Lifestyle more Potent than Ancestry

Posted by on Aug 18, 2013

Lifestyle more Potent than Ancestry

Many of us learned in school that disease is largely determined by the genes we inherited from our ancestors. If our parents had heart disease, we might get it too, and there’s nothing we could do about it. But this fatalistic attitude has been challenged by a rapidly growly area of science referred to as “epigenetics.”

Epi” means “on top of.” The knowledge is above and beyond our understanding of the genetics that determine your hair color and intelligence quotient (IQ). Epigenetics is the study of how changes in gene expression are caused by mechanisms other than changes in your underlying genetic code.

Let’s stop a minute and compare it to computers. Think of genetics as like your computer hardware, the mechanical parts like your monitor, processor and keyboard. In contrast, epigenetics is similar to the software. It’s the internal part that tells your computer when and how much to work.

Scientists who study epigenetics have found that environmental factors can influence your genetic fate by turning genes on and off. Your diet, whether or not you smoke, environmental toxins you’re exposed to, the amount of stress in your life—these are all variables that change the expression of your genes.

Early clinical applications

A few physicians around the country are starting to provide a type of medical care that has sprung out of epigenetics research. It’s called methyl cycle nutrigenomics. I recently attended a meeting to discuss this topic. While still in its infancy, the care involves genetic testing and personalized prescriptions for diet and supplements that help support defects in the patient’s metabolism of methyl groups that may predispose to ill health. I expect that we will be hearing a lot more about this exciting new field in the future.

This post is written by Elizabeth S. Smoots, MD. Dr. Smoots’ blog is not intended as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Before adhering to any recommendations in this blog consult your healthcare provider. ©2012 Elizabeth S. Smoots, MD, LLC.
Please read our Social Media Policy before leaving your comments.