Epigenetics: How Lifestyle Reprogrammes Your Genes

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epigenetics: how lifestyle reprograms your genes
Almost twenty years ago, the Human Genome Project was completed, revolutionising the understanding of genetics. It identified the sequence of human DNA, highlighting around 20,000 genes. Since then, science has discovered more about the roles of genes in influencing health and disease. National DNA Day is an opportunity to learn about and champion the latest findings in the field of genetics. In this article, you’ll be introduced to the fascinating subject of genetics and discover how genetic changes over your lifetime can affect your health.

DNA Explained

Your DNA forms your genetic template transferred down from previous generations, and later gifted to your descendants. 

Human DNA is comprised of billions of nucleotide bases, their order determining your instructions for life. Genes are specific sequences of bases providing your body with directions for making certain proteins. These trigger biological processes essential for life and tell cells how to act. For example, they’ll instruct a liver cell to act as a liver cell. Alteration of one base can lead to the production of a different protein which then acts differently in the body.

Genes determine how tall you are, your physical appearance and how likely you are to develop certain diseases.

Epigenetics – How Life Changes Your Genes

Your inherited genes were once thought to largely control health and wellness, in other words, it was assumed you are at the mercy of your genes. Recently, researchers have found your genes can change according to outside influences, so your genetic template at birth doesn’t play as large a role in your health as was once thought.

Lifestyle, behaviour, environment, stress levels and diet can all change the way your genes work. This is the field of epigenetics.

Epigenetic markers sit on gene strands and react to signals from the outside world, activating or suppressing the activity of your genes. These changes don’t alter your DNA sequence, but they change how your body reads your DNA. This in turn determines whether or not cellular proteins are produced, in other words turning genes on and off. This process is known as gene expression.

If your cells are actors on a stage, your DNA is the script of the play, containing instructions for the actors. Epigenetics would be the director, who might omit or emphasise certain lines or scenes.

One way genes can be modified by epigenetic factors is by methylation. This is a process occurring every second of every day inside all your body’s cells. It involves numerous chemical conversions and tends to inhibit the expression of a gene. The process of methylation is affected by the availability of nutrients like B complex vitamins, as well as by environmental toxins, physical activity and stress.

Epigenetics Through the Generations

Your epigenetics alter as you move through life and what’s more, epigenetic changes appear to be passed down over generations. It seems environmental factors before birth and in early life, such as shortage of food or specific nutrients, exposure to environmental pollutants and even psychological trauma, are particularly influential. They can all affect a child’s lifelong physical and mental health, increase their susceptibility to chronic diseases and even cause a predisposition to obesity.

These effects have been seen to persist for at least three generations, meaning your diet and lifestyle can influence not only your children and grandchildren but also your great-grandchildren. Fathers, too, play a role, meaning epigenetic markers don’t only make their way into a woman’s eggs, but they’re also present in sperm cells.

epigenetics and national dna day

Nutrition and Your Genes

The field of nutrigenomics looks at the interplay between nutrition and gene expression.

Nutrient availability influences the activity of your genes, with your genetic makeup, in turn, affecting how well you’re able to utilise certain nutrients. Meanwhile, the influence of inherited predispositions to diseases can be reduced through personalised nutrition, meaning epigenetic changes can be reversible.

This discovery is exciting because nutritional and lifestyle modifications can therefore be used to keep beneficial processes in your cells working well while reducing ones not benefitting your health. For example, B vitamins have been found to protect against dangerous genetic changes caused by exposure to air pollution. These would otherwise encourage oxidative stress and inflammation in the part of the cell responsible for producing energy.

Optimise Your Health by Exploring Your Genes

Making appropriate lifestyle changes to enhance epigenetic influences can optimise your current and future health and wellbeing, as well as that of your descendants.

Specialised tests can reveal your inherited genetic variations, helping to predict your response to food, medications and future susceptibility to certain diseases. Knowing your genetic picture can be enlightening and empowering, taking away the guesswork and highlighting nutrients and lifestyle measures particularly effective for your DNA. Your diet can then be fine-tuned with a personalised nutritional approach aligned to your genes and how they’re communicating with your cells.

Contact us today to regain control over your personal health and wellbeing.

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