What we’ve always been taught and supposed common logic dictates that we are born with our genes and we are stuck with them, powerless to change them. While part of that statement is true- that we cannot change our genetic makeup- the aspect that we are powerless is far from a reality. It’s time to dispel such rigid notions that what you’re born with is what you’re destined to struggle with, and that the way your genes interact- called epigenetics, are partially within your control. Your genes are fluid, dynamic, and responsive to everything you think and do. Recent research is in fact showing that lifestyle and nutrition can definitely influence the way our genes are expressed and can mitigate any genetic anomalies that we are born with. Here are the best ways to mitigate any bad genetics:
- Exercise: Exercise can keep those genes under your control and reduce your genetic predisposition by 40%. A 2008 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that among Amish people with the FTO gene, a gene associated with obesity and a high BMI, physical activity prevented the weight gain typically seen in people with the gene.
Another interesting study published in the New York Times, references a study published this month in Epigenetics, scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm recruited 23 young and healthy men and women, asking them to bicycle with one leg while resting the other for 45 minutes, 4 times a week, for 3 months. Using sophisticated genomic analysis, the study showed that more than 5,000 sites on the genome of muscle cells from the exercised leg now featured new methylation patterns. The changes were significant and not found in the unexercised leg. Interestingly, many of the methylation changes were on portions of the genome known to play a role in energy metabolism, insulin response and inflammation within muscles. In other words, they affect how healthy and fit our muscles and bodies can become.
In yet another study looking at skeletal muscle, it was found that there were changed in DNA methylation before and after an intense workout. Post-exercise, fewer methyl groups were found on some of the genes involved in energy metabolism. Conversely, genes unrelated to energy metabolism remained methylated, or blocked. This means that, in response to a single exercise session, genes related to the breakdown of fuels for energy were expressed while the genes not involved in energy metabolism were blocked. The findings conclude that exercise can, indeed, promote changes that will benefit performance and not just lower risk factors for disease.
- Proper Nutrition: Epigenetic modifications can occur in response to environmental stimuli, one of the most important of which is diet. Nutrients and bioactive food components can modify epigenetic phenomena and alter the expression of genes at the transcriptional level. Folate, vitamin B-12, methionine, choline, and betaine can affect DNA methylation and histone methylation through altering 1-carbon metabolism. This means that these nutrients can help the expression of the good genes within your body, while also mitigating the expression of some of the bad ones. Many components of food have the potential to cause epigenetic changes in humans. For example, broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables contain isothiocyanates, which are able to increase histone acetylation. Soya is a source of the isoflavone genistein, which is thought to decrease DNA methylation in certain genes. Curcumin, a compound found in turmeric, can have multiple effects on gene activation, because it inhibits DNA methylation but also modulates histone acetylation.
- Meditation: The benefits of meditation and mindful-based trainings on health are widely known and tested, with the American Heart Association even citing it as a preventative intervention due to its positive effects on inflammatory disorders. However, a new study by researchers in Wisconsin, Spain, and France showcases the first evidence of specific molecular changes in the body following a period of mindful meditation. The study monitored the effects of a day of intensive mindfulness practice in a group of experienced meditators, compared to a group of untrained control subjects who partook in quiet non-meditative activities. After 8 hours of mindfulness practice, the meditators showed a range of positive genetic and molecular differences compared to the control group. These changes included altered levels of gene-regulating machinery and reduced levels of pro-inflammatory genes, which in turn correlated with faster physical recovery from a stressful situation.
- Avoiding toxins: Eating certain diets or being exposed to pollutants, for instance, can change the methylation patterns on some of the genes in our DNA and affect what proteins those genes express. Depending on which genes are involved, it may also affect our health and risk for disease. Scientists today are uncovering a host of potential new links between environmental exposures in the womb and health problems later in life, from bisphenol A (BPA) encouraging obesity to pesticides precipitating cognitive problems. The best way to mitigate this is to limit the toxins to which our bodies are exposed to on a daily basis, including nicotine, caustic cleaning products, and preservatives in our food.