Epigenetics is a new knowledge of how genes in DNA work and interact. This new information is changing the way humans approach many biological and medical phenomena.
Genes come from DNA sequences inside cells. These sequences contain all the information necessary to build up a healthy human being or any other living organism.
It can be said that the DNA is kind of a blueprint of information where all instructions are present to make a living organism. Different organisms have different genes, and thus different DNA sequences, which explains the biological diversity (past and present) of the world.
In order to make its particular function genes need to be expressed. That is, genes can be turned on or off in a time and tissue-specific manner. For example, the gene patterns that are turned on in the liver are not the same as the ones in the brain or other particular tissue, reflecting the diversity of functions that different cells perform.
Epigenetics can be defined as the whole of changes that affect gene expression or DNA function without affecting the DNA sequence itself.
One of the features that have important relevance in epigenetics is that epigenetic factors function as a bridge for DNA to interact with the environment.
Many diseases that afflict humans have a genetic origin or affect the DNA in the cells of our bodies in some way or another. DNA can be damaged over time, so approaches to avoid or diminish DNA aging are always beneficial for health.
One of the most direct ways that we can nourish and keep our DNA healthy is by means of the food in our diet. Antioxidants in foods like blueberries, green tea, dark chocolate, walnuts, and many others help to keep DNA safe from the oxidative stress generated by lots of unhealthy lifestyle situations (tobacco addiction, cancer, alcoholism, etc.) Keeping a healthy balanced diet, with a constant supply of these antioxidant foods surely is going to improve our general health and help keep DNA safe from environmental perturbations.
Other lifestyle decisions are important in promoting DNA health through epigenetics. Regular exercise, an active social life, meditation, having life goals and purpose, all these promote a general state of wellbeing that has a positive influence on mental, physical, and DNA health.
Another important aspect of epigenetics is that it can be heritable, so correct lifestyle decisions made by our ancestors may have positive influences in our epigenetic DNA health. Also, bad decisions can have negative influences on future generations. For instance, descendants of holocaust survivors have different stress hormones profiles than their regular peers, which predisposes them to suffer more often of anxiety and panic disorders.
Between adolescence and early childhood, there is the most susceptible moment to suffer epigenetics changes (better or worse), that is why it is so important to create healthy habits and lifestyle decisions in youngsters to avoid disease when they are older and even in their future generations.
The number of diseases related to epigenetics disorders is quite long and perhaps it will continue to grow as this new field of life science further develops. Heart disease, cancer, diabetes, psychiatric disorders, high blood pressure are only a few of the conditions that have been related to having – at least in part – an epigenetic origin.
The good news is that epigenetics disorders can be reversed through healthy lifestyle choices, such as a balanced diet and regular exercise like yoga or running.
So tomorrow have a healthy breakfast, put some yoga pants, or Capri leggings (find comfortable ones right here) and go out to do some asanas in the park. Live your life without stress and your genes will be in perfect condition. Always create a healthy environment for you, your body, and society.