How to Keep Your DNA From Killing You (And Your Children)


We all carry traitorous genetic material, bits of DNA that hardwire us for an early death from a heart attack or cancer. Until recently, we’ve just had to cross our fingers. And try to shrug it off with the other complaints about our bodies—too short, too fat, a weird fuzzy bear-patch of hair on our lower back.

Then epigenetics changed everything.

The study of how external modifications to DNA can switch genes “on” or “off,” it upends almost everything we thought about what’s inevitably going to happen to our bodies. Despite a genetic predisposition for cancer or diabetes, there are things that we can do that give us a fighting chance to never be diagnosed with either.

The latest research goes way beyond generic advice about healthy living. Targeted at specific conditions and outcomes like Alzheimer’s, these modifications in behavior and nutrition result in changes on an enduring level. How enduring? New studies suggest they get passed on to our future generations.

Which means the moves below aren’t only for your benefit, but for your kids and grandkids, too.

Alzheimer’s: Eat a Mediterranean-Style Diet. Inflammation play a major role in the onset and development of Alzheimer’s. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet, like the Greeks and Italians do, can help reduce your risk. Focus on fruits (especially berries), green leafy vegetables (broccoli, spinach, kale), oily fish (salmon, trout, mackerel), olive oil and some red wine.

Cancer: Drink Green Tea. Recent studies have shown that green tea can reverse cancer-causing epigenetic changes in cells. That’s right, not just prevent, reverse. Recommended amount is 2 to 3 cups daily.

Increasing Lifespan: Eat Less. Eating fewer calories in general has been proven to extend your life. But it goes further than that. It may also extend your children and grandchildren’s lives (provided they aren’t born yet). Lessened food intake can cause changes in the regulatory molecules that affect genetic expression, so the benefits may get passed on to future generations. If you want junior to make it to 100, reduce your portion size.

Diabetes: You Have Five Days to Get off the Couch. Physical inactivity or eating a high-fat and high-calorie diet for only five days leads to impairments in insulin sensitivity (the primary problem in Type 2 Diabetes). Everyone’s allowed a lazy weekend now and then, but by the time Tuesday rolls around, make sure to get active again.