This means that expression of your genes can change, and they are influenced by external factors.
One implication of this is that many health problems -- ranging from cancer to cardiovascular disease to neurological disorders -- can be caused at least in part by altered "histone modifications," which affect DNA.
According to Eurekalert:
“The good news ... is that ‘HDAC inhibitors’ can stop this degenerative process, and some of them have already been identified in common foods. Examples include sulforaphane in broccoli, indole-3-carbinol in cruciferous vegetables, and organosulfur compounds in vegetables like garlic and onions.”
The widely accepted dogma that your genes control your health destiny is quickly being uprooted by the emerging field of epigenetics. Epigenetics is probably the most important biological discovery since DNA!
How does it work?
You’ve probably heard the debate of “nature vs. nurture” … meaning, is it the genetic code you received at conception or the environment in which you were raised that most influences your future health? The answer is both … but your actions, lifestyle and even your thoughts may have the most sway … and nothing is set in stone. Allow me to explain …
You’re in Control of Your Health Destiny
In his book, The Biology of Belief, Dr. Lipton explains the foundation of epigenetics, and how the true secret to life does not lie within your DNA, but rather within the mechanisms of the cell membrane. In this way -- which is contrary to conventional medical science -- it is actually the cell’s membrane -- operating in response to environmental signals picked up by the membrane’s receptors -- that control the “reading” of the genes inside.
For instance, researchers from the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University recently explained at Experimental Biology 2010 how altered "histone modifications” can impact the expression of many degenerative diseases, ranging from cancer and heart disease to biopolar disorder and even aging itself.
Rod Dashwood, a professor of environmental and molecular toxicology and head of LPI's Cancer Chemoprotection Program, told EurekAlert:
"We believe that many diseases that have aberrant gene expression at their root can be linked to how DNA is packaged, and the actions of enzymes such as histone deacetylases, or HDACs.
As recently as 10 years ago we knew almost nothing about HDAC dysregulation in cancer or other diseases, but it's now one of the most promising areas of health-related research."
You have tumor suppressor genes in your body right now, and these genes are capable of stopping cancer cells in their tracks. These genes are present in ALL of your cells, but so are proteins called histones.
As Dr. Jean-Pierre Issa at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center explains, histones can essentially “hug” DNA so tightly that it becomes “hidden from view for the cell.” If a tumor suppressor gene is hidden, it cannot be utilized, and in this way too much HDAC will “turn off” these cancer suppressors.
Now here’s where epigenetics comes in … there are many HDAC inhibitors out there that will essentially block the HDAC, allowing your tumor suppressor genes to activate and fight cancer. These HDAC inhibitors exist, at least in part, in common foods like broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, garlic and onions.
By adding these foods to your diet, you are supporting your body’s ability to fight tumors.
And this is only one example of many.
You are in control of your genes … and are changing them often -- daily and perhaps even hourly -- based on the foods you eat, the air you breathe, and the thoughts you think. It’s your environment and lifestyle that dictates your tendency to express disease, and this new realization is set to make major waves in the future of disease prevention -- including one day educating people on how to fight disease at the epigenetic level.
You Can Mold Your Genes to Your Advantage
No matter what hand you were dealt at birth, you can take steps to “activate” the disease-busting, health-boosting genes and suppress those that will cause you harm. This is evidenced perhaps most clearly by identical twins, who start out with the exact same genetic code … but end up very different.
Epigenetic "malleability" helps to explain why identical twins become distinct as they age.
For instance, why does one identical twin develop cancer and the other remain healthy when they have identical DNA? Why does one twin become obese and another remain lean?
As you age, your genome does not change but your epigenome changes dramatically, especially during critical periods of life, such as adolescence. It is influenced by physical and emotional stresses -- how you respond to everything that happens in your environment, from climate change to childhood abuse.
The secret is in the methyl groups that overlie the DNA molecule, which is the realm of the epigenome.
When a gene is turned off epigenetically, the DNA has usually been "methylated." When methyl groups adhere to a segment of DNA, they inhibit the gene’s response.
Methylation-gone-wrong is now suspected in autism, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
You do not manifest disease merely by a defective gene, but by your epigenome. In other words, whether or not you develop disease is determined by how your genome is being directed to express itself. There are also "master genes" that can switch on and off clusters of other genes.
Scientists have discovered it is easier to make epigenetic changes than to fix damaged genes. Your epigenome is easier to mess up -- but it’s also easier to fix.
That’s good news -- it means you aren’t doomed by bad genes!
Epigenetic therapy, which is essentially the curing of disease by epigenetic manipulation, involves changing the instructions to your cells -- reactivating desirable genes and deactivating undesirable ones. This emerging field, now in its infancy, may represent the future of medicine.
A Healthy Lifestyle Supports Healthy Genetic Expression
One way to look at epigenetics is this: all of your cells contain ALL of your genes. The reason why your skin cells behave differently than, say, your liver cells, is because the genes that are not needed by a particular cell are turned off by epigenetics.
In fact, each tissue only uses about 10 percent to 20 percent of its gene complement, according to Dr. Issa. When a disease, such as cancer occurs, the solution, according to epigenetic therapy, is not to kill the cell as conventional cancer treatments do … it’s to “remind” the cell or change its instructions so that it can go back to being a normal, healthy cell instead of a cancer (or other disease) cell.
You can begin to do this on your own, long before you manifest a disease, by encouraging your genes to express positive, disease-fighting behaviors in the first place by leading a healthy lifestyle.
To get started, please read through my comprehensive nutrition plan, which will give you tips and tools for eating healthy, dealing with stress and living a lifestyle that will support your epigenetic health.
Please Remember Your Emotions Also Play a Major Role
You can also turn your genes on and off with your emotions. Most people have emotional traumas that can adversely affect their health. Using techniques like energy psychology, you can go in and correct the trauma and actually regulate the expression of your genes. My favorite technique for this is Meridian Tapping Technique/Emotional Freedom Technique (MTT/EFT).