Ponce de León came to Florida in 1513 searching for the fountain of youth. He didn't find it but that does not stop tourists in St. Augustine from searching for the elusive elixir of youth.
It's not a fountain in northern Florida but a well-stocked refrigerator and pantry that will bestow health and vitality.
A gene is the basic physical and functional unit of heredity. Genes are made up of DNA. You cannot change your gene's DNA code but certain behaviors and the environment can cause changes in how your genes work.
Epigenetics is the study of how this occurs.
Back to the fountain of youth. Scientists from a number of leading universities studied epigenetic changes in 1,995 people enrolled in the Framingham Heart Study, which began in 1948 to examine factors that lead to cardiovascular disease. (Researchers have since studied more than 14,000 people over three generations in the Framingham study.)
In the epigenetic study, the average age of the sample was 67 and 55% were women.
Blood was analyzed for three epigenetic markers that can be used as proxies to reflect the biological aging process. What people ate was quantified and a DASH score was developed. A higher intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, whole grains, and low-fat dairy and a lower intake of red and processed meat, sugar-sweetened beverages and sodium raised a DASH score.
The study showed a strong association between higher DASH score and decelerated epigenetic aging markers (slower aging). The authors suggest this may be related to reduction in oxidative and inflammatory stress.
Interestingly, this positive epigenetic effect was more pronounced in former smokers. The higher DASH score was also associated with a lower BMI, lower alcohol consumption, higher good blood cholesterol levels and less use of medication for hypertension.
No need to look for magic water in northern Florida. Double your vegetables at dinner, snack on fruit and nuts, make most grains whole and find ways to reduce sugar.
What you eat influences the actions of your genes. Feed them well.
Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian nutritionist in private practice in Miami.