Epigenetics- You are what you eat, feel, sleep and exercise



Epigenetics is the study of heritable (inherited from our parents, grandparents etc) changes in genes or cells caused by mechanisms other than changes to your DNA.

Examples of such changes are DNA methylation and histone modification, which are processes that regulate gene expression without altering the underlying DNA sequence.

DNA is the basic units of genetic information that combines together to produce instructions for the cells of the body to produce proteins (molecules that perform biological functions).

Many people think the genes they inherited at birth are static and predetermine their fate for the remainder of their life.

Ongoing research into the science of epigenetics is providing exciting evidence that one’s genetics are not set in stone, and our individual DNA is dynamic and continually influenced by multiple lifestyle factors including diet, environment, stress and physical activity.

Epigenetic modifications involve the addition or deletion of chemical markers on the DNA strand that can or be influenced by nutrition, environmental chemicals, exercise intensity and even one’s thoughts.

The research is promising and has shown that nutrition can most definitely modify the expression of critical genes associated with physiologic and pathologic processes, including growth and development, aging, and even cancer.

It appears that nutrients can influence epigenetic phenomena either by directly inhibiting or altering enzyme reactions involved in DNA metabolism.

In this regard, nutritional epigenetics has been viewed as an attractive tool to prevent developmental diseases and cancer as well as delay aging and degenerative associated processes.

Epigenetics has become a hot topic in a broad range of diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, inflammation, and neurological disorders.

Further studies are needed to better understand the use of nutrients or bioactive food components for maintaining our health and preventing diseases by modifying epigenetics, but there are some things you can change right now in your diet and lifestyle that can have an impact.

What does the current research show?

Nutrition experts recommend consuming one to two servings of broccoli (or other members of the crucifer family such as cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts or kale) several days of the week. A rapidly growing body of evidence demonstrates that the natural, active compounds found in these vegetables called Sulforaphane, helps to prevent cancer and other chronic disease by positively influencing gene expression.

Don’t put junk in your trunk (and let’s hope your grandparents didn’t either)

If a person’s parents or grandparents ate a diet rich in processed, chemical-laden foods throughout their lives, then the DNA changes that likely occurred in their bodies may be passed down to their children.

Even if they themselves didn’t develop cancer, the children will be more likely to develop it.

In addition, if these children also eat junk food diets that lack proper nutrients, antioxidants and vitamins, then their children will be even more prone than they were to developing degenerative diseases or cancer.

Ultimately, your personal diet and lifestyle choices are still the primary deciding factors for your health and risk factors for developing cancer and other diseases.

If your parents and grandparents ate unhealthy diets all their lives you can still limit the potential negative effects by eating a balanced, healthy diet (whole food, plant based, pasture raised and organically fed meats as well as avoiding other known factors such as trans fats, high fructose corn syrup and pesticide laden foods).

What about Exercise?

Exercise elicits gene expression that triggers structural and metabolic adaptations in muscles.

This can have a major influence on protecting the body from a number of metabolic diseases.

Exercise can delay the onset of diabetes by boosting the expression of genes involved in muscle oxidation and glucose regulation.

A new study published in Cell Metabolism, suggests that DNA methylation drives some of these changes, and that they can occur within just a few hours of exercise, producing immediate change to DNA.

Scientists have found that after exercise, DNA is chemically and structurally altered or expressed in ways that affect numerous metabolic processes that protect us from chronic disease.

Short bursts of moderate intensity exercise positively influences DNA expression

Recent research shows  that the best form of exercise is that which works our musculature in short bursts of moderate to full intensity (as measured by attaining maximum heart rate for your age range) for several minutes in duration, followed by a rest period and then another energy burst.

Combining exercise with an organic whole food diet will positively influence your genes toward optimal health.

Does sleep make a difference?

A study in the American Journal of Respiratory Critical Care Medicine showed increased methylation (changes in DNA) among children with sleep apnea, resulting in an increased systemic inflammatory response (elevated C-reactive protein) and organ vulnerability.

Poor sleep has been linked to number of chronic inflammatory health conditions, including immune suppression and obesity.

The mind/body connection (Epigenetics reinforces the theory that positive mind states heal)

How we perceive the world around us can directly influence our DNA.

Positive energy can promote healing, while negative emotions can lead to numerous diseases.

Gene activity can be activated or deactivated by our perception of our environmental. By merely rewiring our mindset we can change our DNA.

The way we think activates or shuts off different areas in our brain.  This can have a systemic effect on our immune, endocrine, nervous and circulatory systems and as such, influence our state health. This is in part how the placebo effect works.


Is the way you eat, feel, sleep and exercise positively affecting your DNA and if not, do you know what to do about it?




About the Author

Dr. Geoff LecovinNaturopathic Physician/Chiropractor/Acupuncturist/Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist/Corrective Exercise Specialist/Performance Enhancement Specialist/Certified Sports Nutritionist/View all posts by Dr. Geoff Lecovin