Have you ever heard people talk about our genes being able to determine everything about us?
Well, turns out, that’s not exactly true.
Epigenetics refers to the study of how our environment and lifestyle can affect our genes and how they express themselves.
Think of your genes as a light switch, and epigenetics as the dimmer switch. While we can’t change the light bulb (our genetic code), we can adjust how bright the light shines (gene expression) by manipulating the dimmer switch (epigenetics).
So, how does this work?
Basically, our genes can be “turned on” or “turned off” by chemical modifications that occur on the outside of the DNA molecule. These modifications can be influenced by our environment and lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, stress, and exposure to toxins.
For example, chronic stress can lead to changes in epigenetic marks on genes related to the immune system, leading to a higher risk of autoimmune diseases.
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But don’t worry, it’s not all bad news!
The cool thing about epigenetics is that we have the power to positively influence our gene expression through healthy lifestyle choices such as a balanced diet, regular exercise, mindfulness practices, and reducing exposure to toxins.
We can turn on good genes, just as easily as we can turn on bad genes
So back to that example with chronic stress negatively impacting our immune system and autoimmune disease. The flip side is that mindfulness can have the opposite effect, strengthening our immune system.
One study found that people participating in just one week of meditation were able to upregulate or turn on up to 68 genes that support the immune system!
We can feel empowered to CHANGE our experience for the BETTER!
So, next time you hear someone say “it’s in their genes”, remember that epigenetics play a big role in determining how those genes express themselves.
With the power of epigenetics, we have the ability to influence our health and well-being in a positive way.
How can someone promote healthy epigenetic changes?
A healthy lifestyle is the most effective way to promote positive epigenetic changes.
This includes supporting all of the pillars of health including eating nutritious foods, regular movement, high quality sleep, managing stress, mindfulness practice and avoiding environmental toxins.
So what can I do to favorable influence my genetics?
There are several ways that a person can improve their health using epigenetics:
- Eat a Healthy Diet: What we eat can have a significant impact on our gene expression. Consuming a balanced diet rich in nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals can positively influence our epigenetic marks and reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Incorporating foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein can help support a healthy gene expression profile.
- Reduce Exposure to Toxins: Exposure to environmental toxins such as air pollution, pesticides, and chemicals can negatively impact our epigenetic marks, leading to an increased risk of chronic diseases. Reducing exposure to toxins by using natural cleaning products, avoiding processed foods with artificial ingredients, and choosing organic produce can help support a healthy gene expression profile.
- Get regular movement: Regular physical activity has been shown to positively influence epigenetic marks, leading to a reduction in inflammation and chronic disease risk. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week.
- Manage Stress: Chronic stress can lead to negative changes in our epigenetic marks, increasing the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Incorporating stress-reducing practices like meditation, deep breathing, or yoga can help reduce stress and positively influence our epigenetic marks.
- Get Enough Sleep: Sleep is essential for our overall health and well-being. Lack of sleep or poor sleep quality can negatively impact our epigenetic marks, leading to increased inflammation and chronic disease risk. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night.
- Get Help from a Professional Coach: When making lifestyle changes, it’s essential to build them into your life in a fun and enjoyable way. You might have heard that the best changes to make in a healthy lifestyle are the ones you stick with. And it’s easier to stick with things you like. In my coaching sessions, we work to find high-impact changes that are the lowest effort and highest enjoyability through a priority matrix.
- Start Learning your Bio-Individual Needs: You can start journalling to make connections between environmental and lifestyle factors and health. I recommend using a guided journal like mine available here.
What do epigentics have to do with chronic diseases and autoimmune diseases?
Epigenetics research shows that chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes are often associated with changes in epigenetic marks that alter gene expression patterns.
For example, DNA methylation, a common epigenetic mechanism, can affect the expression of genes involved in inflammation, metabolism, and cell growth, all of which are important in the development and progression of chronic diseases.
Similarly, autoimmune diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis have also been linked to epigenetic modifications.
Studies have found that DNA methylation and histone modifications can affect the expression of genes involved in the immune system, potentially contributing to autoimmune disease development.
How does this help us in prevention of disease?
Interestingly, some epigenetic modifications may also be used as biomarkers for chronic diseases and autoimmune diseases, allowing for earlier diagnosis and treatment.
For example, DNA methylation changes in certain genes have been associated with an increased risk of developing certain cancers, while changes in histone modifications have been linked to autoimmune diseases such as lupus.
Overall, these findings suggest that epigenetic modifications may be a critical link between environmental factors, genetics, and disease development, and that understanding and targeting these modifications may be an important avenue for preventing and treating chronic diseases and autoimmune diseases.
Can epigenetic changes be reversed?
Epigenetic changes can be reversible in some cases. Lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise can lead to positive epigenetic modifications, and some medications can also reverse epigenetic marks associated with disease.
However, some epigenetic changes may be more difficult to reverse, especially those associated with aging.
Relevant research on Epigenetics:
- Chandran, V., Mei-Ling Bermúdez, Koka, M., Chandran, B., Pawale, D., Vishnubhotla, R., Alankar, S., Maturi, R., Subramaniam, B., & Sadhasivam, S. (2021). Large-scale genomic study reveals robust activation of the immune system following advanced Inner Engineering meditation retreat. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 118(51), 1–12.
- Movassagh M, Choy MK, Goddard M, et al. Differential DNA methylation correlates with differential expression of angiogenic factors in human heart failure. PLoS One. 2010;5(1):e8564. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008564
- Richardson B. Primer: epigenetics of autoimmunity. Nat Clin Pract Rheumatol. 2007;3(9):521-527. doi:10.1038/ncprheum0595
- Yang X, Han H, De Carvalho DD, et al. Gene body methylation can alter gene expression and is a therapeutic target in cancer. Cancer Cell. 2014;26(4):577-590. doi:10.1016/j.ccell.2014.07.028
- Rakyan VK, Down TA, Balding DJ, et al. Epigenome-wide association studies for common human diseases. Nat Rev Genet. 2011;12(8):529-541. doi:10.1038/nrg3000