Years ago as a scout leader, I had a young man sitting in front of me eating some of the worst snack foods I had ever seen. I mean it was insulting to bad foods in general to even call these things “snack foods.” I laughingly commented on the poor quality of what he was ingesting and his reply left a deep impression on me. He stated “It doesn’t matter what I eat, I’m already doomed to poor health since my grandpa and dad both have had heart attacks, I know someday I’ll have one too.”
You see, we are all dealt a genetic deck of cards at birth. It’s true that these genes do predispose us to manifest certain traits but by no means do they condemn us to a specific disease unless we turn them on thereby allowing the manifestation of disease.
Epigenetics is a term that describes what happens “on top of” or literally “to” a gene. Genes are like switches that can be “turned on” and in many cases “turned off.” This switching of a gene on or off helps to explain why identical twins become distinct as they age, health-wise, and it explains how you can actually tweak your genes for better or worse.
In fact, every day you change your genetics. It happens from the foods you eat, the air you breathe, and even by the conversations you have and the thoughts you think. Ultimately we are all in charge of our personal genetic roadmap.
As we get older our genome does not change but our 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 environmental changes, to diet, to abuse.
One of the key secrets to turning genes on or off is in the process of methylation. This interestingly is a key to many aspects of our health and largely overlooked. It starts in the gut which for many people is not working well due to inhibition of proper methylation and through suppression of stomach acid.
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 from being expressed. In general we do not exhibit a disease simply because a defective gene is present, it happens due to the regulation or expression of your gene by epigenetic influences. If people truly understand this they would often live completely different lives. It really is good news – it means you aren’t condemned by bad genes.
There is a great book on this topic by Dr. Bruce Lipton called the “Biology of Belief” This book explains the foundation of epigenetics, and how the true secret to life does not lie solely within your DNA, there is greater impact on our life within the activities of the cell membrane.
Ideally you’re already leading a healthy lifestyle, eating correctly, exercising regularly and managing stress, but if you’re not it’s never too late to start. You can begin to “remind” your cells to express in a healthful way, long before you manifest a disease, by encouraging your genes to express positive, disease-fighting behaviors by leading a healthy lifestyle.
I recommend all my patients do appropriate genetic testing to see what their predispositions are dietarily since that is the greatest environmental trigger we have total control over to manage our own epigenetics. Doing the testing provides vital information from which you can guide your diet, nutrition, and even physical activities that would be of most benefit.
Even if you’re already eating well it might not be enough for you to reach your highest level of wellness and optimal genetic expression. You could actually be eating an all-organic diet – and still be missing the mark of peak wellness.
Dr. David M. Marquis is the only board certified clinical nutritionist in the San Luis Obispo County. He also holds certifications in botanical medicine, Class IV laser therapies, manipulation under anesthesia, interactive metronome therapies and is currently pursuing another diplomate in chiropractic neurology.