Lifestyle Choices Can Change Your Genes

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Woman exercisingMadison, Wisconsin - If your parents or grandparents had heart disease, you may believe your fate is sealed because of your genes.


That may not be so.


Lifestyle choices may actually reduce the chance of repeating your family's history of poor health, according to a concept that is picking up steam in the medical community.


Lifestyle Versus Genetics


A concept known as "epigenetics" empowers people to take control of their health by making choices that may override their genetic code. Behavior and environment can affect how those genes are "expressed," that is, how the information in a gene gets translated into proteins.

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For example, if your brother or your dad had prostate cancer, there's probably an area in your genetic code that puts you at high risk for prostate cancer. Research is telling us even if your family has a history of cancer, there are things you can do to bathe that gene in a way to keep it from expressing itself. This means your genes may produce healthy prostate tissue instead of tissue that is diseased or cancerous.


Changing Attitude Can Change Health


So what can people do to minimize their risk of cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes or other illnesses that may be part of their genetic predisposition?


Changes in diet, exercise, and personal attitude could actually influence the genetic code and reduce the chances for declining health. While this advice may not seem different from what your doctor says during a routine checkup, the concept of epigenetics espouses that lifestyle choices can influence genetic expression.


A 2007 review by Dr. Steven Schroeder of the University of California-San Francisco concluded that the largest influence on the risk of death in America is attributed to personal behavior, such as smoking, obesity, and stress. The paper adds that, even if top-notch health care were available to everyone, only a small fraction of lives (10 percent) can be saved with these high-tech interventions. The largest reduction in death, 40 percent, will result from the adoption of healthier habits.


Human attitude has a tremendous influence on health. If you are happy, you are more likely to go out jogging or adopt positive lifestyle behaviors because you have hope.


Affecting Future Generations


Studies of laboratory rats with a gene that increases the risk of diabetes further build the case for epigenetics. When the pregnant mothers of genetically identical rats who had this gene ate foods that influence gene expression (garlic, beets, onions), their offspring did not develop diabetes. But when mothers were fed a diet that did not include these foods, the offspring became obese and developed diabetes. What the mothers ate influenced the expression of genes in their offspring. This and evolving research are teaching us that epigenetic influences leave an imprint on our genetic code that is passed down to future generations.


Epigenetics also advocates less dependence on drugs and greater reliance on recruiting self-healing mechanisms.

Date Published: 10/10/2011

News tag(s):  integrative

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