Researchers have found that not only does DIET turn different genetic switches ON and OFF, but so do other ENVIRONMENTAL and LIFESTYLE factors including stress, atmospheric conditions, mood, behavior, amount of nurturing received, artistic endeavors etc.
“The placebo effect is a prime example of taking control over biology. Believe a medicine will work and the brain turns up genes that make you feel better. Conversely, negative feelings such as stress can shut off immunity genes and make a person more susceptible to disease.”
“We want to know how experiences really influence the brain,” says Marilyn Essex, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin’s school of medicine and public health in Madison. “What are some of the underlying biological mechanisms that can help us understand how we get from the early stress to the later health outcomes?”
Scientists say epigenetic signatures might someday be used to predict people’s risk of developing disease. Such patterns also might aid clinicians in diagnosing certain conditions, including psychiatric disorders, earlier or more accurately than by relying on observable symptoms alone.
In a recent study, Dr. Essex and her colleagues examined epigenetic markers on the DNA of 109 teenagers who had been observed since birth. DNA was collected from cheek swabs and analyzed for the presence of a group of chemicals known as the methyl group. When attached to DNA in a process called methylation, these substances appear to suppress the action of a gene. Increased methylation of DNA is associated with a variety of negative outcomes, some studies show.
In the study, teens whose mothers reported significant stress during pregnancy, such as depression or marital conflict, had substantially more methylation than teens whose mothers reported low stress. This suggests mothers’ stress might affect their children even into their teen years, says Dr. Essex. The work was published in September in the journal Child Development.
“Just because negative life events appear to make a biological imprint doesn’t mean children are condemned to disease” cautions Michael Kobor, a co-author of the study and a professor of medical genetics at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. “Rather, the researchers say, some stress might aid development, and understanding the process could help doctors and parents find ways to intervene early or adjust the child’s environment.”
from The Los Angeles Times “DNA Referees.” by Amber Dance, May 3, 2010
“The study of epigenetics is “booming,” says Dana Dolinoy, a toxicologist at the University of Michigan School of Public Health in Ann Arbor.
The chemicals that make up epigenetic codes ultimately come from diet. Folic acid, for example, is needed to produce epigenetic molecules that turn off many unwanted genes. Broccoli and garlic are good sources of other types of chemical tags that are part of the epigenome.
The epigenome can also be altered after a person is born. For example, researchers from McGill University and the Douglas Mental Health University Institute in Montreal found that child abuse can affect DNA referees. In a 2009 paper in the journal Nature Neuroscience, the authors report that 12 people who were abused as children, and later committed suicide, had different DNA referees on a gene needed to cope with stress, compared with 24 people who were not abused. The research implies, although in no way proves, that diminished ability to cope with stress might have been a factor in the suicides.
Genes are not just “on” or “off.” They can be on just a little bit, on a lot and everything in between. So referees, both the short-term and long-term types, tune genes up or down, rather like the dimmer switch for a lamp.
And many genes can be turned up or down by changes in behavior and environment. For example, researchers at the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, Calif., studied 30 men with prostate cancer. These men declined traditional medical treatment and instead underwent a three-month program that included a healthy diet, moderate exercise and daily stress management.
When the researchers examined gene activity in the men’s prostate biopsy samples, they found that 48 genes were turned up and 453 were turned down, compared with gene activity at the beginning of the study.
They also suggested that similar changes might happen in healthy people too, when they alter their behavior.
Though the science of epigenetics is young, scientists think there’s good reason to think about how lifestyle choices may affect the epigenome.”
from “The Finger on the Switch.” by Bruce Lipton
“We have revealed that molecular switches activate protein gears, which, in turn, move, and generate behavior. Now the big question concerning the secret of life is, “Who or what turns on the switch? To turn the switch, we introduce… the signal.
A signal from the cell’s environment puts the gears, motor, switch, and gauge into motion.
The Signal: Signals represent environmental forces that switch on the motor within a cell and cause protein gears to move. Signals represent both physical and energetic information that comprise the world in which we live. The air we breathe, the food we eat, the people we touch, even the news we hear – all represent environmental signals that activate protein movement and generate behavior. Consequently, when we use the term environment in our discussion, we mean everything from the edge of our own skin to the edge of the Universe. This is environment in the truly large sense.
Each protein responds to a specific environmental signal with the intimacy and accuracy of a key fitting into its matching lock. The coupling of a protein molecule with a complementary environmental signal causes the protein molecule to change its shape, which, by its nature, is expressed as movement. The cell harnesses these molecular movements to drive its life-providing protein pathways, such as respiration, digestion, muscle contractions, and others. Protein movement animates the cell, bringing it to life.”
“Now we’ve been told repeatedly by news readers, parents, health teachers and magazines that smoking, overeating and eating unhealthily is bad for our health, but the advances in epigenetics have given way to a whole new level of boring advice that none of us really listen to, but seriously should. A study from the University of Southern California has shown that if your grandmother smoked while pregnant you have twice the chance of developing asthma, than your best friend whose grandmothers didn’t (n.a, 2008). (Thanks Nana)
What caused this increase? The researchers at the University of Southern California believe it is that nasty tobacco that changes your epigenetic switches during embryonic development.
What’s the plus side of this discovery? Scientists have been able to manipulate the epigenetic markers in their labs, meaning that drugs can be designed to treat genetic diseases that have no cures (Cloud, 2010).
How do these drugs work? Basically, they silence the bad genes that are causing the problem, and turn on the good genes (Cloud, 2010).”
“Dr. Louise Arseneault’s group from King’s College London decided to focus their efforts on an oh so familiar early life stress: bullying. And odds are that if you’re reading this then you probably experienced it. Well, it turns out being bullied can actually lead to a wide range of mental health problems like depression and anxiety. Anyways, putting our childhood traumas aside, here are the highlights of Dr. Arseneault’s latest research:
They observed increased DNA methylation of SERT, a serotonin transporter gene, while comparing a bullied identical twin to their ‘more popular’, non-bullied (discordant) twin.
The twin with increased SERT methylation also showed a decreased cortisol response.
Decreased cortisol responses have been previously linked to a poor stress coping strategies and are believed to play a role in many mental disorders.
The biggest strength of this research is the use of multiple sets of discordant identical twins, since it allowed them to essentially eliminate genetic and shared environmental confounds, which is something hardly ever done in human studies. Ultimately, this is one of the first studies to provide longitudinal evidence that epigenetic processes are dynamic and responsive to early social environments in humans.”
“It is now generally accepted that personal experience can change our genes. If you practise music for six hours a day and become a great musician, your brain will show recognisable changes both in large-scale anatomy and genetically.
London cabbies have “knowledge” – enhanced regions of the brain that start to recede when they retire. The chemical processes that alter the genes in epigenesis – methylation and deacetylation of the packaging proteins of the genes, the histones – are fairly well understood.
But the puzzle is that some of these changes can be passed on to offspring, and the effect – although it eventually disappears after three to four generations – can have profound consequences.”
from “Basic concepts of epigenetics: Impact of environmental signals on gene expression.” Elizabeth A Mazzio and Karam FA Soliman, Epigenetics. 2012 February; 7(2): 119–130. doi: 10.4161/epi.7.2.18764
“Environmental epigenetic factors affecting long-term phenotypic change are largely initiated during in utero/perinatal periods, when introduction to the external world is being established. It is believed that since epigenetic patterns are inherited through mitosis, the earlier the stage of development, the more critical the environmental impact on the resulting phenotype. During fetal development, environmental cues can induce the modification of a pliable epigenome, which can result in long-term changes in gene expression that occur in a self-sustaining manner in the absence of the original stimulus. Adverse gestational conditions that arise from inadequate healthcare, poor nutrition, socioeconomic disadvantage and racial disparities are often associated with long-lasting phenotypic consequences in adults, yielding greater risk of diabetes and heart disease, as well as low birth weight and congenital defects in progeny. It is now becoming evident that these effects are inextricably linked to altered epigenetic patterns.”
It’s kind of dreamlike isn’t is?
The fact that we have these genetic switches that can be turned on and off, and WE’RE the ones that are in control of the settings is both exhilarating and frightening.
We are in the fortunate position of being able to watch from the sidelines as major breakthroughs in epigenetics continue to pour in.
As a sufferer of Restless Legs Syndrome, the cause and mechanics of your condition should become clearer as these new discoveries are announced.
Researchers, in the not too distant future, will hopefully be able to determine which switches are turned “ON” and which switches are turned “OFF” for those that suffer from Restless Legs Syndrome.