Read time: 8 min.
Issue 05 * 30 December 2023

Unlocking the Power of Nutrition: How Epigenetics Shapes Our Health

As a nutritionist, I've always been fascinated by the profound impact of food on our well-being. But there's more to this story than just the nutrients on our plate. Enter epigenetics, a field that's revealing how our lifestyle choices, including what we eat, can be a potent regulator of our genetic expression.

Claudia Le Feuvre

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01 What is epigenetics?

In simple terms, it's the control panel that determines which genes are switched on or off in our bodies. Our genes play a role in our health, but they don't determine our destiny. Think of it this way: genes load the gun, but it's our environment that pulls the trigger. This concept becomes clear when we study identical twins. Even though they share the same genes, their health outcomes can be different due to environmental factors. While there are many environmental factors such as stress, sun damage, toxin exposure, and smoking, there is no doubt that nutrition and our food choices play a starring role in this genetic orchestra.

Imagine good nutrition as our 'Royal Jelly,' that magical substance that transforms ordinary bees into queen bees. In our case, it can turn us into "queens" and "kings" of our health, rather than "worker bees." Food is more than sustenance; it's medicine. And we have the power to use it to either upgrade or downgrade our DNA software.

In this article, we'll explore the key nutrients that influence the expression of our genes, potentially paving the way for a healthier, more vibrant future.

02 The Key Players: Folate and Vitamin B12

In the realm of gene expression, folate takes the lead as the most important nutrient. This B-vitamin, also known as vitamin B9, operates as the conductor of the genetic orchestra. Its primary role involves DNA methylation, a process that marks genes as "on" or "off".

However, folate doesn't work alone; it relies on vitamin B12 as its partner in this genetic regulation. Vitamin B12 is essential for controlling homocysteine levels, a compound that can disrupt DNA methylation. Together, folate and vitamin B12 create the perfect harmony for gene expression.

03 Folate-Rich Foods:

Leafy greens (spinach, kale)

Legumes (lentils, chickpeas)


Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits)

Fortified grains (cereals, grains)

04 Vitamin B12 Sources:

Animal products (meat, fish, dairy, eggs)

Fortified foods (plant-based milk, nutritional yeast)

Incorporating these foods into your diet ensures a robust supply of folate and vitamin B12. If you are vegan. it can be more challenging to incorporate B12 into your diet. The good news is that B12, folate and homocysteine levels can all be measured in a blood test.

05 Other nutrients:

Curcumin: The Anti-Inflammatory Maestro

Curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, is celebrated for its potent anti-inflammatory properties. It exerts its influence on gene expression by modulating various signalling pathways. Studies suggest that curcumin can downregulate genes associated with inflammation, potentially mitigating the risk of chronic diseases.

Rosmarinic Acid: The Antioxidant Guardian

Found in herbs like rosemary, mint, thyme, oregano and basil, rosmarinic acid acts as a powerful antioxidant. It may influence gene expression by protecting our cells from oxidative stress and inflammation. This compound has been linked to the downregulation of genes related to inflammation, highlighting its potential in promoting overall health.

Iron: The Oxygen Carrier

Iron plays a vital role in transporting oxygen throughout the body. In the context of gene expression, it is essential for the proper function of heme-containing enzymes. These enzymes are involved in various cellular processes, including DNA repair and replication. Ensuring an adequate intake of iron is crucial for maintaining optimal gene function.

Betaine: The Methylation Master

Betaine, a compound found in foods like beets, egg yolk, liver, sunflower seeds and spinach, contributes to DNA methylation, a process crucial for gene regulation. It provides methyl groups necessary for DNA modification. This can influence the expression of genes associated with metabolism and cellular function, potentially impacting our health.

Vitamin C: The Immune Supporter

Known for its immune-supporting properties, vitamin C also has a role to play in gene expression. It supports the function of enzymes involved in collagen synthesis and DNA repair. Additionally, vitamin C's antioxidant activity can help protect cells from oxidative stress, potentially influencing gene expression associated with ageing and disease prevention. Make sure to include plenty of vitamin C-rich foods like citrus fruit, kiwi, berries, broccoli, and kale.

Incorporating all of these nutrients into your diet can offer a multi-faceted approach to gene expression. Food is not just fuel; it's a powerful tool that can either upgrade or downgrade our DNA software. By harnessing the benefits of curcumin, rosmarinic acid, iron, betaine, choline, and vitamin C, we can further enhance our genetic well-being. In the world of epigenetics, our choices at the dinner table hold the potential to shape a healthier future.