Influence Your Genes with Epigenetics
Posted by Andrea Nakayama
Unless you live in a cave, you’ve probably been seduced or even influenced by the powers of uncovering your genetic blueprint.
There’s definitely some interesting information to uncover in these tests and the data they provide, but I want to help you cut through the information to what really matters.
First, let’s acknowledge that the evidence is stacking for all gene-environment interactions.
And the good news is that we now know that our health is not fated!
Just because Mom, Dad or Aunt Sally was obese or had heart disease, and even if you carry the genetic predisposition for breast cancer or Alzheimer’s, you can still skate by unscathed by these conditions.
(True, that skating might take some know-how, skill and determination, but it’s more in your power than we previously thought.)
As a health nut, I know the topic of mastering your destiny to the best of your abilities is of interest you. And that’s why we often want to talk genes—what they are, how they manifest and what you can do about them (no matter what the blueprint says).
That’s why I’m so passionate about making sure you understand the realm of epigenetics.
Epigenetics are how you take back control.
Epi- is a prefix taken from Greek that means “upon, at, by, near, over, on top of, toward, against, among.”
Epigenetics are the factors that bathe our genes and prompt them to express negatively or positively. This contributes to all known dysfunctions. (And it’s the key to influencing your genes, so read on!)
We’ve all got genes. We know that.
But did you know that your genes don’t actually dictate your health? Your genes can be turned on and off, depending on the environment in which they live. And genetic variants don’t act in isolation. Instead they act together to inform your outcomes.
As the saying goes,“genes load the gun, but environment pulls the trigger…”
While this common metaphor makes the relationship between the genome and epigenome clear, I recognize that it’s also not one that many of us health oriented individuals feel comfortable using. That’s why I prefer the analogy of the butterfly effect.
The butterfly effect states that there is a sensitive interdependence on conditions in which a small change in one system can result in large differences in other systems. We can think of the epigenome (or the environment) as the system that results in changes in the genome.
In other words… all things matter…
Epigenetics are that environment. They’re factors like diet, sleep, mindset, community and more.
While your genetics are fixed, these epigenetic factors are fully under your control. And they’re how you can influence the genetic and cellular expressions that manifest as signs, symptoms and disease states. You shift the environment and your genes shift their expression. In this way, daily habit changes can lead to significant positive health outcomes.
Let’s take a quick lesson from twins to drive the concept of epigenetics home…
Identical twins are said to be genetic carbon copies of one another. And yet, over time, these identical twins shift and change so that their physical expression often becomes distinct. In other words, we can more easily tell one from the other.
While it’s the genes that provide the instructions for the development of the body, it’s the epigenome that interacts with the DNA to provide what might be considered a second set of instructions.
This second set of instructions works to turn on or turn off particular genes by tagging them, thereby influencing the expression, but not the genetic code itself.
Twins start out with not just the same genes, but the same imprinted epigenome (the tags that come with us at birth, that are handed down from our parents). Yet from the moment and experience of birth, and onward as aging occurs, the environment of the twins will begin to differ—different relationships, different food choices, different sleep patterns, different exposures to viruses, etc. These differences will influence their epigenome—or environment—and therefore their genetic expression and physical manifestation.
Here’s a quick list of factors that impact genetic expression:
- toxic exposures
- and more
When you find yourself feeling stuck, and at the mercy of your genes, remember that you do have the ability to influence gene expression via the epigenome. It starts with your everyday habits. That’s how you create an environment for health.
There are many upgrades you can make to shift the expression of your genome. One action step you can take right away is to tend to your gut health and your microbiome. (Yup, the microbiome is one epigenetic factor that influences your genome!) Try adding some healthy ferments (here’s how!) to your diet this week. Remember to start low and go slow if this is new to you, and know that you’re doing your destiny good!
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