Nutrition, Not Genetics, May Be Key Factor In Disease

By Sara Hammond
Published: Tuesday, February 21, 2017 - 10:52am
Updated: Tuesday, February 21, 2017 - 10:55am
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The Mediterranean diet emphasizes fish, olive oil and fresh fruits and vegetables.

When mom said, “Eat lots of fruits and vegetables,” she may not have known that what fuels our bodies may also help fight disease. That connection will be the subject of a conference this week at the University of Arizona, attracting researchers and clinicians from across the country.

Nutritional science and genetics experts think what we fuel our bodies with may play an important role in our overall health.

“Most of the chronic diseases afflicting people today are not linked to family history,” said Donato Romagnolo, a professor of nutritional and cancer biology at UA.

He said 5 to 10 percent of female breast cancer is genetically attributed, while 30 to 40 percent of cases are linked to diet.

The American Cancer Society says 80 percent of women who develop breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease. In addition to diet, contributing risk factors are obesity, lack of physical activity and alcohol consumption.

For Italian native Romagnolo, the Mediterranean diet — emphasizing fish, olive oil and fresh fruits and vegetables — is a good place to start.

“I’m convinced better nutrition is the future of disease prevention,” he said.

UA geneticist Kenneth Ramos, the interim dean of the UA's college of medicine in Phoenix, agreed.

"We essentially become an extension of what we eat. Foods impact the way the genome expresses itself," Ramos said.

The genome is a complete set of genetic information and instructions. Every cell in the human body has its own set of instructions, and all of those sets form our genome.

“Of all of the environmental factors we face, nutrition is perhaps the most important determinant of influencing our genome,” Ramos said.

The public can get a taste of the conference discussion at the conference's food, wine and healthy living event Feb. 22 at 5:30 p.m. Ski Chilton, author of "Gene Smart Diet," will speak.

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