When I was at the Lifestyle Matrix conference in Chicago, I was nudged to read Tom Guilliams’ book, The Original Prescription. Guilliams is the head scientist at Orthomolecular, and was a speaker at the conference. As you’d expect from his frumpy suit and shoes, he was a little nerdy, and talked us dizzy! But, he’s very sweet and creative in his gift to make sense out of all the biochemistry. We have been hearing since grade school how important diet and exercise are but that has become meaningless over time, diluted down by years of shallow talk. Finally there is clear science on why diet and exercise are important, and the data just screams in our faces!

At the conference we heard about gene tests that provide risk profiles for particular diseases. Results recommend certain diets for some people, and tell us which medications may work for some genotypes but not others. But Guilliams takes it to a level that makes it hopeful, and yet in some cases unnecessary to have this information.

He describes a four-year Diabetes Prevention Program study that included 3,200 prediabetic patients from many different clinics throughout the US. The patients were evenly divided between treatment groups using metformin (a medication used to treat type 2 diabetes), lifestyle interventions, and a placebo group.

Over four years, 35% of the placebo group developed diabetes, and compared to that group, metformin lowered the diabetes incidence by 31%. Lifestyle interventions included goals to lose 7% of their body weight with the help of frequent counseling support, and an attempt to get 150 minutes of moderate physical activity weekly. This group reduced the incidence of diabetes by 58%! To take the study further, researchers grouped the subjects according to genetic risk scores and found some amazing results. The highest risk gene group did not respond to metformin at all, but with lifestyle interventions the rate of disease was as low as in all the other genetic risk groups!

Guilliams writes in detail how DNA is formed as potential, but many influences, mostly environmental, nutritional, and lifestyle, determine how the genetic material is “expressed”. So genes+ food+ environment + lifestyle=phenotype, which is how we look and how our health is.

Our cells can receive signals from our diets and environmental exposures which can turn on or off fat genes, cancer genes, and diabetes genes. We are most familiar with this picture in pregnancy and the effects of folate on the fetus. This is a “methyl donor” along with others like methionine, SAM-e, MSM, vitamins B12, and B6 which can affect our genes throughout life temporarily or permanently.

Scientists are studying thousands of natural substances for their capacity to send signals to genes and change cells and tissues. This is the field of epigenetics.

Guilliams gave the example of an apple: its phytonutrients content has the capacity to deliver at least a few dozen signals which may all improve our health!

I don’t know how you feel now, but I’m more motivated to eat my plants and take my vitamins!