Can my lifestyle impact my DNA?

We are all products of our genes. When I talk to patients, I often hear things like: or

My guess is that you have heard these statements too. Maybe you have said something similar. There is no question that there are things that we can’t change, including many things about our appearance, some we like and others we don’t.

At Doctor of Living, we are focused on the things we can change. And…there are many. What if we could change the expression of our DNA? Sound science fiction? It’s not.

Epigenetics is the study of changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself.[1] DNA, our genetic material, contains proteins or histones which wind the DNA up. These proteins can move, during our lifetime and can even be passed on to our children in a modified version. When they move, they can result in a change in the way our genes are expressed, theoretically, reducing the probability of certain genetically promoted diseases.

How can we move the histones, altering DNA expression? Well, one way is through our lifestyles. One article, entitled “Epigenetics and lifestyle,” published in Epigenomics tackles this interesting question. It finds that “several lifestyle factors have been identified that might modify epigenetic patterns.”[2]

The article suggests “diet, obesity, physical activity, tobacco smoking, alcohol consumption, environmental pollutants, psychological stress and working night shifts” are all lifestyle factors which can change our genetic expression.[2]

Nutrition is one of our 5 Pillars of Health™ at Doctor of Living. Nutrition can impact our DNA. One potential source of epigenetic alterations comes from polyunsaturated fats which may generate mutagenic free radicals and oxidative stress.[2] Recall that polyunsaturated fats are found in salmon, vegetable oils, and some nuts and seeds.[3] These fats can lower your LDL cholesterol, reducing your heart risk as well.

Diets rich in fruits and vegetables may reduce the probability of certain cancers by changing the genetic expression.[2] One serving of broccoli sprouts or garlic may specifically change histone expression protecting against cancer.[2]

On the other hand, certain behaviors, such as a sedentary lifestyle may impact the expression of certain genes in a negative way. Beneficial effects of exercise may result in changing gene expression, which go beyond just the physical advantages to activity, reducing risks of obesity, heart disease, and certain cancers.[2]

There’s more…There is evidence that air pollution, arsenic, tobacco consumption, alcohol consumption, psychological stress, and shiftwork may all impact the expression of our genes.[2]

So yes, we can adopt a lifestyle that can impact the expression of our DNA. We can’t change the DNA we inherited from our parents, but we can impact how it is expressed.

This should not provide false hope to some people that have inherited certain diseases that are universally bad. There are many, mostly rare, but devastating when inherited. But, for most of us, this means that we can’t just blame our DNA for our chronic health problems. To me, this is one of the major problems today.

The lifestyle we adopt can help us to feel better, but can impact our DNA.

[1] Google Dictionary. “Epigenetics.” Accessed June 14th, 2018.

[2] “Epigenetics and lifestyle.” Epigenomics. Aug 26th 2013. 10.2217/epi.11.22. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3752894/

[3] “Facts about polyunsaturated fats.” MedlinePlus. US National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000747.htm. Accessed June 14th, 2018.

Images

DNA image. Adobe Stock. #64743421. Standard Image. C Leigh Prather. Obtained 6/14/18 7:17 PM

Vegetable Basket. Adobe Stock. #148790807. Standard Image. C HQUALITY. Obtained 6/14/18 at 7:28 pm.

Human Science. Adobe Stock. #105230267 Standard Image. C kentoh. Obtained 6/14/18 at 7:28 PM.

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