What Is Epigenetics Good For?

by Scott Morrice on 10/31/2012

What is epigenetics good for anyways? Well, I am starting to see me more and more answers to this question popping up all over the place. And this is another post in what is becoming my “Epigenetics Series”—more validation of the epigenetics thesis.

Please see my What Epigenetics Teaches Us, Why Is Epigenetics Important, Can Epigenetics Make Us Smarter, and What Is Epigenetics? posts for the earlier posts of this “series”.

A very brief refresher.

Epigenetics is the study of how environmental influences, such as our emotions (such as stress), and our nuitrition (such as our eating habits, our drug intake) can actually modify our genes.

This area of study represents an important and radical departure from what traditional science and medicine have been teaching us for years. Under the “old regime” we were led to believe that we were basically “held hostage” by the genetic makeup we inherited from our parents. Our genetic makeup was codified in our DNA. We inherited this DNA code, and if that code contained a predisposition for cancer, heart disease, or whatever, then there was not much we could do about it. In other words, the heart attack that we subsequently suffered was “pre-destined”.

Well, not so fast.

What epigenetics teaches us is that the genes that are responsible for heart disease are not always “on”. And genes have to actually be turned “on” to express themselves. If those genes that are responsible for heart disease are not turned on, then no heart disease. And—this is the key—they can’t turn themselves on or off. That trigger, the switch if you will, comes from the gene’s environment.

So, as I have written before, if we can determine what that “trigger” is, then we can control whether those genes get turned on, or off (which might even be more important). We are no longer “held hostage” by our DNA. If there is a trigger, then we can find it. And if we can find it, we can manipulate it—by avoiding it, or whatever.

I really think it is hard to imagine anything more exciting.

But, it gets better.

There is now good, hard, scientific evidence that once we have modified these genes for our own bodies, by manipulating their trigger, this environmentally influenced genetic modification is passed on to our progeny.

This is both good, and bad.

The bad, as I wrote in my What Epigenetics Teaches Us post, is that for the sake of our children we need to start taking much, much better care of ourselves. Our early bad eating habits, as a very obvious and easy example, can have a very negative impact on our progeny’s genetic makeup—not just ours!

But the good might best be illustrated in a recent story published in the The Globe And Mail—and which is what started me off on this topic again actually.

In the October 29, 2012 edition of The Globe And Mail, Andre Picard’s article How Weight-Loss Surgery Affects A Baby’s Genes talks about the impact of bariatric surgery (surgery to treat obesity) on the genetic code of the patient’s subsequent progeny.

(Apparently) we have always known that in addition to reducing the amount of food the patient consumes as a result of the stomach being reduced in size, bariatric surgery also results in quite dramatic hormonal and metabolic changes in the patient as well.

But now it is believed, and this is point of the article, that these metabolic changes act as a trigger that turns “off” certain genes—resulting in an overall gene expression that represents a much lower risk profile for obesity and heart disease in the patient—and in the unborn children of the patient!!!

I really think this is important stuff. As Dr. Beth Abramson, director of women’s cardiovascular health at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, is quoted in the article as saying:

“What other things could we be doing to flip those switches and provide a better blueprint for our kids to start them off right in life?”

Indeed!

I’ll keep you posted.

  • If you have time you should read the “End of Illness – David B Angus MD” – he has some very interesting comments with respect to DNA and some very controversial on a number of other items . For the most part he addresses taking command of your own health care – don’t expect you doctor to do it for you.

    Roy

    • scottmorrice

      I will do—and thanks for the suggestion! I definitely agree with the last line of your comment for sure. Good to hear from you.

      Scott

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