/ Modified feb 21, 2017 12:44 p.m.

Nutrition, Not Genetics, May be Key Factor in Disease

UA conference to study role of good nutrition in disease prevention

Olives trees hero A cluster of green olives hang on a tree.
Nick O'Gara, AZPM

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.

Mediterranean Diet A Mediterranean diet consists mostly of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, fish, olive oil and red wine.

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 Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in the Environmental and Natural Resources 2 Building. Ski Chilton, author of "Gene Smart Diet," will speak.

Arizona Science Desk
This story is from the Arizona Science Desk, a collaborative of the state's public radio stations, including NPR 89.1. Read more from the Arizona Science Desk.
By posting comments, you agree to our
AZPM encourages comments, but comments that contain profanity, unrelated information, threats, libel, defamatory statements, obscenities, pornography or that violate the law are not allowed. Comments that promote commercial products or services are not allowed. Comments in violation of this policy will be removed. Continued posting of comments that violate this policy will result in the commenter being banned from the site.

By submitting your comments, you hereby give AZPM the right to post your comments and potentially use them in any other form of media operated by this institution.
Arizona Public Media broadcast stations are licensed to the Arizona Board of Regents. Arizona Public Media and AZPM are registered trademarks of the Arizona Board of Regents.
The University of Arizona