Moving Epigenetics from the Lab to the Living Room
We are not helpless victims of our genetic destiny.
Posted Nov 02, 2011
It was previously thought that we were born with a fixed genetic blueprint and there was nothing we could do to influence that set of plans. Epigenetics tells us a different story. We can, in fact, influence how our genes behave. Scientists have been having a friendly debate about this idea for decades but we've reached that critical tipping point-time to share some scientific conclusions with the broader community. The fact is the study of epigenetics will likely help transform how we look at disease prevention.
Here is a very simple snapshot of how this all works. It's true the genes we were born with are fixed. However, epigenetic scientists show us that we can influence how our genes are expressed and which genes are silenced. This is critical because it's our genes that tell all of the cells in our body what to do. Our genes contain critical cellular instructions that determine if we are well or if we become sick. Genes are like light switches. Based on what we do, some switches will turn on and some will turn off. The key is to figure out how to control those switches.
Cancer as an example
In our book, Five to Thrive: Your cutting-edge cancer prevention plan, my coauthor and I use cancer to illustrate the power of epigenetics. Our genes have instructions that dictate the activity of our cells including cancer killing and cancer promoting cells. For example, some genes send direct messages to key immune system cells such as Natural Killer (NK) cells and Cytotoxic T Cells, which are the elite warriors of our internal immune system army. But what happens when the genes that control these critical immune cells are silenced? Our immune system becomes weak. The flip side is also true, when the instructions from these genes can be easily read by these critical immune cells, our immune system is more robust and active.
This is great news but the real question is, how do we influence this genetic expression? Epigenetics shows us that diet, lifestyle, and dietary supplements can help influence how our genes behave. As you can likely predict, if we eat a wholesome, whole foods healthful diet, we are turning on the protector switches and turning off the cancer promoting switches. Even something as simple as laughter positively influences our genes and therefore our cells. A 2007 Japanese study published in Biomedical Research demonstrated that laughter amplified 27 different genes with 14 of those genes directly linked to NK cell activity. This same study found that NK cell activity was elevated during the funny video and remained active even four hours after the video was done showing that laughter has a lasting positive epigenetic affect!
We've always known that eating healthy and laughing is good for us so why all of the excitement about epigenetics? Epigenetics is for:
• people who say "why bother?"
• people with a family history of a serious illness like cancer, heart disease, or diabetes
• people wanting proof that their actions really do make a difference
• people who want to convince others to make changes in their lives
• people who want a more targeted approach to reducing risk and enhancing wellness
The most important aspect about epigenetics is that we can use this information to help us prioritize what our wellness plan should focus on. In Five to Thrive, we concentrate on positively and epigenetically influencing five key bodily pathways: immune, inflammation, insulin resistance, hormones, and digestion/detoxification. We've created an entire plan with advice and guidelines that positively influence all five pathways. This is one example of how we can use the power of epigenetics to enhance wellness.
The future is here
It's likely that epigenetic researchers are looking to develop new drugs or diagnostic measures that will impact our health. And it's likely that we will be hearing about these new advances more and more over the coming years. But don't wait, the future is here and we can act on this information right now.