Is it really all in your genes?
Epigenetics is a topic that I have been wanting to write about for ages but every time I have started a post it gets complicated and spirals into something beyond the scope of what I can easily explain. So this time I am going to try to keep it very simple – only the bits that you need to know in order to make decisions for yourself and your family. There is a lot more to it than this explanation so please do the research for yourself if you want more information.
This is a topic that I first encountered at a seminar for trauma treatment and I was immediately fascinated. As I began to study nutrition epigenetics popped up again. So what is it and why should you know about it?
Many of us have been taught that our genes determine everything about us and that if it is ‘written’ in our DNA then that is what our fate will be. I have heard many time that some cancers, depression, schizophrenia, autism etc are genetic and therefore that individual was fated to develop that particular illness regardless.
Epigenetics suggests otherwise. Epigenetics refers to the influence of any environmental factor that can alter the way that your genes express themselves. Essentially, outside influences can determine whether particular genes are switched on or off or they can lead to changes in the expression of particular genes. These environmental influences alter the function but not the structure of the gene and the changes can be stable and long lasting. These environmental factors include diet, toxins (from the air, food, personal care products, chemicals, clothing etc), trauma and lifestyle factors. So the underlying DNA sequence remains the same but the way the genes express themselves differs.
These changes in gene expression can also be passed on to future generations. Studies have shown that adult children of parents with PTSD have a significantly higher chance of having PTSD symptoms themselves, even without being exposed to trauma. Environmental influences prenatally and during pregnancy can affect the gene expression in babies which may show up early in life or much later on.
So is this good news or bad news? Well, what it suggests is that just because you may have inherited a genetic predisposition to a mental or physical illness, the genes still have to be ‘turned on’ to result in that particular disorder. This may occur through exposure to certain life events or maternal exposure to certain factors during pregnancy, or many other possibilities. It is not inevitable that you will get cancer, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, ADHD or any other disorder or illness. You need the interaction between the genes and the environment for that to occur.
For me this translates into doing whatever you can to keep things clean – reducing exposure to toxins in your environment, eating real food, avoiding GMOs, reducing the use of plastic for food storage and drink bottles, using only natural products on your body and in your home, getting enough sleep, exercise and reducing stress. Seeking treatment for trauma or other issues is also helpful. There is no guarantee that this will prevent you from developing diseases or disorders but it gives you (and your children, grandchildren and great grandchildren) the best chance.
Here are a few journal articles if you want to read more about epigenetics. A search on google scholar or pubmed will provide you will many, many more.