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Nature vs. nurture: The limitations of genetics, and why epigenetics is important

June 23, 2022

You’ve likely heard the excuse, “It’s in my DNA. I can’t change it.”

Technically, that’s not exactly true.

This dynamic ability allows our bodies to adapt to our current environment and lifestyle. By adjusting our lifestyle choices, we can take control of our epigenetics to improve our overall health and tackle cellular aging!

Yes, our genetics are inherited from our parents and unchanging throughout life. But gene activity, or expression, is managed in our epigenetics. Our epigenetics can change, and genes can be over-expressed, under-expressed, or even deactivated! So your genes may not change, but they can be turned on and off.

Genetics vs. Epigenetics


Your genetics are the genes you inherit from your parents, which stay the same throughout life. Epigenetics refers to the layer on top of your genetics that modifies gene expression. The epigenetic layer doesn’t change your genetic code, but it alters which genes are on, off and how much they’re expressed.

Epigenetics play such a significant role in gene expression that they, ultimately, have a greater influence on your health and longevity. On top of that, since the epigenetic layer is so reactive to your lifestyle choices, analyzing it can reveal a lot about your overall health.

So while your genetics are inherited and generally stable, your epigenetics continuously change based on your lifestyle and environment. This makes your epigenetic layer a stronger determinant and better indicator of aging.

Genetics: You were born this way

Genetics is the study of genes and their functions.

There are four different DNA bases: adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G), and cytosine (C). A only binds to T and G only binds to C to form AT and GC base pairs. Large sequences of base pairs make a gene.

Based on the different sequences of base pairs, genes have different properties. From determining eye color to influencing cognitive ability, they dictate various aspects of our lives. In a sense, they are your nature.

Epigenetics: You were not born this way

Epigenetics refers to the layer of molecules that regulate gene expression, without altering our genetics. For example, methyl groups (CH3) are often added to and removed from DNA molecules in order to modify their expression. This is referred to as DNA Methylation, an important epigenetic mechanism.

DNA Methylation

Gene expression refers to the level of protein production coming out of a gene. A gene can only produce proteins when specific enzymes bind to its DNA. If we wanted to turn off a gene so that it stops producing proteins, we’d have to prevent enzymes from binding to its DNA. Attaching methyl groups to a DNA base pair makes it difficult for proteins to bind. So, increasing DNA methylation levels can effectively lower protein production and therefore, gene expression1.

Ideally, we want lower methylation levels on genes with protective effects such as tumor suppressor genes, and higher methylation levels on genes that may produce negative effects, like tumor promotor genes.

Luckily, you can actively influence methylation levels (i.e, your gene expression), through lifestyle choices and environmental influences. Your epigenetics are impacted by factors like:

  • Diet and nutrition
  • Physical activity
  • Stress management
  • Exposure to environmental toxins
  • Substance abuse2

By managing your lifestyle choices, you can actively nurture healthier epigenetics and healthier life!

What does this have to do with aging?

As we age, DNA gets damaged and subsequently repaired. But DNA repairs are rarely perfect and epigenetic information becomes lost or jumbled. Post-repair, genes often have different DNA methylation patterns; this can have messy consequences. Think of it like a book with the words out of order.

Incorrect methylation patterns and suboptimal epigenetic expressions can often accelerate aging. In fact, most of the age-related changes we experience are consequent of epigenetic changes. That’s why we analyze our epigenetic changes to measure aging. (Read more about epigenetic clocks here.)3

Knowing what behaviors contribute to overall wellness allows us to make smart choices. And knowing the landscape of our unique epigenetics can make those choices even more personalized and impactful. That’s why FOXO will soon offer a longevity report that gives you information on these key factors:

  • Biological Age
  • Metabolic score
  • Cardiovascular score
  • Inflammation score
  • Indulgence score

In the future, understanding epigenetics could not only help us diagnose certain illnesses such as cancer and chronic inflammation but also help us develop personalized therapies to tackle them!

Sign up today to be among the first to hear when this new product launches, and for valuable epigenetic insights along the way. 

Epigenetics make one thing clear, you have more power than you think. How you treat your body, is how it treats you!

Takeaways

  • Your genetics are the genes you inherit from your parents, which stay the same throughout your life. Your epigenetics is a layer on top of your genetics that modifies gene expression.
  • Epigenetics has a significant impact on your health.
  • DNA methylation is an important epigenetic mechanism. Attaching methyl groups to a DNA base pair makes it difficult to produce proteins. Increasing DNA methylation levels can effectively lower protein production and therefore, gene expression.
  • Ideally, we want lower methylation levels on genes with protective effects, and higher methylation levels on genes that may produce negative effects.
  • By managing your lifestyle choices, you can actively nurture healthier epigenetics and healthier life!
References

1https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/understanding/howgeneswork/epigenome

2 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3752894/

3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC779492

References

1 https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/understanding/howgeneswork/epigenome

2 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3752894/

3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7794926/

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