Epigenetics

Epigenetics.  Have you heard of it?  I had not until just a few weeks ago.  My yoga instructor and I were having a conversation about cancer and diet and I mentioned that genetically I’m not in a good position.  She said that may not be the case and informed me of the study of Epigenetics.  I have done some internet research and have found some interesting information in which I’d like to share.

Basically, as humans we have the option to modify the genes we are born with.  Not the genes that may cause deformities in some or give us our hair color but the genes that can cause cancer, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, obesity, etc.  The choice to inherit those genes is in our own hands.  Through a set of chemical reactions, we can choose to turn on the genes that can supply us good health and turn off the genes that don’t.  Through a good healthy diet, emotional happiness and physical well being we can turn off the bad genes.  It’s that simple.

More interestingly, through living a well-rounded, healthy life the good genes will be passed on to our future generations.  In 2010 John Cloud wrote an interesting article for Time Magazine entitled “Why Your DNA Isn’t Your Destiny” which is about the passing on of our genes.  Cloud wrote about research performed by preventive-health specialist, Dr. Lars Olov Bygren in the 1980’s.  Dr. Bygren tested the genes of people who were born in the northernmost part of Sweden in 1905.  He traced back their parents and grandparents who lived in the same part of Sweden and experienced sporadic years of feast and famine depending on the results of the harvest.  This northernmost part of Sweden was so desolate that people either starved one year or overate the next because the crops were overabundant.

As it turns out, Dr. Bygren found that the children and grandchildren of these people that lived through the years of feast and famine were more likely to die at a younger age.  This, along with other scientific research, proved that the genetic code does not change but the environmental factors can cause our genes to alter and pass on to our children, even before they’re a twinkle in our eyes…even before our grandchildren are a twinkle in our children’s eyes…..you get the idea.

The epigenetic mark is found above the genome (hence prefix epi) and is what can switch genes on and off due to environmental factors and how well you take care of yourself and your body.  But, there is no change to the DNA itself.  That’s why we still come out with predetermined traits such as hair and eye color.  Those genes can’t be changed as well as deformities.  But we can change obesity, heart disease, diabetes, possibly cancer, just by taking care of ourselves.  It’s not hard; it’s just changing the mindset to focus on living a better lifestyle.

I’m not a doctor or scientist or even a skilled researcher in this field…yet. 😉 I only rehashed what I’ve read so far because I find this very interesting.  And it means that there’s light at the end of the tunnel for me and for many people who had no clue they are not genetically predestined to have a heart attack at the age of 50.  The outlook is positive and it’s time to grab hold of good nutrition and regular physical activity to live a long, happy and healthy life to the fullest.

Has anyone else looked into this?  Please feel free to comment and let me know any other interesting facts about Epigenetics you may have found in your studies or if I may be wrong about certain things.  I would like to continue to follow this study as it progresses.  Below are some of the websites that I have looked at regarding the study of Epigenetics.

http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/epigenetics/

http://www.drfranklipman.com/faqs-on-epigenetics/

http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,1952313,00.html

http://www.sciencemag.org/site/feature/plus/sfg/resources/res_epigenetics.xhtml

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epigenetics

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