JUST BECAUSE YOU’VE INHERITED CERTAIN GENES, IT DOESN’T MEAN YOU HAVE TO BE GOVERNED BY THEM. LATEST RESEARCH SHOWS YOU CAN MANIPULATE YOUR INHERITED MAKE-UP WITH DRAMATIC OUTCOMES
The lowdown on epigenetics
It’s long been assumed that because a wide range of health problems have a genetic link, if your parents were diagnosed with a condition, your chances of getting it are high.
However, advances in epigenetics – the study of how we influence gene function – have led scientists to believe we have more control over our inherited make-up than previously thought.
What this essentially means is that environmental factors, like nutrition and stress, can create epigenetic changes, which switch a gene either on or off. This helps explain why only one identical twin might develop type-2 diabetes; both twins inherit the same genes, but different lifestyle choices switch the diabetes-related genes on or off.
Researchers are only just starting to understand all the ways that changing how genes function can affect a person’s health, while also unravelling exactly what causes the epigenetic changes in the first place.
For example, cancer researchers are exploring how epigenetics might turn a healthy cell into a cancerous one. Their discoveries could lead to more effective cancer treatments – or even a cure.
Like the genes themselves, epigenetic changes can also be inherited, which means your parents’ and grandparents’ lifestyles before you were conceived impact your health by determining how your genes function. Likewise, as well as influencing your own genes, your lifestyle might influence how your children’s genes function.
Some healthy habits can spark almost instant epigenetic changes to your genes – changes that could help protect against everything from heart disease and stroke to diabetes, cancer and arthritis. They could also help you drop weight. Many of them are very simple to incorporate into your everyday life.
The action of at least two genes that are linked to inflammation in the body are turned right down in people who meditate. Psychologists at Coventry University analysed 18 studies of gene behaviour, and in research published in June this year concluded genes related to inflammation become less active in people who practise mind-body interventions. This is key because inflammation has been shown to play a role in the development and progression of a variety of diseases, including heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
Being active triggers positive epigenetic changes to at least a third of your genes, including some that have been linked to type-2 diabetes and a higher risk of obesity. When those particular genes are deactivated, the way fat cells store fat improves. Research published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology
Some simple, healthy habits can spark almost instant epigenetic changes
last year concluded that after walking for 45 minutes three times a week for two months, study participants experienced improved insulin sensitivity which reduces inflammation and fat storage.
Consume resistant starch
Resistant starch is a fibre-like nutrient that’s found in lentils, cooked and
Genes related to inflammation become less active in people who meditate
cooled potatoes, and many unprocessed cereals and grains. Because resistant starch resists digestion, it makes it to the large intestine where bacteria change it into a short-chain fatty acid. This has been shown to produce beneficial epigenetic changes in cancer-related genes, particularly those that may play a role in bowel cancer.
Eat fermented foods
Fermented foods, such as kimchi and sauerkraut, create positive effects in the expression of genes related to blood pressure and weight gain, thanks to the way they improve gut bacteria. In a 2015 study published in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, South Korean scientists concluded that eating kimchi for eight weeks could help metabolism, boost immunity and also have an impact on circulation and digestion.
Getting enough sleep
Sleep deprivation creates the ideal environment for weight-gain-related genes to be switched on – and even one bad night can have an impact. A Swedish study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism concluded that losing just a single night of sleep can alter the genes that control our body’s cellular biological clocks. Jonathan Cedernaes, lead author of the study, says, “It could be these changes are reset after one night of good sleep [or it may be] sleep loss could lead to changes in the genome of your tissues that can affect your metabolism for longer periods.”