We carry our DNA (or genetic information) inside the nucleus of every living cell in our bodies. A selection of genes is inherited from both of our biological parents, and it forms a blueprint for the development of our bodies throughout life.
hile genetics is the well-established study of heredity that once suggested our genes are fixed for life, a more empowering field of research has really taken off in recent decades. Epigenetics means “above genetics”, and this fascinating field provides some empowering answers to the question of nature versus nurture.
So let’s get straight into the 10 fascinating facts about epigenetics that could transform your health!
You can influence your genetic expression
Until fairly recently, the idea that our genes are fixed for life was a common belief. However, this is not entirely true. While we can’t trade in the genetic blueprint we’re born with (AKA your genome), we can influence the expression of our genes, both consciously and unconsciously.
In other words, we have the power to turn our genes on and off by influencing whether certain codes in our DNA are converted into functional proteins. We’ll always have the genes out parents gave us, but we can use epigenetics to optimise how our bodies use those genes.
Genetic expression is the term for when a gene is activated, and it’s important to remember that you have many inherited genes that aren’t necessarily active in your own makeup. The question is, how do we turn the helpful genes on and switch the unhelpful genes off?
Your epigenome tells your genome what to do
While your genome remains the same, your epigenome can and will change throughout your lifetime. Genetics concerns the physical structure of your DNA, but epigenetics is all about the process of turning genes on and off through many biological mechanisms.
Epigenetic modifications don’t change your DNA, but they do prevent or allow certain genes to make the specific proteins that make us who we are. Over time, this process can alter your physical traits, change the course of specific health conditions, and transform your overall health.
Not only does epigenetics explain the processes of ageing and human development, the origins of cancer, heart disease, mental illness, and many other conditions, but it could also explain why Covid-19 affects people so differently.
Epigenetic changes made under stressful conditions will revert over time if the environmental stressors are removed
Your environment affects your genetic expression
Epigenetic changes happen in response to our environment. Everything from your physical surroundings, daily experiences, dietary choices, behaviours, and even your thoughts, beliefs and perceptions, are all environmental factors that influence the expression of your genes.
More specifically, all these factors are epigenetic signals that will either alter how the genome is packaged inside the cell or put a chemical tag on specific genes in the genome. These chemical tags form your epigenetic code, which influences your ability to change for better or worse.
Environmental factors like stress, toxins and nutrition can restructure your DNA and influence the production of special proteins called histones that ultimately change how a cell behaves. The most important takeaway from this is to understand that epigenetic changes made under stressful conditions will revert over time if the environmental stressors are removed.
Epigenetics highlights our unique needs
Everyone on the planet has a different set of genes, a different environment, and a different lifestyle; not even identical twins are exactly the same. This means we all have different foods that help us find optimal health, as well as different ways of exercising; 60 minutes of exercise can make some people fit and strong, but cause pain and burnout for others.
We all thrive in different social environments and different climates and benefit from various healing modalities and recreational activities. What quiets your mind may be very stimulating for someone else, and you may enjoy and excel in a job that others find tedious or exhausting.
The food you eat affects your epigenetic code
We’ve all heard the expression, “you are what you eat,” but the study of epigenetics gives this old saying a lot more scientific weight, as well as practical implications that acknowledge how different we all are. You’ve probably noticed the way certain fruits and vegetables help some people thrive, while others have an intolerance or allergy that hinders their health.
The foods we eat create the chemical tags that change the way specific genes are expressed. Along with regular exercise, epigenetic modifications are possible though a consistently healthy diet with a wide variety of natural whole foods. The key is to listen to your own body to figure out which foods are best for you.
As nutrition can lead to dramatic deprogramming and reprogramming of many genes, you may be wondering whether any dietary choices might accelerate the process of epigenetic change. The high nutrient-density and anti-inflammatory properties of superfoods make them an excellent option for those who want the most efficient route to optimal health and long-term disease prevention.
Epigenetic change is a holistic process, and no single supplement can rewrite your entire epigenetic code
Epigenetic change requires specific essential minerals
Although superfoods can definitely help, it’s important to remember that countless different factors trigger gene expression. Epigenetic change is a holistic process, and no single supplement can rewrite your entire epigenetic code. On top of your nutrition, you may require a lifestyle overhaul or a career change to truly reset your genetic pathway to a healthier destination.
That said, there are several essential minerals that we require for positive epigenetic change. Superfoods are abundant sources of many essential nutrients, including the following list of minerals that drive our epigenetic processes:
Epigenetics reinforces the mind-body connection
Using the latest research in cell biology and quantum physics, Dr Bruce Lipton demonstrates that our bodies change in response to how we think. He found that our genes don’t directly control our bodies, but that signals from outside the cell control most of our DNA, and these signals are the energetic messages from our thoughts.
When you feel happy and relaxed, your brain sends chemical messages for the body to produce the specific hormones, enzymes and neuropeptides that switch on the genes that reflect your happiness, or switch off any genes that don’t match your positive psychological state.
This means we can consciously or unconsciously wire ourself for happiness, success, failure, anger, health, or literally any other mind-body state. The powerful link between mental processes and physiological conditions in the body is sometimes overlooked and dismissed as ‘new-age woo,’ but thanks to scientists like Dr Lipton, we can have confidence in the mind-body connection.
The “placebo effect” shows the power of the mind
Placebo Effect: When a patient is given a fake treatment with no known medical effect, their physical or psychological condition is likely to improve if:
- They believe they’ve received the real treatment, and
- They believe the real treatment is effective.
The placebo effect is a phenomenon that has been observed since the early days of medical practice, and it demonstrates the potent power of our thoughts, beliefs and perceptions.
In fact, we are switching our genes on and off with our mindset in each moment. Our thoughts and feelings influence our brain chemistry, which then changes the hormone levels in our bloodstream, which in turn affect how our cells behave and control the expression of our genes.
The field of epigenetics explains why mindfulness techniques, hypnosis and coaching can be such effective tools for health and personal development.
Epigenetic changes may be passed onto children
The idea that your diet, lifestyle and experiences could impact the next generation would have been laughed at 20 years ago. Today, however, the hypothesis that an individual's experiences could be passed on via molecular memory to their children and grandchildren has become widely accepted.
The implication here is that we have also inherited the effects of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents traumas, choices and mindsets. Fortunately, once we become aware of our inherited epigenome, we can make positive epigenetic changes by curating our external environment, our diet and lifestyle, and most importantly - our thoughts, beliefs and perceptions.
Epigenetics could be the future of personalised healthcare
Not only does epigenetics empower us to influence our own health and experience of life, but this field of research has the exciting potential to eliminate chronic illness and pain from our future generations.
Research in science and medicine has traditionally been based around generic population sciences, with averages, ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions, and globally generic health advice. Epigenetics gives health professionals the ability to provide specific and unique advice based on what’s best for the individual.
Epigenetics is exciting
Not only do we inherit genes for our physical, mental and emotional traits, but we also inherit genes associated with disease and disorders. So naturally, it’s not uncommon for people to feel victimised by their genetic inheritance.
Epigenetics is exciting because it provides scientific evidence that not only empowers us to take back control and responsibility for our own health and wellbeing, but it also means we can increase the likelihood of our children and grandchildren enjoying a positive life experience.