What comes to your mind when someone says, “It’s all in your genes?” For years the answer ran something along the line of “Genes are made up of DNA which comes from our parents and plays a strong role in determining things like eye and hair color, height and intelligence”. Noxious chemicals and toxins might damage DNA and cause problems like cancer, but there was little one could do to favorably influence the switching on (upregulation) and off (downregulation) of genes so as to produce health benefits or stave off disease.
Then came a steady stream of evidence clearly showing that everything from diet-derived compounds to supplements to emotions can exert an epigenetic influence (Activate or deactivate specific genes). And, many of the genes that are switched on or off epigenetically are passed on to offspring! In fact, to-date scientists have documented over 100 instances in which epigenetic changes were passed down through the generations in single cell organisms, plants, and animals.
Now things get very personal. Bad habits such as being sedentary, consuming inordinate amounts of sugar and unhealthy fats and such, smoking, excessive drinking, and much more not only impacts your health, but can switch on and off specific genes linked to health or mood issues that can be passed along to your children and to your grandchildren and maybe beyond. This underscores getting healthy and fit for those who plan on having children.But even if your baby-making days are behind you, why would you want to go through life with diminished health or a higher risk of developing a chronic disease or dying prematurely due to “epigenetic neglect (or abuse)”?
The trick, of course, is figuring out what dietary, fitness and other measures have the best chance of conferring not only direct physical benefits but also epigenetic ones. This is not something you can get out of a book, video, on-line test or article. It requires input from a healthcare practitioner who obtains details on your genetic inheritance, medical history, habits, and more, plus the results of specific tests, and then uses this to create a customized program to maximize your health and fitness (including your “epigenetic fitness”). This is exactly what functional medicine practitioners are trained to do.
Ultimately, what we are talking about is greater control over your health destiny. How so? Knowledge about epigenetics is a new, powerful tool you can make good use of to help maximize your wellness and keep you well. However, just knowing how to favorably influence your own epigenetic machinery and then not acting on this is akin to knowing how to work the gas pedal on your car but refusing to do so. It takes knowing plus action to move forward.
If you would like to learn more check out:
Dr. Jeff Bland on Epigenetics (Dr, Bland is the founder of functional medicine)
Epigenetic Therapy on NOVA (October 2007)
Understanding Epigenetics (Mayo Clinic Health Letter)
Technical Review (Journal paper): Epigenetics: A New Bridge between Nutrition and Health