Imagine you are in the Doctor’s rooms.
Your check-up has revealed that you are overweight and need to lose weight to avoid developing other disease such as arthritis, heart disease, diabetes or cancer.
What if you were then advised that your obesity was contributed to by your father’s choice to take up smoking at the tender age of 10.
I have been reading a fascinating article written by John Cloud published in Time magazine on Jan 18th this year.
This well written article explains beautifully how environmental factors can lead to changes in gene expression (without altering the genetic code) that can be passed on to successive generations.
Hang on a minute, the Darwinian theory, which we have adhered to for 150 years proposes that evolution takes place slowly over many generations and is based on survival of the fittest. Changes in the evolutionary process are therefore slow.
Where is this new evidence coming from that indicates that our lifestyle choices we make today, not only influence our risk factors for disease in ourselves but also for our future unborn children and grandchildren?
Welcome to the world of epigenetics.
Epigenetics is not new, Scientists have been exploring these concepts from the 1970’s piecing together information that supports the concept that the conditions that your parents live under, can influence your health prior to your birth and also into your own adulthood.
Our genes contain our unique individual DNA.
On the top of our genes we have what is called an epigenome and it is this, which can influence our genes by switching the genes on or off, or to be expressed strongly or weakly.
What is emerging is that our environment can influence the epigenome and therefore what our genes express. Our diet and our stress levels can make a difference to the gene expression from one generation to another.
What does this all mean?
In a nutshell…..
If we, that’s you and me, choose to overeat, to become obese or to smoke, the epigenomes on our genes will cause the genes for obesity to be strongly expressed and the genes for lifespan to be more weakly expressed and this can be passed on to our kids and grandkids making them at risk of disease and early death.
The potential for epigenetics and understanding how we can influence our DNA and our future health is only just beginning.
The good thing that is likely to emerge is that it may in the future be possible to manipulate epigenetic markers and develop drugs that will be used to treat certain illnesses by either turning down the expression of genes we don’t want expressed and enhancing expression of those we do.
The implication for treatments of disease such as certain cancers or Alzheimer’s gives great hope.
Here is the link to the article.
I’d love to get your feed back and comments.