EPIGENETICS - THE EPIGENETICS REVOLUTION
Epigenetics is the science of how your environment, lifestyle, psychology and past influence your genes and health.
Since the discovery of DNA, there’s been a growing field of science analyzing how DNA affects us and how genetic hereditary determines our health. One of the most recent developments that have taken the world by storm is the epigenetics revolution that is now observing that it’s not only our DNA that determines our health, but also our lifestyle choices.
So what is epigenetics and what is the epigenetics revolution all about?
Epigenetics is defined as ‘the study of changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself'.
In the early days, scientists used to think that every human was born with a fixed genetic blueprint that determined our health, traits, and behaviours. Now, and with the development of the science of epigenetics, it has been observed that what we first thought was a fixed blueprint, is more of a switchboard that’s constantly changing.
The evolving epigenetics revolution is showing us how illness and disease are influenced not only by our DNA but by forces in our environment, our life experience and even our emotional and psychological state.
Epigenetics is showing scientists that these previous forces interact with our genetic switchboard and trigger our genes to turn on and off. With a firm understanding of how epigenetics works, and by the end of reading this article, you will understand clearly how you can influence the expression of your genes to help you live a healthier, happier life.
INTRODUCTION TO EPIGENETICS
Epigenetics is at the root of how your body expresses good health!
The science of epigenetics observes how chemical tags on DNA have the ability to turn genes off or on. These chemical tags can be influenced by a person's environment and lifestyle which influences how that person's genes are expressed.
Epigenetics also studies the changes in gene expression that we can inherit from our parents, that do not involve changes to the underlying DNA sequence. This is one of the most interesting discoveries in epigenetics.
It’s been discovered that some epigenetic chemical tags may be passed down the generations to our children.
So the environment and lifestyle of your parents, which determines their gene expression, maybe passed onto you and influence your health.
Some epigenetic changes can be negative and can result in diseases such as cancer. However other changes can have a positive effect on our health by turning on the genes that protect us from cancer while turning off the genes that contribute to causing it.
It has also been shown however that the epigenetic marks we inherit from our parents can be modified by our lifestyle choices and environment. So a person is not a slave to their genetic inheritance but is instead a co-creator of their genetic health. Throughout a person's lifetime, it is possible to reverse the unhealthy genetics we inherited from our parents.
HOW LIFESTYLE CREATES EPIGENETIC CHANGES
Your lifestyle, from your days as a child up to and including your adult self, affects the expression of your genes!
How the environment influences a person's gene expression is a significant contributing factor to understanding health. Scientists are researching how the quality of the air we breathe may alter the expression of our epigenetic tags, which can have a direct impact on our health and increase neurodegenerative diseases.
Exercise is one thing we all need and while we know exercise is good for you, with epigenetics we now have a clearer picture as to why. It’s been shown that regular exercise has a direct effect on the expression of our genes by triggering certain genes to turn on and off. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23825961
Diet is another area that is of particular interest to scientists. We know that having a healthy, well-balanced diet that’s free of toxins is important for health. Scientists have discovered that the diet of our parents has a direct effect on our gene expression too.
In a study done on rats, researchers were able to show that the diet of parents had a direct effect upon the mental health of its offspring.
“We were able to show that even a transient change in the paternal diet can cause impaired learning skills in offspring. This affected, in particular, the ability to properly learn a spatial navigation task,” said Dr. Dan Ehninger. - https://www.whatisepigenetics.com/childs-mental-fitness-epigenetically-influenced-dads-diet/
It was also shown in this previous study that parental diet has a direct effect upon the normal development of the brain in offspring and although these studies were done in animals, the effects are similar in humans.
Another area that is of interest is that B vitamins may protect us from the harmful effects of poor air quality by helping to combat the harmful effects of air pollution. It has been shown that the quality of the air we breathe affects the expression of our genes, which impacts our health. https://www.whatisepigenetics.com/b-vitamins-protect-harmful-epigenetic-effects-air-pollution/
Studies done with children whose ancestors experienced and survived through famine in the Netherlands and Sweden show that these epigenetic marks are passed down to children for at least three generations. This has been linked to many health concerns, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24552514 & http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18955703
Mental and emotional health has also been seen to be a significant influence on health. With childhood abuse, for example, it has been shown that experiencing such trauma early in a child's life affects DNA methylation patterns. Methylation is a cycle that helps us to operate physically and mentally and is responsible for determining functions such as our immune system, nervous system, and cardiovascular health.
It has been shown that childhood trauma influences the methylation cycle which impacts gene expression, often resulting in poor mental and physical health throughout that child's adult life. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24618023
So the lifestyle choices you make for yourself today, and the environmental challenges you may face, not only affect you, both have a long-lasting effect that continues in the genes of generations to come.
HOW POSITIVE THINKING AFFECTS EPIGENETICS
It's been shown in studies that how you think affects gene expression!
Although the exact mechanism is not yet known, scientists claim that it may be possible for positive thinking to positively influence the expression of our genes. It is believed that positive thinking may cause some sort of physiological changes that can reduce stress, anxiety or blood pressure, which have an impact upon gene expression.
While it’s still early days and experts are not recommending refusing medical treatment in favour of positive thinking, there is evidence to show that our psychology does influence gene expression.
Researchers in one study measured telomere length in patients recovering from breast cancer who participated in mindfulness-based cancer recovery, supportive-expressive group therapy, and in a control group who received minimal treatment.
Telomeres are the protective caps on the end of chromosomes. Shorter telomeres have been linked to increasing tumor growth and causing disruptive changes in gene expression.
Researchers found that those who participated in the mindfulness-based therapy maintained their telomere length. So too did those in the supportive-expressive group therapy. However, telomere length shortened in those in the control group. This suggests that mindfulness thinking and other mindfulness therapies can reduce tumor growth via maintaining telomere length. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/cncr.29063
YOU HAVE THE POWER TO CHANGE
Let the epigenetic revolution empower You!
The epigenetics revolution is continuing to share many wonderful gifts of knowledge and is providing us with many interesting possibilities for the future. While schools of science, medicine, and alternative therapies have long known how to improve health, the epigenetics revolution is showing us the gene expression mechanisms which create that good health.
Epigenetics has shown us that health and well-being are influenced by many factors in our external environment, but also in our internal environment.
Your parents' lifestyle choices, your childhood experiences, psychological health, emotional balance, the amount of exercise you get, your diet, air quality, mindfulness and environmental stimuli all influence the expression of your genes and your health.
Perhaps the biggest message we are being given by the science of epigenetics is that no matter what gene expressions we may have inherited from our parents, we each can change those expressions to something healthier by making key lifestyle changes.
What the epigenetic revolution is showing us, is that while we all may be influenced by nature and nurture, we hold the power to change both.