Genetics and epigenetics are an interesting subject. I don’t claim to understand them (very few people really do) but it’s a fascinating subject and I’ve found that it’s motivating to imagine that you can literally alter your genetics by how you conduct your life. When you begin to understand that how you conduct your life can literally alter your genetic code you begin to realize just how in control of your body we really might be. In this post I just want to expose people to the emerging science of genetic expression/epigenetics. I’ve never claimed to be a scientist, but these ideas have helped me in unspeakable ways and I want to pass them along.
We hear a lot about genes, genetic dispositions, nature vs. nuture, etc. Limited understanding around genetics can create ALOT of limiting beliefs for yourself. I hear things like this quite often “I just don’t have the genetics for it, I have fat genes,” and on and on. Well the REALITY is that our genes are NOT set in stone. As more and more science has emerged around genetics, it is reinforcing the reality that we might be more in charge than we realize. We really do control what happens in our lives. This isn’t some mumbo jumbo anymore, it seems to be a scientific reality.
So specifically, “Gene expression is the process by which information from a gene is used in the synthesis of a functional gene product.” Interpretation: simply the science of genetic expression confirms that the day-to-day choices we make have incredible impact on which genes get ‘turned on’ or ‘turned off.’ Furthermore, we can influence gene expression to a far greater degree than anyone ever thought possible.
Here’s a quick synopsis of a study that illustrates what I’m talking about.
In this study researchers followed 30 men with low-risk, early prostate, cancer. They gave the men “intensive” lifestyle intervention program where
The changes included a plant-based diet (predominant fruits, vegetables, legumes, soy products, and whole grains low in refined carbohydrates), moderate exercise (walking 30 minutes per day), stress management techniques (yoga-based stretching, breathing techniques, meditation, and guided imagery for one hour per day), and participating in a weekly one-hour support group. The diet was supplemented with soy, fish oil (three grams/day), vitamin E (100 units/day), selenium (200 mg/day), and vitamin C (2 grams/day).
After three months of the intervention regimen, the researchers conducted several tests on the subjects, including new biopsies, and examined normal prostate tissue samples. The results were striking. The men showed signs of improved health, including lower blood pressure and weight loss. However, the activity measured in the genes themselves showed the most profound change. Of the more than 500 genes traced, 48 disease-fighting genes had “up-regulated” and 453 disease-promoting genes had “down-regulated” since the lifestyle intervention as show by the graph below. Within these changes, researchers found “significant modulation of biological processes that have critical roles” in the formation of tumors.
I’m going to grab a quote from Mark Sisson to give a good analogy. This came from here. Please go read it.
Everyone the DNA “recipe” to build a human being. The DNA itself is not really so much a “blueprint” (as many people assume) as it is a recipe. As with all recipes, it allows for a little variation to spice things up and even room for improvement. That means that some ingredients can change a little and you still wind up with the intended result. A little more sugar, a little less salt, an added spice, a lower cooking temperature: the end result still resembles the picture in the cookbook.
So what causes your genes to ‘express’ themselves in different ways? What causes your certain parts of your genes to ‘turn on’ and ‘turn off’? THE ENVIRONMENT that YOU PRESENT THEM.
Similarly, while your genes are “fixed”, the expression of those genes – the amount of proteins they cause to be made, whether or not they are even switched on or off at all – depends on the “environment,” the circumstances surrounding those genes. Diet, exercise, exposure to toxic chemicals (or fresh air), medicines, even the thoughts you think (which generate actual chemical signals) all influence gene expression – positively and/or negatively, depending on the choice. Eat a diet that is high in sugar, and gene expression moves in a direction that produces more insulin, that shuts off insulin receptors, that down-regulates lipase and other enzymes involved in fat-burning, that increases pro-inflammatory cytokines, etc. When you change to a diet low in sugars and rich in healthy fats, those or other genes are directed to reduce inflammatory expression, down-regulate insulin-producing metabolic machinery, up-regulate insulin receptors and rebuild cell membranes to reflect the presence of better building materials (omega 3 fatty acids, etc.)
So what does all this mean? It means that the outcome of our bodies and fitness levels aren’t the necessarily the result of a fixed genetic destiny. Instead, they are the result of the way our genes have expressed themselves due the environmental factors directly under our own control. The next time someone tells you they’re fat because of their genetics, know that they are dead wrong.
If you’re like me you probably want to know what to do to optimize how your genes are expressing themselves. I’ve mapped out principles for what I believe to be optimal nutrition here. Check it out. Limit the amount of toxins and un-natural substances you’re exposed to. Exercise regularly. All these things are likely to increase your the quality of how your epigenome is being expressed which will end up increasing the quality of your life.
Check out these interesting videos on epigenetics.