Twins Demonstrate Diet Trumps Genes

"It's more about your daily choices than it is about your genetics," says Rosane Oliveira, DVM, PhD. Now the Founding Director of Integrative Medicine at the University of California Davis, Dr. Oliveira is a long way from where she started. A native of Brazil, Dr. Oliveira completed her master's degree and her PhD working with dairy cattle. At the time, she aspired to what she thought was a noble goal: helping the dairy industry produce more milk for the world.

As a molecular geneticist, Dr. Oliveira's career led her into the field of nutritional genomics, exploring how dietary changes affect gene expression. But in her personal life, she began experiencing how dietary changes affected her own health as she transitioned from vegetarian to vegan. The professional exploration and her personal experience became a powerful catalyst of change, and Dr. Oliveira found herself at a professional crossroads. After nearly 20 years in the research lab, she chose to shift her professional focus. She has now dedicated her career to teaching people how lifestyle choices affect gene expression.

As an identical twin, Dr. Oliveira has a compelling story to tell about how her own lifestyle choices have played out against the background of her own genetics. She has been able to compare the results of her vegan dietary choices and her sister's different dietary choices on an identical genetic makeup.

Maybe the most exciting thing about Dr. Oliveira's story is what happened to her sister once her sister adopted the low-fat, whole-food, plant-based diet that Dr. Oliveira was eating. Her sister's biomarkers normalized and the twins were once again identical. 

The story of Dr. Oliveira and her twin sister goes to show that our genetics doesn't have to determine our fate. We can change our future by changing what foods we put at the end of our fork.

For additional reading:

(1) From Vegetarian Veterinarian to Plant-Based Spokesperson

(2) The Great Vegan vs. Plant-Based Debate

(3) Human Genes Can be Turned On and Off by Diet

(4) Should Your Genes Guide Your Diet?