Sunday, February 26, 2017
Why Food is Actually INFORMATION
Green Med Info - Food, while being the condition for the possibility of all life itself, is rarely appreciated for its true power. Far beyond its conventionally defined role as a source of energy and building blocks for the body-machine, new discoveries on the frontiers of science reveal that food is also a powerful source of information.
We are all hardwired to be deeply concerned with food when hungry, an interest which rapidly extinguishes the moment we are satiated. But as an object of everyday interest and scientific inquiry, food often makes for a bland topic. This is all the more apparent when juxtaposed against its traditional status in ancient cultures as sacred; or in contemporary religious traditions like Catholicism where a cracker still represents the body of Christ (Eucharist). But as my previous investigations into the dark side of wheat have revealed, food is one of the most fascinating and existentially important topics there is. And in many ways, until we understand the true nature of food, and how it is still the largely invisible ground for our very consciousness, we will not be able to understand our own nature and destiny.
How We Got Here
Modern Western concepts of food are a byproduct of a centuries old process of intense secularization. Food is now largely conceived in terms of its economic value as a commodity and its nutritional value as a source of physical sustenance. In the latter regard, its value is quantified through the presence and molecular weight of macro- and micronutrients or its "fat-inducing" calories. In the process of reducing food's value to these strictly quantitative dimensions, it has lost its soul. Food is no longer believed to possess a vital life force, much less a sacred one. But the etymology of sacred, namely, to make holy, and the etymology of holy, which connects to heal, whole, health, implies correctly that food has the ability to "make us whole."
Food As Nourishment On All Levels
If talk of food as "sacred" and "whole-making" sounds pseudo-scientific, consider how Nature designed our very first experience of nourishment (if we were fortunate enough to not have been given a bottle full of formula): breastmilk taken from the mother's breast was simultaneously a nutritional, physical, thermic, emotional, genetic, and spiritual form of nourishment. Food, therefore, can and should never truly be reduced to an object of biochemistry.
And so, as we dig deeper, we discover that the topic of food is a highly cerebral one. And this begins with any simple act of eating, albeit in a slightly different way. It's called the cephalic phase of nutrition, "in your head," which reflects how you are actually experiencing the food: is it delicious? Are you feeling pleasure? These "subjective" aspects profoundly affect the physiology of digestion and assimilation. My colleague Marc David has dedicated many years to waking people up to this amazing process. Food, therefore, begins in a context that transcends merely physiochemical conditions and concerns. The nocebo and placebo effects, which are powerful forces in the setting of clinical medicine, also apply to the field and experience of nutrition. And therefore, it is hard to ignore how this important layer of nutrition: the first-hand experience, and even our intention and level of gratitude, has been lost in the fixation on the chemistry and reductionism of food science.
But the inquiring mind wants more specific scientific answers to the question: how does food makes us whole? How does its arrangement of atoms possess such extraordinary power to sustain our species? Why can't we answer the most rudimentary questions that go back to ancient times, such as the still timeless mystery and miracle of how the bread is transmuted into blood and flesh?
Perhaps, it is the information (and intelligence) within food that will help explain some of this mystery. After all, information literally means "to put form into." This understanding will add much needed depth and nuance to conventional nutritional concepts where food is still conceived as a bunch of essentially dead and uninteresting atoms and molecules.
The Old Story of Food as a Thing
This reductionistic view of food I will call, in recognition of Charles Eisenstein's thinking, "the old story of food," and this narrative focuses on two primary dimensions.
Food As Matter
The other primary dimension in this old view is...
Food as Energy
Again, in this view, food while providing information (caloric content), is not an informational substance in the biological sense (e.g. DNA), but simply a source of energy which can fuel the body-machine.
The New Story: Food as Information
The new view of food as replete with biologically important information, is based on a number of relatively new discoveries in various fields of scientific research.
For instance, the discovery that food contains methyl groups (a carbon atom attached to three hydrogen atoms (CH3)) capable of methylating (silencing) genes, brought into focus the capability of food to profoundly affect disease risk as well phenotypal expression. If folate, B12, or Betaine -- 3 common food components -- can literally "shut off" gene expression with high specificity, food becomes a powerful informational vector. One which may actually supervene over the DNA within our body by determining which sequences find expression.
Food's role as a source of methyl group donors capable of epigenetic modulation of DNA expression is a powerful demonstration of its informational properties, but this is not the whole story...
Food also contains classical genetic information vectors, such as non-coding RNAs, which like methyl donors, have the ability to profoundly alter the expression of our DNA. In fact, there are estimated to be ~100,000 different sites in the human genome capable of producing non-coding RNAs, far eclipsing our 20-25,000 protein-coding genes. These RNAs, together, orchestrate the expression of most of the genes in the body. They are, therefore, supervening forces largely responsible for maintaining our genetic and epigenetic integrity.
Exogenous plant MIR168a specifically targets mammalian LDLRAP1: evidence of cross-kingdom regulation by microRNA, found that exosomal miRNA's from rice altered LDL receptors in the livers of Chinese subjects, effectively proving cross-kingdom regulation by microRNA exists, and is occurring on an ongoing basis through the food we eat. Another study, this time in animals, found that exosomes in commonly consumed foods, e.g. grapefruit, orange, affect important physiological pathways in the animal's bodies. Essentially, these food components 'talk' to animal cells by regulating gene expression and conferring significant therapeutic effects. The ability of exosomes to mediate the transfer miRNAs across kingdoms redefines our notion of the human species as genetically hermetically sealed off from others within the animal, plant, and fungi kingdoms. In this sense, food borne exosomes are the mechanism through which all living things in the biosphere are intimately interconnected, perhaps even adding a new explanatory layer to how the Gaia hypothesis could be true.
Another important though overlooked mechanism through which food components may carry and transfer energy and information is through so-called prionic conformational states (protein folding patterns). Prions have been primarily looked upon as pathological in configuration and effect. A classical example is the beta sheet formation of brain proteins in Alzheimer's. These secondary protein conformations act as a template through which certain deleterious folding states are transferred laterally between proteins. But prions are not always pathological. For instance, naturally forming prions are essential for the health of the myelin sheath in the brain, and likely perform many other important though still largely unknown functions. So, when we look at the phenomena neutrally, the fact that the conformational state (folding state) of a protein can hold and transfer laterally information essential to the structure and function of neighboring proteins without needing nucleic acids indicates just how important the morphology of food may be. It is possible, therefore, that food, depending on how it is grown and prepared, will have vastly different protein folding patterns which will carry radically different types of biologically vital information. This is another example where one can not exhaustively assess the value of food strictly through quantitative methods, e.g. measuring how much protein there is by weight, but need also to account for qualitative dimensions, e.g. the vast amounts of information contained within secondary, tertially and quaternary conformational states of these protens.
The "Microbiome of Food" Is Full of Information
Acknowledging the role the microbiome plays in the food we eat further deepens the our understanding of food as information. In fact, the microbiome could be considered food's most profound informational contribution. When we consider the genetic contribution of all the bacteria, fungi, and viruses, naturally found in food (especially raw and cultured varieties), this represents a vast store of biologically meaningful information. Some of this microbial information can even "jump" laterally from these micro-organisms into our body's microbiome, conferring to us significant extra-chromosomal "powers," essentially extending our genetic capabilities by proxy. For instance, a recent study identified a marine bacteria enzyme in the guts of Japanese, presumably a byproduct of having consumed seaweed naturally colonized by it. This marine bacteria enzyme is capable of digesting sulfated polysaccharides -- a type of carbohydrate humans are not equippped to digest because it is marine specific. This indicates that the genes provided by these microbes represent a genetic library of sorts, whose contributions may vastly extend the genetic capabilities of our species. Indeed, the human genome only contains genetic templates for 17 enzymes, whereas the gut bacteria contains genetic information capable of producing hundreds of different enzymes. And these are capable of degrading thousands of different carbohydrates! There are actually many other capabilities provided by these "germs," including the ability to produce vitamins (including vitamin C!) and other essential biocompounds. The microbiome of our food could therefore be considered an information storehouse. To learn more about how this ancient information (even millions of years old) is preserved in raw foods like honey, read my article: Could Eating Honey Be A Form of Microbial Time Travel?
Water As An Information Carrier In Food
Another extremely important element is the role of water in food. Not only has water been found to carry energy and information, but water has also been identified an instrument of biosemiosis. The water component of food, therefore, could contribute biologically important information -- even genetic and epigenetically meaningfully information -- without needing nucleic acids to do so.
To learn more about how water has "memory," and can store and transmit genetic information, read about the DNA teleportation experiment performed by Nobel laurette Luic Montagnier.
As discussed above, conventional food science starts on a completely dehydrated basis, focusing almost exclusively on the 'dry' measurable material aspects of the food, or the amount of energy it contains (which ironically requires burning off the water to obtain measurements). All readily edible food is hydrated. Were it not, it would be "dehydrated food," which is generally not considered ready to eat. As such, we can not talk about biomolecules without considering their hydration shells as integrally and inseparably bound to the "dry" components, e.g. amino acids, fatty acids, sugars. Water has the capacity to carry information and to determine the structuration and therefore functions of the biochemicals and biopolymers it surrounds. Water, which is capable of taking in free energy from the environment (Pollack's infrared heat), has its own information and energy. This means, therefore, that food qua water content, has the potential to carry relatively vast amounts of information beyond what is found in its material composition itself.
As science progresses, both the quantitative and qualitative elements of water will increasingly be revealed to be vitally important in understanding food as information.
Powerful Implications for the Future of Food and Medicine
When food is looked upon as a vital source of biologically important information which can inform the expression of our genome, it is much easier to understand how our ancestors considered its creation, production, harvesting, cooking, and consumption sacred.
We can also understand how the seeming poetical relationships between foods and organs they nourish may have emerged, via informational bridges described above (RNAs, Prions, water), making possible their "soul connection."
Today, with a wide range of industrial farming technologies changing the quality (and informational component) of our food, it is no longer sufficient to look at only the material aspects of these changes. Irradiation, genetic modification, pesticides, soil quality, processing and a wide range of other factors (intention), may greatly alter the informational state and quality of a good without being reflected in overt changes in grosser qualities like caloric and materially defined dimensions.
No longer can we look at the difference, say, between infant formula and breast milk strictly through the material/energetic lens of conventional nutritional analysis. On an informational level, they are qualitatively light years apart, even if they have so many similarities in crude nutritional metrics, e.g. similar carbohydrate and caloric content.
This will be true for all areas of food production, and nutrition, where formerly an essentially dead ontology governed the way we understand and interacted with the things we eat. Once we understand the true implications of food as information, our entire worldview will change.
Sayer Ji is founder of Greenmedinfo.com, a reviewer at the International Journal of Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine, Co-founder and CEO of Systome Biomed, Vice Chairman of the Board of the National Health Federation, Steering Committee Member of the Global Non-GMO Foundation.