I am really excited about epigenetics. I don’t think there is another scientific field that would make me feel so empowered. I love it. In the past they used to tell us that our fate is sealed, set in stone. Our chances of going down with cancer, our probability of developing Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s – all was believed to be chiseled into our DNA. The fate you can’t escape.
But latest scientific knowledge states that it’s not that much chiseled into stone but rather molded into a soft muddy matter that can change shape throughout your life.
Your genes can be turned off and on based on very many variables including what you eat, your stress levels, lack of sleep, exposure to pollution and toxins and levels of physical activity.
By up to 80 per cent you can influence whether those dreaded cancer or Parkinson’s disease genes would be expressed or not. I love it. I love the fact that it’s in my hands. In my very own hands. It’s me who can make those choices. It’s me who can influence my DNA. I don’t need to take any pills. I don’t need doctors to tell me. I just have to take the best care of myself and my DNA will heal.
What is epigenetics
We have our DNA, but there is more to it. Our DNA is wrapped around proteins called histones and these histones can essentially silence or activate genes. These histones (plus something called tags) form the epigenome, the flexible layer above the DNA.
Everything that happens in your life triggers some chemical reactions in your body that affect the epigenome. It starts already before conception, continues in the womb and then throughout the life.
The mother’s diet and her stress levels, how the newborn is treated, what the child eats, whether it exercises or not, whether it’s subject to emotional stresses and trauma etc. Everything affects the epigenome.
Studies of identical twins have shown that while at the age of three the twins’ epigenomes look pretty much the same, the situation is much different fifty years later.
Recent studies: Obesity and trauma of ancestors
Earlier this month, a study has been published in Nature (that super prestigious scientific journal that every scientists wants to publish his or her work in), documenting for the first time how obesity affects the expression of certain genes.
The extra kilos you carry are not only unsightly but also alter your epigenome, affecting genes for inflammation and lipid transport.
The study included more than 10,000 Londoners of Indian origin and found clear correlations between the expression of these genes and the body mass index of the participants.
Even more intriguing is the fact that epigenetic changes can be passed on to future generations. In other words, if you take poor care of yourself, your kids are going to pay, even their kids are going to pay.
In September this year (2016) an American study found that genes responsible for response to stress in children of Holocaust survivors express differently compared to children of a control population. The finding suggests that trauma suffered by the parents directly influences the epigenome of the offspring. Something like this had previously been observed in animals but this was the first confirmed case in humans.
What can you do to bring your epigenome up to scratch
- nutrition: avoiding junk, processed foods and sugar are just the basics
- stress levels: you need some stress to grow, stress challenges you, forces you to look for new solutions, but you also need to make sure your body recovers. Chronic stress is a killer. Meditation is a great tool to manage stress
- reduce exposure to chemicals and environmental toxins
More details could be found in this report by EpigeneticLabs.