Epigenetics, The Science Behind the Phenomena
Epigenetics has become one of the hottest and newest emerging fields in the science world. It’s a seemingly miraculous realm of science that has huge potential in human and environmental medicine.
Have you ever wanted to blame a health trait on your parents that doesn’t seem to be genetic… epigenetics!
Have you ever wondered how twins, with the same set of genes, can be so different… epigenetics!
Put simply, epigenetics refers to the effect external influences (such as environmental and nutritional factors) have on our DNA, and the ability of these factors to influence our molecular blueprint.
Does epigenetics alter our DNA sequences?
Epigenetics does not physically alter our DNA sequences, rather, it turns on or off different genes that can make us susceptible to different symptoms and/or conditions.
Epigenetic studies aim to shed light on how environment, nutrition, and psychosocial factors (including social conditions) can affect individual genetic expression. Let’s take a look at some of the science behind this phenomena.
A study by Dai et al., (2016) found that multiple factors, including environmental carcinogens and Epstein-Barr virus, contribute to the development of nasopharyngeal carcinoma, a unique epithelial malignancy of the throat.
More recently, researchers have discovered a new mechanism behind the driving force in epigenetics.
It is now believed the major new epigenetic mechanism concerns chemical modifiers of particular gene, specifically, the marking of genes with certain methyl groups (Crossley, 2013). These methyl groups can be attached to either the DNA itself, or to proteins that coat the DNA (histones)—-the former typically silences the gene.
It is believed these patterns of marks can be stable over time or even cross generations (Crossley, 2013). However, there is some controversy surrounding the idea the histones, in particular, are cross-generational.
Another study by Wang et al., (2016) investigated the effect of BPA and DEHP exposure (bisphenol-A and di-2-ethylhexyl) on porcine oocyte (ovarian cell) maturation and its possible reactions. BPA and DEHP are both widely used in the plastic industry and found in water bottles, containers, packaging, and toys.
These are known endocrine (hormone) disruptors. Results of this study showed that rate of oocyte maturation significantly decreased, BPA (but not DEHP) treatment resulted in abnormal cytoskeleton development on porcine oocytes, and the BPA exposed oocytes had higher levels of cell apoptosis, also known as cell death (Wang et al., 2016).
“You are what you eat”—our grandmothers were onto something!
Desgagne et al., (2016) found that a high consumption of trans fatty acids found in packaged junk foods, is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease via the modification of the HDL-carried miRNAs, reflecting physiological changes in HDL function.
In layman terms, the high-density lipoprotein responsible for transporting fatty acids in the blood stream is no longer able to perform its cardio-protective properties.
Prescott (2016) recognises the influence of early nutritional exposures as significant determinants of the development and future health of all organ systems. He further goes on to stipulate that the recent dramatic rise in infant immune diseases, specifically, allergies, indicates a vulnerability of early immunity to be influenced by environmental factors, and dietary changes underpin many of the modern metabolic and inflammatory diseases (Prescott, 2016).
Kirchner et al., (2016) found that obesity shifted the epigenetic archetype of the liver towards increased glycolysis and lipogenesis (increased carbohydrate and fat formation) thus, possibly exacerbating the development of insulin resistance. Specifically, Kirchner et al., (2016) found hypo-methylation of genes involved in hepatic glycolysis and insulin resistance.
The body cannot metabolize carbohydrates and fat effectively, storing more fat in the liver coupled with increased levels of sugar in the bloodstream—-a dangerous combination and a precursor to type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
With all of this information and science at hand it’s time to break down the practicalities—what simple, positive changes can you make to your life today, that may help to protect your genetic make-up, therefore, preventing the switch-on of something sinister?
Here are my general tips for people who want to live happier, healthier lives.
You may have heard much of this information before but a little repetition helps to solidify knowledge.
- Eat plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, especially green and brightly coloured veggies. These come packed with a powerhouse of antioxidants, protecting your body from free radical damage.
- Avoid packaged and processed foods. Easier said than done, but in the least, read labels—if there’s too much sugar or too many words you can’t pronounce, look for a simple snack, like nuts and seeds.
- Decrease your exposure of environmental toxins. This can be accomplished by: changing your personal hygiene products or household cleaning products to an environmentally friendly brand that doesn’t use harsh chemicals, cleaning your house with a simple baking soda and vinegar solution, purchasing a water, shower, and air filter for your home, buying fresh plants to help purify the air, avoiding chemical perfumes (organic essential oil based, natural perfumes are a great alternative), shopping at your local farmers market, buying organic when possible, walking instead of driving to work… the possibilities are endless. Sometimes all it takes is a little bit of creativity and the gusto to change!
- Stay positive, think positive, and be happy. ‘Every dog has its day’ and this is also true for humans! Life is full of ups and downs but our mood does influence our health, so surround yourself with great company, enjoy a good laugh daily, and smile, even when you don’t feel like it!
- Learn stress management skills. Take up exercise, a sport, dance, go for a walk, submerge yourself in nature, do whatever you can to put your mind at ease.
It is impossible to control every aspect of our lives and we shouldn’t try to.
Epigenetics encompasses a huge area of life sciences. It really is a ‘holistic’ field in that there are numerous factors that influence our health, from environmental to nutritional factors.
While it would be impossible to study every single determinant we can grasp the basics, and do what is within our control to make positive changes to better our lives.
At Elevate, we offer ‘Fitgenes’ testing. Fitgenes uses DNA testing to identify a persons’s genetic dispositions and vulnerabilities with regards to fitness, health, and nutrition. This information is combined with a health risk assessment to design a targeted health and wellness program for patients, to help them reach a level of optimal health and wellbeing.
See www.fitgenes.com for more information and contact us today to book in your appointment.
Crossley, Merlin. Explainer: what is epigenetics? (March, 2013). The Conversation. Retrieved from http://http://theconversation.com/explainer-what-is-epigenetics-13877.
Dai W, Zheng H, Cheung Z, Lung M. Genetic and epigenetic landscape of nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Chinese Clinical Oncology. 2016;5(2). Retrieved from http://http://cco.amegroups.com/article/view/9478/10771.
Desgagne V, Guay S, Guerin R, Corbin F, Couture P, Lamarche B, Bouchard L. Variations in HDL-carried mrRNA-223 and miRNA-135a concentrations after consumption of dietary trans fat are associated with changes in blood lipid and inflammatory markers in health men—an exploratory study. Epigenetics. (2016). doi: 10.1080/15592294.2016.1176816.
Kirchner H, Sinha I, Gao H, Ruby MA, Schonke M, Lindvall JM, Barres R, Krook A, Naslund E, Dahlman-Wright K, Zierath JR. Altered DNA methylation of glycolytic and lipogenic genes in liver from obese and type 2 diabetic patients. Mol Metab. 2016;5(3):171-83. doi: 0.1016/j.molmet.2015.12.004. eCollection 2016. Retrieved from http://http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26977391.
Prescott SL. Early nutrition as a major determinant of immune health: implications for allergy, obesity and other noncommunicable diseases. Preventative Aspects of Early Nutrition. 2016;(85):1-17. Retrieved from http://http://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/439477.
Wang T, Han J, Duan X, Xiong B, Cui XS, Kim N, Liu H, Sun S. The toxic effects and possible mechanisms of Bisphenol A on oocyte maturation of porcine in vitro. Oncotarget. 2016;April 11. doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.8689. [Epub ahead of print]. Retrieved from http://http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27086915.