The nature versus nurture debate is one of the most enduring amongst psychologists, scientists and anthropologists alike. It attempts to answer the question of which is more important: genetics or environmental influences? The growing field of epigenetics serves to explain that while we are somewhat pre-programmed by the DNA we receive from our parents, the different ways in which that DNA is expressed differs from person to person based on environmental factors such as nutrition, exposure to toxins and lifestyle.
As it turns out, a number of diseases have both genetic and environmental connections. Type 2 diabetes, obesity, coronary heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and cancer have all been associated with both genes and lifestyle.
For example, the risk factors associated with coronary heart disease are:
- Family History
- High Blood Pressure
- High Cholesterol/Triglycerides
- Poor Diet
- Overweight & Obesity
- Physical Inactivity
- Tobacco Use
While genetic factors and age play some role in heart disease, the remaining risk factors are associated with lifestyle choices. In fact, almost 90 percent of cardiovascular disease risk is based on lifestyle factors like poor diet, inactivity, tobacco use, stress and their associated outcomes – diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and inflammation.
The link between nutrition and disease is hard to ignore. Overconsumption of calories and underconsumption of key nutrients contributes to chronic inflammation in the body. Dietary components and diet-related genes can play a role in the onset, incidence, progression and or/severity of chronic diseases by either increasing or decreasing inflammation.
Proper nutrition is the most effective and affordable method to prevent chronic disease and positively impact health outcomes across the lifespan. Integrative approaches to the study and prevention of chronic disease will provide a better understanding for how diet affects the balance between health and disease, because neither nature nor nurture alone can explain the processes of human health or disease.