What is Epigenetics?
Epigenetics is the study of biological mechanisms that will switch your genes on and off.
Epigenetics Controls Genes. Certain circumstances in life can cause genes to be silenced or expressed over time. In other words, they can be turned off (becoming dormant) or turned on (becoming active).
Epigenetics Is Everywhere. What you eat, where you live, who you interact with, when you sleep, how you exercise, even aging – all of these can eventually cause chemical modifications around the genes that will turn those genes on or off over time. Epigenetics Makes Us Unique. Even though we are all human, why do some of us have blonde hair or darker skin? Why do some of us hate the taste of mushrooms or eggplants? Why are some of us more sociable than others? The different combinations of genes that are turned on or off are what make each one of us unique. Furthermore, these epigenetic changes can be inherited.
Epigenetics Is Reversible. With 20,000+ genes, what will be the result of the different combinations of genes being turned on or off? The possible permutations are enormous!
Why do some foods cause health problems and others make us healthy? How does stress impact our long-term well-being? Why is it that the older we get, the more likely it is that age-related illness will strike us? Unlocking the secrets behind these and other questions has the potential to revolutionize life as we know it. The emerging field of epigenetics is aiming to do just that.
Epigenetics and our experiences
Any outside stimulus that can be detected by the body has the potential to cause epigenetic modifications. It’s not yet clear exactly which exposures affect which epigenetic marks, but there are a number of quite well characterized examples, from chemicals to lifestyle factors to lived experiences:
Bisphenol A (BPA)
is an additive in some plastics that has been linked to cancer and other diseases and has already been removed from consumer products in some countries. BPA seems to exert its effects through a number of mechanisms, including epigenetic modification.
It’s well known that physical exercise is one of the best things you can do for your overall health and mental well-being. Now there’s evidence that physical exercise can positively affect your genes. A study of the brains of elderly mice found 117 genes that were expressed differently in the brains of animals that exercised regularly, compared to those that were sedentary.
Not surprisingly, diet can affect the health of your DNA. A diet high in refined carbohydrates that promotes high blood glucose attacks your DNA. On the other hand, compounds like sulforaphane (found in broccoli), curcumin (turmeric), epigallocatechin gallate (green tea), and resveratrol (wine) can slow or potentially reverse DNA damage.
Inadequate sleep also disrupts genetic activity. A team of researchers examined the influence of sleep on gene function and discovered that just a single week of insufficient sleep altered the activity of over 700 genes.
Your relationships with others, and your thoughts can affect your genes. One of the most powerful stress reduction techniques, mindfulness meditation, turns down the expression of pro-inflammatory genes thus reducing inflammation. Chronic Inflammation is an underlying cause of seven of the top ten leading causes of death including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.
New findings in the field of epigenetics suggest that we may have more control than previously thought when it comes to preventing the onset of inheritable diseases. Our daily routine, from what we eat for breakfast, the amount of exercise we do, to the distance we travel to work, could determine whether or not our gene sequences activate or prevent the development of cancer and other diseases within our bodies.