Genetics vs. Epigenetics and What it Means for Your Health
We have all heard how important our genetics are. From heart disease and cancer risk to your appearance and more, your genetics are the underlying map for health, wellness and longevity. However, this is hardly a simple topic. Let’s start by taking a quick look at how your DNA is used as a code for your body.
Cells are the basic functioning unit of our body. All of the instructions for our cells are contained within our deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA. Our DNA is made of over three billion nucleotide bases that are all one of four bases: Adenine, Cytosine, Guanine, or Thymine. These are abbreviated A,C,G, or T. Human DNA contains about three billion of these nucleotide bases to form our approximately 20,000 genes. Genes are specific sequences used as instructions to make the proteins of our body. These proteins are used to carry out our life functions.
What is Epigenetics?
While genetics are certainly important, the way your genes are expressed is really how they affect your overall health. One way to study this expression is called epigenetics. Put simply, epigenetics is the study of how your genes can be turned on or off by external factors. Consider that our cells all have the same DNA, but our bodies contain many different types of cells. This occurs because they have certain sets of genes that are expressed (aka “turned on”) and other sets that are inhibited (aka “turned off”). Think of your DNA as a script to a movie. The words represent the DNA base sequence, the script the DNA, and the actors are the cells. Think of epigenetics as the director. The director can tweak or eliminate certain parts of the script, making a significantly different scene. Imagine if Quentin Tarantino would have directed E.T. rather than Steven Spielberg, it would have been a completely different movie, right? So that is a pretty extreme example but you get the idea.
Nature Vs. Nurture
Epigenetics determine a cell’s specialization. As a fetus develops into a baby through gene expression (active) or gene silencing (dormant). However, environmental stimuli can also cause genes to be turned on or turned off. In fact, a study by the American Physiological Society suggests that maternal exposure to environmental pollution such as lead may affect the asthma risk of offspring for three generations! (1)
Lifestyle, Nutrition, and Toxin effects on Epigenetics
What you eat, where you live, sleep quality, exercise and more can all lead to chemical modifications around genes that turn those genes on or off. Some of these actions happen quickly while others take years. Additionally, certain diseases such as cancer can turn genes on or off. Epigenetics can be changed, whereas your genetics are there to stay. It isn’t just your epigenetics affected by your environment and choices though.
Epigenetics Can Be Modified
This is currently a vigorously pursued topic of interest. If few could control how genes are turned on and off, we could potentially cure cancer, slow aging, and eliminate countless diseases. Although this seems reasonable, don’t get too excited just yet. In order for this therapy to work, the epigenetic treatments would have to be selective to irregular cells. Otherwise, if you were to activate or inactivate certain genes in normal cells, it could lead to the very disease (such as cancer) that you are trying to treat. Researchers are looking at some of these therapies for certain types of cancer treatments.
What Types of Information Does Epigenetic Testing Provide?
- Are you methylating (aka activating) your B vitamins such as B-12/Folate properly? If not, your B vitamin supplement isn’t doing you any good.
- Levels of Inflammation and Oxidative Stress- do you need to reduce toxic exposures and/or improve antioxidant intake?
- Do you have adequate levels of essential amino acids and non-essential amino acids?
- How efficient is your cellular energy production? Are there supplements you can take to improve this?
- Is your gut absorbing nutrients properly or do you have obstacles to proper absorption such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or enzymatic deficiency?
What Does This Mean For Me?
Although epigenetics is far from completely understood, an epigenetic diet may be able to guide you toward the optimal food regimen for you. A simple urine test can give us a thorough evaluation of your epigenetic profile and nutritional deficiencies so that we can design a diet and nutritional supplement program specifically for you.
The report will be sent to me and we can discuss the results and what you can do to improve your personalized nutrition and epigenetic profile. This allows us to look at how your body is expressing your genetics to determine which nutrients you are deficient in, which amino acids may need to be supplemented and can even give us insight into your risk for certain diseases.
At Rejuvenated Medical Spa, we are committed to helping you live your best life yet. Epigenetics is one more unique and powerful tool that Dr. Gentry and our team are using in order to help you experience optimal health. Give us a call today to schedule your first consultation.
- The American Physiological Society. Environmental Pollution Exposure during Pregnancy Increases Asthma Risk for Three Generations. The American Physiological Society Press Release. 17 May 2017. Web.