applied Physiology. 109:243-251. 2010. Oscar Aguilera, Augustine F. Fernandez, Alberto Munoz, and Mario F. Fraga.
5. International Journal of Biomedical Science, Free Radicals, Antioxidants, in Disease and Health, Lien Ai Pham, Hua He, and Chuong Pham-Huy.
Julie Loveless is a Certified Nutrition Therapist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.