Your DNA Is No Longer Your Destiny
Is your destiny written in your DNA? For years, scientists believed that a person’s DNA – the complex genetic code that carries all the information needed for your growth and development – was a fixed and unchanging set of “instructions” that directed the body’s processes from birth to death. But new insights from the emerging field of epigenetics suggest that these genetic instructions can be modified by external factors, with profound implications for health, wellness, disease and the aging process.
DNA: At the Heart of the Genome
For humans and all other life forms, the genome contains all the genetic material available to the organism. It’s a complete set of genetic instructions that includes all the “building blocks” needed to bring that organism, specifically you, through all the stages of life. The genome’s instructions are made up of DNA – a unique chemical code that guides the growth and development of each individual.
Although DNA is made up of only four nucleotide bases (Adenine, Guanine, Cytosine, and Thymine), all living things have a unique genome. The human genome has 3.2 billion base pairs of DNA creating an individual, very unique “fingerprint” capable of directing how each process in the body functions, thrives or dies. Defects or aberrant combinations of these elements in the genome are responsible for a number of disorders, inherited conditions, diseases or predispositions to them. For example, inherited cases of breast and ovarian cancer are typically associated with defects in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes which significantly increase the risk of these diseases in the respective individual.
SNPS Create Variations
Although humans all share a genome, variations in the sequencing of the nucleotides, the building blocks of DNA, account for the genetic differences that make each of us unique. Single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs – called “snips” by researchers – account for the most common genetic variations in people. Single nucleotide polymorphisms are the variations in a single nucleotide that occurs at a specific position in the genome where each variation is present > 1% within the population. This is called genetic variance or genetic variances in code. Single nucleotide polymorphisms are inherited but are not mutations.
It is estimated that approximately 10 million SNPs exist in the human genome, and they can occur within genes or in regulatory areas near genes. While many of these SNPs don’t appear to have an effect on an individual’s health or development, many clearly do, influencing things such as a person’s response to medications, to nutrition, to supplementation, to exercise and athletic performance, to hormones, to neurotransmitters, to inflammation potential, to detoxification, to risks of developing a particular disease or vulnerability to toxins… In the simplest terms, SNPs are the genetic expression adaptation to a changing environment. The behavior of SNPs can help predict the potential responses of an individual to their environment which offers insights into interventions that will positively affect the expression of the body’s encoded set of genetic instructions.
Epigenetics: The Mutability of Genes
Genetics is often called the study of heredity itself – the genetic “map” passed from parent to child that expresses specific traits. But epigenetics is a relatively new and rapidly expanding field of study (see image to right) that builds on the principles of genetics to explore the “switching” mechanisms that either suppress or express the message in a particular gene.
The term “epigenetics” dates from the 1940s, although research since then has expanded its scope significantly. The study of epigenetics refers to the study of the alterations in the expressions of genes that do not involve alterations in the DNA sequences themselves. The interaction between an individual’s environment and DNA can affect whether or not a certain gene is turned “on” – its information is activated and expressed – or “off,” so that its contents are not activated and expressed. According to Bruce Lipton, M.D.: “Epigenetic control reveals that environmental information alters the read-out of the genes without changing the underlying DNA sequenced code…From a single gene, epigenetic regulation can provide for 30,000 different variations of expression.”
DNA methylation (DNAm) is one of several epigenetic modifications that alter the behavior of DNA without actually changing its fundamental sequence. Other means of epigenetic modification include acetylation, glycosylation, lipidation, ubiquitination, and phosphorylation. DNAm can help maintain genetic stability – but disruptions in normal methylation can lead to either the activation or suppression of a particular gene. The role of epigenetics has been most intensively studied in relation to cancer, where changes in DNAm appear to “silence” tumor suppressor genes (see image below), but this process may also contribute to the development of a number of other diseases such as autoimmune disorders and a variety of neurological conditions. But DNAm does not just impact disease potential, but also wellness potential. DNA methylation can alter genetic expression that impacts nutrition, exercise and athletic performance, hormones, neurotransmitters, inflammation, detoxification, supplementation, sleep, and stress.
Environmental Factors Cause Genetic Changes
If changes in DNA methylation can alter the behavior of genes, then what causes those changes? Research suggests that a long list of heritable and environmental factors are capable of altering the genome’s epigenetic parts.
DNA methylation depends on the availability of methyl groups in the early stages of development from sources such as methionine, SAMe, methylcobalamine, and methyl-tetrahydrofolate. If appropriate DNAm is not established in the early stages of development, this deficiency could contribute to a range of conditions, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and schizophrenia. That means that factors such as poor prenatal nutrition, or even environmental factors such as stress or exposure to pesticides and other toxins can play a major role in the expression of some parts of the genome that will alter expression and may not appear until years, maybe even decades later. The image above highlights the timeline of epigenetic alteration of genetic expression that results in cancer decades later.
Genetics No Longer Means Destiny
These and other recent discoveries about epigenetics demonstrate that in many ways, we humans are not prisoners of our DNA. Because factors such as stress, nutrition and our environmental conditions can affect the mechanisms that switch certain genes on or off, it follows that many of those factors may be within our control and in fact they are. Reducing stress, optimizing nutrition and exercise, balancing hormones, optimizing detoxification, and supporting the body’s immune system to reduce inflammation can actually alter the behavior of our very genetic expression.
Working with epigenetics, making healthy changes to our personal environment may be the key to unlocking every individual’s genetic potential for a lifetime of wellness. That makes it possible to design customized wellness plans for nutrition, exercise and athletic performance, hormones, neurotransmitters, detoxification, sleep optimization, stress management, and supplementation to accommodate each individual’s unique genetic profile. All this means genetics is no longer under lock and key – and our DNA may not be our destiny after all.
Is your DNA your Destiny? Is your Diagnosis your Destiny. The study and application of epigenetics tells us no. Dr Goodyear and Seasons is proud to be one of the few sites in the U.S. to now offer customized plans of nutrition, exercise and athletic performance, hormone balance, neurotransmitter balance, sleep optimization, stress management, inflammation potential and management, detoxification, and even supplementation based on each individual’s epigenetics to achieve individual, optimal wellness potential. Call our office at 865.675.9355 today to learn more.