The new science of Epigenetics is leading to discoveries that altering a person’s lifestyle and environment can dramatically alter the expression of his or her genes. Having written about this regarding Alzheimer’s disease on my blogs in 2011, I want to pass on new research in this important and fascinating field. Researchers are learning that problems previously thought to be inflexible, like an individual’s sensitivity to pain, can change and improve as a result of genes being switched on and off.
There is still no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease but more is routinely being discovered that is promising for the future. The disease is characterized by the accumulation of two different deposits in the brain: ameloid beta and rolled tangles of tau protein. From studying thirty thousand molecular switches that turn genes on and off in the brains of Alzheimer patients, researchers have learned that a particular gene regulates tau protein and as the disease progresses, that gene switches off. They can now begin research to determine whether or not epigenetic inactivations of this particular gene causes the accumulation of tau protein and if it is possible to reactivate the gene.1
Until the last 15 years, it was believed that people are born with a finite number of neurons that diminish as we age or are injured. Now Brainstorm, a biotech company involved in stem cell research, has successfully introduced stem cells into the brains of mice. This has resulted in positive behavioral restoration in the areas of depression, loss of inhibition, delusions, agitations, anxiety and aggression, all characteristics that accompany Alzheimer’s disease in addition to memory loss.
Scientists have found that a simple change in diet may turn a gene on or off. They can also determine whether or not it will be activated and whether or not these simple changes can be passed from one generation to the next, sometimes to several generations. It has been established for some time that environmental effects like radiation can leave a mark on subsequent generations just as the environment in a mother’s womb can alter the development of a baby.
“What is eye opening is a growing body of evidence suggesting that the epigenetic changes wrought by one’s diet, behavior, or surroundings can work their way into the germ line and echo far into the future. Put simply, and as bizarre as it may sound, what you eat or smoke today could affect the health and behavior of your great grandchildren.”2
Up to the present time, it has been conventional wisdom that our genetic legacy is our fate. Now scientists are learning that we have a measure of control over how much our genes are activated. This is good news because it means we can actually change our fate. It is good news for many problems, but it is especially good news for members of Alzheimer’s families who live in fear that they may be next. As I have said before, it is possible to take control of your health and lifestyle and change your fate. (See former Blogs on my Website: A New Science Offers Hope, July 6,2011; Epigenetic Science Explains Hereditary Change, 7-26-2011; More About Epigenetic Science, October 12, 2011)
Scientists once thought that genes were firmly established in early development and that they were for life. Now we know that our epigenetic code that controls our DNA is changing a little all the time and that cumulative changes can have a major effect. In addition to lifestyle changes, there are already at least nine new epigenetic drugs that are being developed to mutate our genes.
The instructions for what genes should do are found in chemical markers and switches, known as epigenome. They switch on and off the expressions of particular genes. Therefore the new science of epigenetics rewrites the rules of disease, heredity, and identity. That is good news for all of us. 3
Studying molecular sequences and patterns that determine which genes can be turned on and off, researchers are finding that very simple things can alter the software of our genes: an extra bit of vitamin, a brief exposure to a toxin, an extra dose of mothering. These seemingly small things can affect our bodies and brains for life!
Once we believed genes determined outcomes. “Now everything we do—everything we eat or smoke—can affect gene expression and that of future generations.” Although much is still firmly established during early fetal development, epigenetics tells us we can take charge of our environment and make a series of small changes that will have a very large impact on our health. 4
There are many positive factors that epigenetic science has found affect our lives: our faith in God, an active prayer life, an overall positive attitude toward daily life, a healthy diet, vitamin and herbal supplements, exercise, and an active mind. Cumulative changes in several of these areas may well enable you to experience longer life and pass on genes that produce health rather than disease.
1 Researchers Discover an Epigenetic Lesion in Hippocampus of Alzheimer’s as explained in Science Daily 1-21-2014. Source: IDIBELL-Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute
2 Restoring Order in Brain as reported in Science Daily 3-11-14. Source: American Friends of Tel Aviv University
3 DNA Is Not Destiny by Ethan Walters, November 2006 issue of Discover