I was a Public Relations/History double major in College. I certainly wasn’t a chemist. I never took college level courses regarding biology or chemistry. If you asked me about the periodic table, other than something simple, I would probably respond with a blank stare. Some friends were drawn to math and difficult Latin roots. I wasn’t interested. More than three decades later I am fascinated by Epigenics and Biochemistry. I’ll tell you why.
If you read my post on Genetic testing, you know I took the 23andme test. As far as genetics goes, it tests for seven major conditions. Through the process I learned I could request my raw genetic data. I imported my data into the program Promethease, which resulted in it being filtered and organized into a format suitable for a layman. The readable format highlighted my data by level of importance or magnitude.
Throughout my life certain people have insinuated or come right out and told me they thought I was a hypochondriac. Sometimes I felt like I overshared my authentic worry about why I had allergies, why my psoriasis became so much worse at times or why I had reflux. I became familiar with the “eye roll” from some folks expressing this is “just another Jan fad” or “oh my, how long will this last?” However, my desire for healing was strong and allowed me to hone my self-discipline. A Gluten Free diet for example demands significant effort. Not drinking alcohol for a period of time can sometimes make others be rather unsupportive. Kind of like I was taking the fun out of an event.
I was told to relax, settle down that moderation was the key, that I was fine. Many times, I questioned myself asking if they were right? Sometimes I felt lonely or embarrassed in my searching, but I continued nonetheless, regardless of who made fun of me or thought me a bit strange. In general, I would say people who have a condition that affects them cosmetically are much more motivated to find answers than those who have post nasal drip or something internal you can’t see. Psoriasis, Acne, Eczema, hair loss, edema, etc. all these conditions affect your outward appearance adding to your motivation. The same goes for people with ADD/ADHD, how they appear in school or in their jobs, their learning capabilities, listening ability or how they process information. No one wants to be “different” we want to fit in.
Currently I am doing an internal Victory Dance. Due to Mapping the human genome and the study of epigenetics, the curtains and blinds have been thrown open and the light is shining in! So much information is more accessible to us. It is dramatic we now have see through to the genes that can affect our health. Many of my genetic results coincide directly with issues I have researched all my life. I am exhilarated to realize I wasn’t just a dog barking up the tree at an imaginary squirrel. What I intuited, was spot on.
Remember the “Human Genome Project” in the 90s?
“The Human Genome Project was an international research effort to determine the sequence of the human genome and identify the genes that it contains. The Project was coordinated by the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Energy. It formally began in 1990 and was completed in 2003, two years ahead of its original schedule. Additional contributors included universities across the United States and international partners in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, and China.
The work of the Human Genome Project has allowed researchers to begin to understand the blueprint for building a person. As researchers learn more about the functions of genes and proteins, this knowledge will have a major impact in the fields of medicine, biotechnology, and the life science.”
The project has already impacted us significantly. We know we have approximately 3 billion base pairs of DNA and 20,000+ genes in our bodies.
Out of this came Epigenetics, the topic that is currently so exciting to me.
“Epigenetics, as a simplified definition, is the study of biological mechanisms that will switch genes on and off. What does that mean? Epigenetics, essentially, affects how genes are read by cells, and subsequently how they produce proteins.
Here are a few important points about epigenetics:
- Epigenetics Controls Genes. Certain circumstances in life can cause genes to be silenced or expressed over time. In other words, they can be turned off (becoming dormant) or turned on (becoming active).
- Epigenetics Is Everywhere. What you eat, where you live, who you interact with, when you sleep, how you exercise, even aging – all of these can eventually cause chemical modifications around the genes that will turn those genes on or off over time. Additionally, in certain diseases such as cancer or Alzheimer’s, various genes will be switched into the opposite state, away from the normal/healthy state.
- Epigenetics Makes Us Unique. Even though we are all human, why do some of us have blonde hair or darker skin? Why do some of us hate the taste of mushrooms or eggplants? Why are some of us more sociable than others? The different combinations of genes that are turned on or off is what makes each one of us unique. Furthermore, there have been indications that some epigenetic changes can be inherited.
- Epigenetics Is Reversible. With 20,000+ genes, what will be the result of the different combinations of genes being turned on or off? The possible arrangements are enormous! But if we could map every single cause and effect of the different combinations and if we could reverse the gene’s state to keep the good while eliminating the bad -- then we could theoretically* cure cancer, slow aging, stop obesity, and so much more.”
-paraphrased from Whatisepigentics.com
The Key take-away is this: You have 20,000+ genes in your personal genetic make-up. Studies indicate you may be able to turn those genes on and off. Before you can turn them on or off, you need to identify which gene variants you have. Then you can target them like a bulls-eye on a dart board. It's like using Waze, once you put in your destination you can map the route.
How do we turn genes on and off? As quoted above by what you eat, where you live, how you age, your environment, toxic exposure, how you sleep, your level of exercise and how you interact with people. Also by fine tuning your personal biochemistry. These things are indicators of what path you are on in regard to turning that Cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease or diabetes genes on. Wow! We actually have some choice in the matter.
In my case, with my Familial history of Alzheimer’s disease I want to do everything I can to prevent turning those genes on. Without the Human Genome project and without genetic testing being readily available today, I would have no real idea of my risk for any disease or condition. Now I know. Now I have a choice of doing something to help protect myself. I am going to give it my best shot!
We live in exciting times. I am grateful to the scientists, researchers and doctors who study these things. To me, it is awe inspiring. It seems somewhat miraculous.
I will end with this quote from a book I like titled “Peace Like a River” by Leif Enger. It’s a brother talking about his sister Swede. He says “My sister Swede, who often sees right to the nub, offered this: People fear miracles because they fear being changed-though ignoring them will change you also. Swede also said another thing, too, and it rang like a bell: No miracle happens without a witness. Someone to declare, here’s what I saw. Here’s how it went. Make of it what you will.
Watch this space. Epigenetics is changing what we see, how it went and how it will go. I truly hope this post inspires you to learn a bit more. Those of us who are listening will hear more and more about this compelling topic.
Until next time,