Want to change your genes? Just change your mind.

Author: Dr. Gary Huber, DO

Date: Feb, 2010

Epigenetics explained

We control our genes – not the other way around. This is an important concept if you truly want control of your life and your health. Our genes respond to the environmental signals that we choose to expose them to.  So yes, we are in control of 90% of our gene expression.  This is the basic premise of “Epigenetics”.  Where this gets even more exciting is that we can pass on our good gene expression to our kids and limit our bad genes by how we choose to live our life.  Confused?  Hang in there, I’ll explain. 

Basic premise is that we have chromosomes which are 50% DNA material and 50% protein sleeve.  This protein sleeve that coats our DNA plays a huge role in how our genes, or DNA get expressed.  Lets say that you have a bad gene that predisposes you to type 2 diabetes but you eat a good diet and live an active lifestyle that causes the histone proteins around that diabetes gene to bind like super glue.  In order for that bad diabetic gene to “express” itself it must be uncovered and replicated and brought into action as an active gene.  If the protein coat over it is bound like glue and never exposes the gene, then your body can never replicate it or copy it and thus never express it.  It remains a dormant gene forever locked away in a protein prison. 

It gets better.  This locked up gene is still part of your DNA and will get passed on to your children but the effects of your lifestyle choices get passed on as well.  The gene you pass on is one that is tightly bound by protein and unlikely to get expressed by your children.  So even if your parents and family all had diabetes or heart disease, the lifestyle choices you make in your life time can alter your genes expression to the point that you pass on a less problematic gene/protein combination.  Your lifestyle choices actually get passed on through your genes and impact the health of your kids.  Amazing!

Need proof?  I did.

A study done at Duke University in 2003 was performed on “agouti” mice.  What you may not know is that there is a warehouse that stores thousands of different types of mice that are intentionally bred to have certain genetic defects so that scientists can study the effects different influences on a certain type of gene expression.  So an agouti mouse is one with a gene that all but guarantees that it will be obese and have yellow fur, instead of the normal brown fur.  It is predisposed to heart disease, diabetes and cancer as a result of its genetic propensity for obesity.  Well these agouti mice were fed a diet that contained added nutrients of folic acid, vitamin B12, betaine and choline.  These nutrients will increase methylation of the protein coat around the DNA and limit the expression of the “agouti gene”.  These mice were then allowed to go to the local mouse bar for a night of casual sex and they all got pregnant.  Heathens.  The mice that were fed the supplement combination listed above all gave birth to normal offspring that had brown coats and were of normal size.  Their offspring did not express the agouti gene even though it was still a part of their DNA.  The agouti mothers were able to silence the bad genes by a change in their diet so that their lifestyle effects got inherited by their kids.  Now that is amazing.  So if you struggle to make good choices for yourself then consider what you may be passing on to your children.  In these studies at Duke, the agouti mothers were diabetic but their offspring were not. 

Now understand that these were specific mice and the effects of methylating their chromosomal histone proteins was studied exclusively.  We can’t make the assumption that human ingestion of folic acid, B12, choline and betaine will have the effect it did on these mice and I am not recommending this as a weight loss solution.  This is merely detailed so that you can see the real life effects of diet changes on gene expression.  But the message is so powerful.  To think that we can have such control over our gene expression that it gets transferred to our kids and future generations. 

So as the title says, if you want to change your genes then all you need to do is change your mind about lifestyle habits that are not presently serving you.  You can pick the path of your health and you do so every day with your food, exercise, and lifestyle choices.  I also warn you to avoid mouse bars as they apparently lead to an alarming rate of pregnancy.