Dr. Joy Dauncey, PhD, ScD, Discusses "Insights into Nutrition, Genes, and Brain Health:" Reports from the International Society for Neurofeedback and Research
School of Mind-Body Medicine Chair Donald Moss attended the ISNR meeting in Dallas last week, and is reporting in on relevant scientific programs at ISNR.
Dr. Joy Dauncey is a Senior Scientist in Nutritional and Biomedical Sciences, at Wolfson College, the University of Cambridge, in the United Kingdom. She lectures and serves as visiting professor in nutritional, medical, and veterinary sciences in Brazil and Italy, gives postgraduate courses in São Paulo and Milan, and is a Scientific Commission Member of Núcleo-Nutrição em Pauta, Brazil. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine. Her major areas of interest include genomic and epigenomic influences on nutritional regulation of human development, metabolism and neuroscience, and their relevance to health and disease (diabetes, cancers, cardiovascular, neurological).
In her keynote, Dr. Dauncey discussed: 1) nutrition-gene interactions, 2) energy status and brain health, and concerns for the future.
Nutrition-Gene Interactions. Dauncey cited evidence that links many health and mental health disorders with interactions between genetics and environmental factors such as nutrition. Mental health problems, including autism, Alzheimer’s disease, and schizophrenia, are related to individual variability in numerous protein-coding and non-coding regions of the genome. However, individual genotypes can be modified in their expression by epigenetic processes.
In other words, what we do in our life style and diet, and what our parents did during our gestation and early life, influences which of our genetic features will get expressed -- which of our positive and negative health potentials will actually be implemented.
Dauncey focused on the epigenetic mechanisms of DNA methylation and histone modification. Maternal prenatal nutritional deficiencies cause substantial epigenetic modification of gene expression, via these mechanisms. Prenatal under-nutrition can produce low birth weight and adult diabetes, mental illness, and heart disease. This modification of gene expression can continue, in response to environmental factors, throughout the human life cycle. The good news is that positive nutrition and other environmental variables can also reverse some of these epigenetic changes.
Energy Status, the Brain, and Well-being. Nutrition does not work in isolation. It interacts with culture, economics, and even exercise. One example is exercise. Activity mediates both food choices and metabolism of food. Diet can also interact with and add to the effects of exercise. One recent study added DHA, an omega 3 fatty acid, to diet and the effect of this supplement was greater in the exercised animals than the sedentary group. Another example is access to nature, which can also have health enhancing effects, including some with epigenetic effects.
The Future. Dr. Dauncey's vision of the future, is of a world in which human beings gain a better understanding of how nutrition, activity, and lifestyle interact with our genetics. Diseases will be treated epigenetically, as we learn better how to create the environmental conditions to "turn off" the genetic programs for tumor cells and other disease processes. More basically, lifestyle has to take a more and more central place in healthcare. Optimal nutrition and activity can optimize epigenetic effects and brain health