How to Change Your Genes, The Science of Epigentics

April 09, 2010

How to Change Your Genes, The Science of Epigentics 

 Reference:  Time Magazine, Jan 18, 2010 Competence:  Environment 

 Well, I get home from work each day and change into my jeans.  That’s not what we are talking about here.  I want you to change how your genes are expressed.  Each of us was only provided with 22,000 different genes.  But did you know that your epigenome might be as big as 25,000,000 change points?  Now, that makes for some variety!  What is your epigenome and why is important for you to understand it? Your epigenome is all about how your genes are expressed.  

Brain cells and blood vessel cells both have the same chromosomes in them, but one is an electrical computer and the other is a pulsing piece of plumbing.  Each express themselves differently.  As simple as it sounds, it comes down to sticking a single carbon onto your DNA or onto the histone proteins that wrap up your DNA and keep it safe.  How you translate your DNA is then managed by how many methyl groups you have attached, where they are attached, and how your DNA reading proteins react to them.   What you do in your own life then changes how many methyl groups are added or subtracted. 

 The implications are huge. Here are some examples of how we know your epigenome plays itself out.  We know, for example, that the Vitamin D exposure you have as a child sets your risk of developing multiple sclerosis when you are thirty or forty, and probably also for insulin-dependent diabetes.  We are pretty certain from twin studies with lupus patients that the amount of genetic risk for developing lupus is directly related to the amount of methyl groups attached to the genes that are associated with lupus. 

 Time Magazine details the story of the first pioneer in epigenetics, Lars Bygren, followed the life stories of Swedish farmers who went through famines in the 1800s.  Their grandchildren were still having an impact on their health based on the amount of starvation and overfeeding that occurred 100 years ago.  The DNA didn’t change, but the way it was expressed played through not just the individual, but through generations.  In fruit fly epigenetic experiments, you can show that it can take up to 30 generations to weed out the epigenetic changes. 

Here’s what’s interesting for you and me.  You continue to set how your genes are expressed throughout your life.  The food you eat sets off different genetic responses within hours.  You can alter your methylation just by making sure you get lots of B vitamins, in particular B12 and folate.  What are the foods that give you abundant folate?  Dark green spinach.  B12 comes from meat.  Only. 

 WWW. What will work for me.  You are not doomed by your DNA.  You can bend it to your will.  You can express your genes within your lifetime, one way or another.  The food group most strongly associated with longevity is leafy dark green vegetables.  Have some spinach for dinner tonight!  Methylate away.

Column written by Dr. John E. Whitcomb, MD. Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI.