Our DNA is the same in all our cells, yet some cells look and act different because of epigenetics. Read on to find out how epigenetics controls what your genes do. Most importantly, you’ll learn how to make sure you pass on a healthy genetic code AND epigenetic picture to future generations.
Genetics and epigenetics
Our DNA is set when are are conceived and our cells have the same DNA or genetics. For a long time, we were told that if we have a gene for a condition, it means we will get it that condition. Once we sequenced the human genome, researchers realized it wasn’t that simple.
Epigenetics is what controls how our DNA is expressed in our body. We’ve known that it exists for decades. The machinery that epigenetics uses to alter DNA expression is active when cells differentiate into skin, muscle, hair and other body cells in the first 8 weeks of our development in the womb and during puberty.
Twins, genetics and epigenetics
Twins have the same genetic code. We use them to study epigenetics because the genetic code is the same. From these studies, we know that lifestyle affects how our DNA is expressed. Expressed basically means if the individual pieces of our genes are more likely or less likely to affect our health. When a gene is turned on it does something in the body and when it’s off, it is essentially silenced. The epigenetic on and off switching for DNA expression are mostly striped off our DNA when it combines with other DNA in pregnancy. However, some of the switches make it through and our offspring is then programmed from birth based on our lifestyle choices.
Lifestyle and epigenetics
Turns out that a healthy lifestyle is just that because it minimizes expression of problematic genes and emphasizes helpful ones. This is also why there is no pill that can do what lifestyle does. Here are my 5 top tips for having the best epigenetics (and thus gene expression) you can.
- Eat a healthy diet – this might be different depending on who you are but usually goes beyond the food guide and counting calories. I love helping my patients maximize their nutrient intake so if you need some help let me know!
- Sleep about 8 hours a night – if sleep is evading you there are lots of ways to improve it!
- Get daily movement by limiting sitting time to 45 minute stretches. Walking counts!
- Foster healthy social connections – positive relationships with friends and family reduce stress and improve our health.
- Mindfulness meditation – even 5 minutes a day can change your brain for the better!