Eating specific food could change your genes, say researchers after success in a rodent study.
Researchers Moshe Szyf, Michael Meaney and colleagues at McGill University in Montreal have found that nutrients and supplements changed genetics by switching on or off certain genes in rodents, reports science portal EurekAlert.
The new research was conducted in the lines of a two-year-old study, which showed that the activity of a mouse's genes could be influenced by food supplements eaten by its mother just prior to or during the early stage of pregnancy. This study was conducted by researchers led by Randy Jirtle of Duke University Medical Centre in Durham, North Carolina.
In the new study, the researchers injected L-methionine, a common amino acid and food supplement, into the brains of well-reared rats. The amino acid methylated the glucocorticoid gene, and the animal's behaviour changed.
No one is envisaging injecting supplements into people's brains, but Szyf says his study shows how important subtle nutrients and supplements can be.
"Food has a dramatic effect," he says. "But it can go both ways," he cautions.
Methionine, for instance, the supplement he used to make healthy rats stressed, is widely available in capsule form online or in health food stores and the molecules are small enough to get into the brain via the bloodstream.
Professor Ian Johnson of the Institute of Food Research is investigating whether colon cancer in humans might be triggered by diet through DNA methylation. His team is studying healthy people before this cancer starts, says another report in the online edition of BBC News.
He said: "It's quite a strong possibility that nutrients might cause DNA changes. We think diet may have a role to play as a regulator in genes.
"Ultimately one would want to chose diets that would give you the most beneficial pattern of DNA methylation in the gut. But it is too early to say that we know the dietary strategy to do that.
"Genes regulate all the processes in the body and things that change gene expression, therefore, may be linked to a number of health issues other than cancer too."
He said one nutrient that scientists believe might influence methylation is folate or folic acid.
A deficiency in folate levels has been linked to an increased risk of developing some adult cancers, including breast and colon.