I often use the terms “gene expression” and/or “Epigenetics” in my blog, newsletter, and at seminars. Even though these words are now used commonly in literature, news, and social media, not many people understand what the words actually mean. So, as the last Newsletter of 2016, I would like to explain Gene Expression and Epigenetics as easy as my mother in law can understand. 🙂
Good Gene = Good Script
We often hear “It’s in my genes” or I inherited this disease”. However, according to the book, Super Genes: Unlock the Astonishing Power of Your DNA for Optimum Health and Well-Being, written by Dr. Rudolph Tanzi and Dr. Deepak Chopra, only 5% of disease-related gene mutations are fully deterministic, while 95% can be influenced by diet, behavior, and other environmental conditions. (1) This environmental influence is explained very well by Chirs Kresser, functional medicine practitioner, in his article, “The Future of Medicine”. (2) The script, Romeo and Juliet was written by Shakespeare in the late 1500s and has been performed and produced in hundreds, if not thousands of different ways. The script is like genes, and the cast, crew, costumes, director, and everything that goes into making the production, is like the environment. So, even if the script is well written, if all the environmental factors, like the casts, crew, costumes, sets, director, are poorly selected and performed, the outcome won’t be as great as expected. The genes are definitely important, but our environment and how genes express (the outcome) is more important. This is why identical twins whose genes are exactly the same, can look different and develop different diseases as they grow.
Genes, which are made up of DNA, act as instructions to make molecules called proteins. All the cells in a person’s body have the same DNA and the same genes. However, the difference between cells in different tissues and organs is that the “expression” of the genes differs between cells. Expression means that the message from the DNA is being copied and made into protein. Genes are turned on and off in different patterns during development to make a brain cell look and act different from a liver cell or a muscle cell, for example. Chemical compounds that are added to single genes can regulate their activity; these modifications are known as epigenetic changes. The epigenome comprises all of the chemical compounds that have been added to the entirety of one’s DNA (genome) as a way to regulate the activity (expression) of all the genes within the genome. The chemical compounds of the epigenome are not part of the DNA sequence, but are attached to DNA (“epi-“ means above in Greek). (3)
Epigenetic modifications, also called “tags,” provide the instructions. Several of these tags have been discovered, but the two main ones involve methyl groups (made of carbon and hydrogen) and histones (a type of protein). To imagine how tags work, think of a gene as a lamp. Methyl groups act as an on-off switch that turn a gene on or off. Histones, on the other hand, act like a dimmer switch, regulating gene activity up or down. (4)
4 Million switches
Environmental signals such as a person’s diet, chemical exposure, or stress levels, trigger changes in the epigenome, allowing cells to respond dynamically to the outside world. The cell’s experiences are transferred to the epigenome, where they shut down and activate specific sets of genes. If those outside factors are not healthy, errors in the epigenetic process occur such as modifying the wrong gene or failing to add a compound to a gene. This can lead to abnormal gene activity or inactivity, that can cause genetic disorders. Conditions including cancers, metabolic disorders, and degenerative disorders have all been found to be related to epigenetic errors. However, opposite outcome happens too. That’s why we need to focus on your lifestyle instead of on genetic markup at birth. It’s thought that we have four million of these switches that are triggered by lifestyle and environmental factors. (5)
You are responsible for your grandkids health
We all have tumor suppressing genes which protect our cells from developing cancer. However, some environmental factors trigger to turn these suppressor genes “Off”, which could lead to developing cancer. Instead of turning off critical cancer suppressor genes, you can create strong unstoppable tumor suppressing genes by changing your lifestyle. Interestingly, once these super healthy genes are created by “turning on”, these epigenetic changes passes on from one generation to another. According to Dr. Mitchell Gaynor, author of The Gene Therapy Plan: Taking Control of Your Genetic Destiny with Diet and Lifestyle, “we now know that genetic expression comes from generations before us and will continue for the generations after us. Today, the debate is not nature versus nurture. We have evolved into understanding that it is nature plus nurture.” (6)
Environmental factors are not just the food you eat and the chemicals you are exposed to. Your sleep, exercise, stress, mind, relationship, and everything in your life affect your epigenetics.
Inadequate sleep also disrupts genetic activity. A team of researchers discovered that just a single week of insufficient sleep altered the activity of over 700 genes. (7) In one study, researchers exposed mice with genetic memory problems to an environment that was rich in toys, exercise, and extra attention that would be expected to improve cognitive function. (2) These mice not only did improve in memory formation and cognition, but also their offspring showed a similar improvement, despite their genetic predisposition and despite receiving no extra attention or enrichment like their parents had received.
In Super Genes, “Studies have shown that a program of positive lifestyle changes alter 4,000 to 5,000 different gene activities. You are not simply the sum total of the genes you were born with. You are the user and controller of your genes, the author of your biological story. No prospect in self-care is more exciting.” (1)
Now you know you have power to enhance or defeat your health.
To your Health!
- Super genes: unlock the astonishing power of DNA for optimum heath and well-being Deepak Chopra – Rudolph E.Tanzi
- Manifesto:The Future of Medicine, Chirs Kresser
- Youtube “Epigenetics” by SciShow
- The Gene Therapy Plan: Taking Control of Your Genetic Destiny with Diet and Lifestyle Mitchell Gaynor