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Epigenetics: the science of gene control

During the last couple of years, I have been discussing the subject of genetic expression. The term genetic expression refers to our genes’ ability to be turned on and off. When a gene is on, it causes a certain function. When it is off, that function stops. The concept of gene expression is important because it tells us that genes are being controlled by something. That is a departure from the old thinking that genes are the controllers of our body and that in themselves are not controlled. That means that when someone blames your genes for your health problems we need to ask a question: Are my genes coded incorrectly or are they being expressed in a way that produces my symptoms?

The gene code part of the question refers to the sequence of the gene. If the genes’ sequences are incorrect, the instructions that the genes carry will be incorrect and therefore the body will not work properly. That is a true genetic defect and it is estimated to occur approximately in 2 to 5 percent of the population.

The gene expression side of the question refers to genes that are coded correctly. They carry the correct information and they are the same as in healthy individuals. However, their expression is not advantageous to long term health. If your genes are coded incorrectly then there is no hope since you cannot choose your parents nor change your genes. Gene expression, however, is a dynamic phenomenon. Genes turn on and off every millisecond of our lives. They have to do that to respond to the ever changing environment that our body is in. Genes do not control the environment; they are just coded to act in response to it. It’s the lifestyle that we choose that selects which gene will be on/off and for how long. By changing our environment, we can change our gene expression.

According to the CDC and the NIH, most chronic diseases like cancers, diabetes, heart disease and strokes are not due to a gene code defect but they are due to a gene expression issue. That means that our lifestyle is causing a gene expression that is not conducive to long term health and well being. But if we change our life style, then our gene expression will change also.

Do we have any proof that “the change” is possible? Is there any research out there that measured gene expression changes? — YES there is.

A study published in June 2008 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (USA), they measured gene expression of men who are having prostate cancer. Then these men underwent comprehensive lifestyle changes (you can learn the detail of that lifestyle in our lectures) for 3 month then they rechecked their gene expression. Lifestyle changes caused 48 up-regulated transcripts (increased the expression of 48 genes) and 453 down-regulated transcripts (decreased the expression of 453 genes). The researchers went further and found that a significant amount of those genes that changed have a connection to prostate cancer. Remember, this study lasted only 3 month.

As a bonus, the men in the study had a significant improvement in cardiovascular disease risk factors like reductions in their BMI (weight loss), reduction in blood pressure, cholesterol levels, waist circumference, triglycerides and C-reactive protein all decreased.

Other studies in summary:
Archives of Internal Medicine. 2009
Over 23,000 People were assessed for adherence to four healthy lifestyle factors: never smoking, having a body mass index lower than 30, exercising for at least three and a half hours per week and following healthy dietary principles (such as, having a diet with high consumption of fruits and vegetables while limiting meat consumption). Participants who had all four factors at the beginning of the study had a 78 percent lower risk of developing any of the chronic diseases during the follow-up period than those who had none of the healthy factors. The four factors were associated with a 93 percent reduced risk of diabetes, 81 percent reduced risk of heart attack, 50 percent reduced risk of stroke and 36 percent reduced risk of cancer.

Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. October 2007
A 6-week, low-fat/low-glycemic load diet was associated with significant gene expression changes in human prostate epithelium.

J Neurotrauma. October 2004
Omega-3 fatty acids (i.e.DHA) regulate signal transduction and gene expression, and protect neurons from death.

J Appl Physiol. July 2009
A brief bout of exercise alters gene expression and distinct gene pathways in PMN cells (white blood cell activity).

Brain Behav Immun. Aug 2007
Nervous system affects the hormonal system and the gene expression for the immune system.

Eur Cytokine Netw. March 2006
…weight loss is associated with a reduction in the (white blood cells) infiltration of (fatty) tissues and an improvement of the inflammatory profile of gene expression. (weight loss decreases inflammation, insulin resistance…)

Am. J. Med. 1988 “These diseases (cancers-diabetes-strokes-heart disease…) are the results of interaction between genetically controlled biochemical processes and a myriad of bicultural influences- lifestyle factors- that include nutrition, exercise, and exposure to noxious substances. Although our genes have hardly changed, our culture has been transformed almost beyond recognition during the past 10,000 years, especially since the Industrial Revolution. There is increasing evidence that the resulting mismatch fosters “disease of civilization” that together cause 75 percent of all deaths in Western nations, but that are rare among persons whose life ways reflect those of our preagricultural ancestors.”

These are medical journals and the research is done by medical scientists. I have so much research, I could not share all of it here. The facts are indisputable, your lifestyle has a direct connection to your gene expression and your body’s function. You can never be healthy unless you live a lifestyle that is congruent with your genetic requirements. Our lectures go over what is required by our genes not just a special diet or weight loss program.