Nutrition for Body and Soul

What the heck is Epigenetics???!

on January 27, 2016

Thank you Dr. Plant School of Natural Health and Wellness for this info!

Just over twelve years ago, the single most important discovery in the history of modern medicine was announced: the complete DNA sequence of the human genome. Every single one of the three billion letters that make up the “blueprint” (aka DNA) for every cell in your body was now known. Since that time, the medical world has used the human genome to find changes in the letters of the sequence, called mutations, in order to use that information in treating/diagnosing everything from cancer to Alzheimer’s to muscular dystrophy. We’ve even made sequencing cheaper: your own genome can be fully sequenced onto a few DVDs for ~$1,000, compared to the almost $3 billion dollars it cost for the first genome! All of this begs the question, if sequencing is cheap to do and helps prevent/treat chronic, oftentimes fatal, disease why haven’t we cured these diseases? The answer may lie in a new field of research called epigenetics.

If genetics is the study of the letter sequence of DNA and how it is passed on to future generations, then epigenetics can be thought of as the study of changes to the physical structure of DNA that don’t involve changing any letters in the sequence. If we think of DNA as a blueprint and our body as the planned building, one thing that is needed is a ‘foreman’ to know how to build the proper building, aka our body, or they might build the wrong thing even with the correct blueprint! In our bodies, these ‘foremen’ are a collection of small proteins called epigenetic modification enzymes (EMEs). These EMEs will read our DNA blueprint and tell the body to express muscle genes in muscle cells only, and nerve genes in nerve cells only just like a foreman makes sure that you only put toilets in bathrooms and dishwashers in kitchens. Without proper functioning EMEs, our bodies would not know what type, or how many, cells to make! In fact, mutations in the genes for EMEs are common in various types of cancer and numerous clinical trials are currently underway to test the efficacy of modifying EMEs with small molecules in cancer patients in order to halt, or even reverse, malignant growth. So what can you do on a day-to-day basis to give your EMEs the chance to work the best they can? Well, it’s that age-old answer: proper diet.

EMEs require molecules called co-factors for them to work at their best. A lot of the co-factors for EMEs are molecules called metabolites, or products of the breakdown of food in cells. This means, that when your body is digesting food, you are not only extracting energy but you are creating the co-factors necessary for proper cellular behavior. If your cells are deficient in these metabolites, your EMEs may not work as well and cause unusual cellular behavior that can lead to much more serious health problems. Some of these metabolite co-factors include alpha-ketoglutarate, acetyl-CoA, NADH, and methionine. Fortunately, all of these metabolites are found in, or formed from, staples of a healthy diet such as fruits/vegetables, meats, and grains.

There are still many unanswered questions in the field of epigenetics, in fact, the study of epigenetics is such a relatively new discipline that experts still can’t decide on an exact definition of the word! But with the intertwined regulation of metabolism, and cellular proliferation, epigenetics is certainly a term you will be hearing attached to a lot of new health discoveries in the years to come.

Dr. Plant…So glad you are the scientist behind our products!

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