What You Should Know About Epigenetics

Epigenetics

The field of epigenetics is new, but the evidence thus far says that our diet and our lifestyle has significant impact on the health we do or do not experience.

The discovery of DNA was enough to earn James Watson and Francis Crick The Nobel Prize, and it forever changed the way we viewed the human body, and our selves. What this discovery would eventually provided us was essentially a “master code” for every living thing on earth. Since their discovery, scientists have learned that DNA controls virtually everything about our physical bodies, from our height, to our hair and eye color, to our skin tone––virtually all of our physical and biochemical characteristics. 

As we have learned more about this master code that controls our bodies’ functions, scientists have also discovered that many diseases have strong links to our genetics, even isolating specific genes that are responsible for diseases like cancer. 

Changing our DNA is largely out of control; you cannot change your eye color, or your height. Those things are largely predetermined by your genetics. That mindset has been the same when it comes to the prevalence or incidence of diseases with genetic links. In other words, if you have bad genetics, you are going to develop cancer, or another disease, and there is nothing you can do about it. This is what we have been led to believe. 

This idea, however, that our genetics solely determine whether or not we experience good health might be misguided, according to a new field of emerging research. This field is called epigenetics. 

It might help to have a refresher course in biology. DNA is the genetic material found in the nucleus of each and every one of your cells. DNA is made up of 46 chromosomes, or long chains of DNA molecules. You inherit 23 chromosomes from mom and 23 from dad when you are conceived, and that combination of DNA is what makes you, you. These chromosomes are made up of four nucleotides arranged in sequences: adenine, thymine, guanine, and cytosine. You can think of these nucleotides as the binary code––“ones and zeroes”––that make up larger commands. 

Specific sections of nucleotides on chromosomes are known as genes. You can think of these as specific, singular commands. The sum of the genes on each chromosome and all the chromosomes combined make up your body’s master code. 

What we thought for years was that if certain genes get damaged––or if we inherit certain damaged genes from mom and dad––then we are assured to get certain diseases. However, more and more, research is telling us that the environment we bathe our cells in has a profound effect on not only whether our genes become damaged, but whether or not those damaged genes are expressed.

What the field of epigenetics has shed light on is that our genes are responding to their environment as frequently as on an hourly basis. The environment we create in our bodies has a profound effect on our genetics––both good and bad. The environment we bathe our cells can either facilitate healthy genes, and suppress genes that can create disease, or can facilitate genetic damage and allow damaged genes to be expressed. 

How do we create this environment? The same lifestyle factors that health advocates have been promoting for years––diet, activity level, getting proper amounts of sleep, stress reduction, keeping your environment free of contaminants––all of these things play a role in the internal environment we bathe our cells in. 

The field of epigenetics is new, but the evidence thus far says that our diet and our lifestyle has significant impact on the health we do or do not experience. Furthermore, it likely lends credence to the the Fungus Link theory; if we are constantly bathing our cells in an environment rife with mycotoxins, this can lead to damaged DNA––something Doug Kaufmann published in The Germ That Causes Cancer. 

You cannot alter the 46 chromosomes that you got from mom and dad, but what you can do is control the lifestyle factors that protect your genes. While we have more to learn, the evidence is clear that those who take care of their health are on the right track.

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