Epigenetics:

Change How They Act Instead!

We have always been told that our genes determine who we are. That’s true! Our genes hold the instructions for everything about us, like how we look and what diseases we might be prone to.

But there’s more to the story. There’s a fascinating field called epigenetics that shows how our genes can be influenced and changed by things around us. It’s like an extra layer of instructions on top of our genes that can be affected by our environment, choices we make, and our experiences. So, while our genes provide the foundation, epigenetics reveals how our actions and surroundings can actually shape who we become.

Have you ever wondered why identical twins, despite having the exact same DNA, can exhibit different traits or develop different diseases? Or how our body changes as we mature and age?

Epigenetics explores how our genes can be influenced and modified by our environment and lifestyle choices, shaping who we are and our health outcomes.

What is Epigenetics?

Epigenetics refers to changes in gene activity that occur without altering the underlying DNA sequence.Think of our DNA as the blueprint of life, containing all the instructions for building and maintaining our bodies. However, epigenetics adds an extra layer of instructions on top of the DNA blueprint, controlling how and when certain genes are expressed or “turned on.”[1]

  • Epigenetic Markers:
    Epigenetic modifications are carried out through chemical tags called “epigenetic markers.” These markers can attach to the DNA or the proteins associated with it, altering the structure and accessibility of genes.[2] They can turn genes on or off, increase or decrease their activity, or even affect how long the gene remains active.
  • Nature and Nurture:
    Epigenetics challenges the long-standing nature versus nurture debate. It reveals that it’s not just our genes (nature) or our environment (nurture) that shape us; rather, it’s the complex interplay between the two. [3]

    Epigenetic changes can be inherited, meaning they can be passed down from one generation to the next, potentially influencing the health and well-being of our offspring.[4]

  • Impact on Health:Epigenetics has significant implications for our health. It helps explain why some individuals may be more susceptible to certain diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, or heart conditions. [5]

    Environmental factors like diet, stress, and exposure to toxins can leave epigenetic marks on our genes, increasing the risk of developing certain conditions.

    However, the exciting part is that epigenetic changes are reversible, and by making positive lifestyle choices, we can potentially modify our gene expression and reduce the risk of disease.[6]

  • Epigenetics and Personalized Medicine:
    The field of epigenetics also holds promise for personalized medicine. By understanding a person’s epigenetic profile, doctors can tailor treatment plans to suit individual needs. This approach can lead to more effective and targeted therapies, potentially revolutionizing how we prevent and treat diseases in the future.

Conclusion

Epigenetics offers a new perspective on how our genes interact with the environment, emphasizing the dynamic nature of our biology. It shows us that our genes are not our destiny and that we have the power to influence our health outcomes through lifestyle choices. By further exploring the mysteries of epigenetics, we can unlock a deeper understanding of human biology and pave the way for a healthier future.

Remember, each small change you make today can have a big impact on your genes tomorrow.

References

1. Bird, A. (2007). Perceptions of epigenetics. Nature, 447(7143), 396-398.

2. Allis, C. D., Jenuwein, T., & Reinberg, D. (2007). Epigenetics (Vol. 1). Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.

3. Feinberg, A. P. (2007). Phenotypic plasticity and the epigenetics of human disease. Nature, 447(7143), 433-440.

4. Daxinger, L., & Whitelaw, E. (2012). Understanding transgenerational epigenetic inheritance via the gametes in mammals. Nature Reviews Genetics, 13(3), 153-162.

5. Esteller, M. (2008). Epigenetics in cancer. New England Journal of Medicine, 358(11), 1148-1159.

6. Wright, J. Epigenetics: Reversible tags. Nature 498, S10–S11 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/498S10a

Functional medicine Malaysia doctor

Author:
Dr. Shirley Koeh
Date:
30 August 2023

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