Why Epigenetics Should Matter to You

Why Epigenetics Should Matter to You

Epigenetics, according to definition, refers to the study of changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself. There has been a lot of discussion lately around the world of Epigenetics, and the role of our environment and how our genes end up expressing themselves. Today, we are going to distill the idea of Epigenetics a little, and try to explain why it should matter to you.  

A Fundamental Concept

 If you are a current or previous Primal Health Coach client, or have ever read The Primal Blueprint, you know that Key Concept #1 is Yes, You Really Can Reprogram Your Genes. And why would this matter? Genes are responsible for directing the production of certain proteins that literally control how our body functions every second. Some of these genes are good, and some are not so good.
For example, If you have been living a carb-dependent lifestyle for as long as you can remember, there is a good chance your genes are programmed to up-regulate insulin on a regular basis, causing all kinds of issues in the long run, including chronic inflammation, cognitive decline, and type 2 diabetes. 
Reprogramming involves turning off the switch for insulin sensitivity and carb-dependency by changing your environment, in this case your diet, by lowering carbohydrate intake, increasing fat intake, and thereby shifting you to a fat-based metabolism that essentially down-regulates excessive insulin production. When you do this, you have literally reprogrammed your genes. 

Expression Happens on a Daily, Even Per-Meal Frequency

Genes turn on and off only in response to signals they receive from the environment surrounding them - from things like the foods you eat, types of exercise you do or don't do, sleeping habits, stress, etc.  That's right, everything you eat or don't eat has the power to turn on or off certain types of genes. And the kicker is that can happen at that moment in time or shortly after each bite of food. Your digestion system includes a complex amount of signaling to different processes that tell your body to take care of, use, discard, or store whatever was just ingested.

 Take fruit for example: fructose (the sugar in fruit) is processed almost solely by the liver, with byproducts of this being triglycerides (stored fat in your blood) and uric acid - both predictors of cardiovascular disease. Eating a lot of fruit = more stored fat (bad). So, if you have family history or a predisposition for cardiovascular disease or obesity (or just can't lose those last few pounds), fruit (although healthy nutritionally at moderate quantities) does you no favors if eaten too freely and too frequently. 

Can My Bad Genes Really Lay Dormant?

In a word: yes. David Perlmutter, M.D., in his fantastic book Brain Maker, puts it this way:

"You could carry genes that put you at a much higher risk for obesity, heart disease, and dementia than someone who doesn't have underlying genetic susceptibilities, yet you may never suffer from these maladies because the genes remain dormant due to their environment."
Unfortunately, our environment has changed quite a bit in the last century. Processed, packaged food and high-carbohydrate (sugar) lifestyles have been promoted over eating fresh, healthy, nutrient dense foods, turning these switches on for a lot of people that otherwise might not succumb to the imperfections of our genome. The good news is, we have the means necessary to do some reprogramming, bringing our bodies back to optimal gene expression. That involves changing your diet, and changing your lifestyle. And to some extent, finding out what works for you. 
If this sounds daunting, don't worry - I'm here to help. Let's take your health back to the start, back to optimal gene expression by changing your diet and lifestyle choices. For 12-weeks, let's follow the path of our ancestors, cutting out the high-carb/high-sugar fake food lifestyles we're all too used to for something better.  I promise the journey will be fun and rewarding!

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