The interest in the field of epigenetics has increased rapidly over the last decade. Attention to this subject now spans across many scientific specialties, and even into mainstream. (source, source) This is due to the powerful paradigm shift it entails.
Epigenetics, the study of how environmental factors interact with our genes, has verified that although our DNA contains the “hardware” to our biological book of life, we can influence how it is “read” and “expressed.” Through changing our “cellular environment” by various lifestyle practices, we can modify wellness in a way that no longer makes us victims to our genetics.
These alterations in our genes occur through very complex, molecular mechanisms. For the science buffs, these include:
- DNA methylation
- Histone modification (acetylation, phosphorylation, ubiquitination, acetylation, and methylation)
- Single nucleotide polymorphism and their cofactors
- … and more continues to be discovered (source, source, source, source, source, source, source, source)
A lot of attention in the health and fitness blogosphere has been focused on how one factor, nutrition, can interact with our genes. This is called nutrigenomics. As an article in Environmental Health Perspective states:
Although genes are critical for determining function, nutrition modifies the extent to which different genes are expressed and thereby modulates whether individuals attain the potential established by their genetic background…
When it comes to maintaining genomic integrity, epigenetic changes such as those involving DNA and histone modifications are as profound as the genetic ones…Changes in the epigenome in response to dietary factors may often precede changes in the genome, and yet those genomic changes help solidify the emergence of new epigenetic patterns within the organism.
In other words, dietary factors indeed have a major role in how our body functions, at the cellular level.
This has led many health experts and fitness gurus to become even more passionate about dietary “do’s and don’ts” and which foods are “good” and “bad.” Unfortunately, this well-intentioned, yet often conflicting information, has a downside.
Although it’s important to realize that how we nourish our bodies can impact our health, diet and fitness are only a few factors that can impact our exposome. (The exposome is the sum of environmental exposures from conception to present that complement our genome.) Narrowly focusing only on “food as medicine,” or, the latest fitness craze can cause harm when taken to an extreme. Specifically, it can lead to dietary tribes that cause divisions and confusion, healthism, weight stigma, and severing previous relationships which don’t view health and diet similarly. I discuss this in greater detail here.
For this reason, I’ve recently been focusing on how relationships and cultural beliefs are equally important health determinants, if not more so. After all, isolation is the number one predictor of cardiac mortality, over any physical marker. Just as food and exercise modify our DNA, social connections and the beliefs we share within groups do as well.
Click here to read, “How Social Connections & Rejection Effect Health & How to Nourish Your Genes with Better Relationships.”
This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)