Since ancient times, we’ve been told that our genes can’t be changed and it’s our destiny too. But surprising today, it’s said that it can be changed by our lifestyle, habits, and even finances. What does it mean for our kids?
Epigenetics heralded as an important biological discover after DNA, it is a new branch associated with genetics. Until now, we’re made believe that we can’t alter our genes with which we were born. A new branch of genetics discovered it that our genes get turned on and off and also expresses to lesser or greater degrees based on some important factors such as lifestyle.
Let’s have a look how epigenetics functions and how can we improve our lives with it.
What is Epigenetics?
The ‘Epi’ in epigenetics word is derived from a Greek word meaning “over” or “above”. It is demarcated as the study of any process that changes our gene activity with making no alteration in the DNA sequence. In simple words; it’s basically the study of gene expression – where you can see how external factors influence our genes to go turn on and turn off, also up and down.
A project named ‘the Human Genome’ recognized approximately 25,000 genes in the DNA of the human. Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is universally regarded as the instructions code that the body utilizes to build and reproduce itself. Genes themselves also requires instructions for what to do and when and where to do it.
Epigenetic modification known as tags offers the instructions. Many of these tags got discovered for human benefits. But it classifies in two chief groups such as methyl group and second histones. The methyl group is made of carbon and hydrogen while on the other hand, the histones, basically is a kind of protein. To know how exactly tags functions, suppose a gene as a lamp. The first group (Methyl) acts as an on and off switch that actually turns a gene on or off. While Histone performs like a dimmer switch that regulates gene activity up or down. It’s been revealed that we’ve 4 million of these switches that are triggered by factors like our environment and lifestyle.
Clues from identical twins:
A research was made on identical twins, who possessed similar genetic material, has offered scientists a unique window to find some epigenetic changes. The effect of environment and lifestyle factor on genes is so powerful that genes of twins can deviate expressively during their lives. The study unveils that identical twin that lives apart most of the time, their genes after a time becomes less alike.
You might expect both the twins may have same health histories but still, they show different incidences of many diseases such as mental disorders like Alzheimer’s, alcoholism, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and talking about the physical disorders like cancer, diabetes, RA (rheumatoid arthritis) and Crohn’s disease. It is because of epigenetic drift – an alteration in gene expression over a time.
Lifestyle factor for genes:
A professor named Dr. Rudolph Tanzi working at the department of neurology at Harvard University Medical School. He is one of those researchers who co-discovered three genes that causes early arrival familial Alzheimer’s disease. Along with a global leader (Dr. Deepak Chopra) in the arena of mind-body medicine, he also co-authored a book “Super Genes: Unlock the Astonishing Power of Your DNA for Optimum Health and Well-Being”.
In their book, they talked about a disease-related gene that it’s only 5% disease-associated gene mutations that are utterly deterministic else 95% can be certainly influenced by our diet, behavior and other environmental conditions. The present model of well-being generally ignores gene, but some studies have revealed that a program of positive lifestyle alters 4 to 5 thousand different gene activities. According to Chopra and Tanzi; you are not simply the complete packet of total genes you were born with but it’s you who is the user and controller of your genes and in simple words, you’re the only author or your story.
It’s exciting news because it means you have a great deal to control your health and your future. You are definitely not at the mercy of your genetic material only that you got at your birth.
Gene expression modulates based on diet, sleep, and exercise:
Diet indeed plays a significant role in affecting the health of your DNA. A rich diet of refined carbohydrates that increases high blood glucose damages your DNA. While on the other side of the coin, compounds like sulforaphane (found in broccoli, cauliflower, Kale, and Cabbage, etc.), epigallocatechin gallate (green tea), resveratrol (red wine) and curcumin (turmeric) can slow or possibly reverse DNA damage.
Sleeping less to complete your projects? Or not sleeping for few days due to exams? Well, as per a research inadequate sleep is also one of the reasons for disrupting genetic activity. A team of scientists examined how sleep influences your gene function and they found that insufficient sleep for just a single week can alter the activity of over 700 genes.
Not surprising, the physical exercise is well accepted for topping the best things one can do to improve overall health (physical and mental well-being). Now one can easily find several pieces of evidence that physical exercise positively affects our gene expression. As per the latest study of the brains of old mice examined 117 genes that were expressed contrarily in animals’ brain that ran frequently, associated to those that were inactive.
So do stress, our relationships, and thoughts:
One can notice how tangible factors such as sleep, exercise, and diet affect our genes but it’s also not that difficult to observe how intangibles like our relationships with people, stress and our thoughts affect our genes. Mindfulness Meditation is considered to be the best stress reducing techniques turning down the expression of our pro-inflammatory genes. Chronic inflammation includes 7 top leading causes of death such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s.
You may think that you would have to meditate for many years to alter gene expression properly but some measurable changes can be observed even in eight hours of meditation. However, remarkable effects were found in experienced meditators in comparison with new to the practice.
Epigenetics changes last for several generations:
Epigenetics is indeed one of the most amazing discoveries because the epigenetic changes generally don’t stop with you only. These epigenetic signals from our environment pass from one generation to other and sometimes for many generations with no changes in gene sequence.