DNA & Epigenetics

Does DNA really have the final say in your destiny?

Does DNA Really Have The Final Say in Your Destiny
No matter what grade you got in high school biology, you probably remember that DNA is the “coding” that makes each us who we are. It’s where our genes live—those hereditary sequences that determine everything from the color of your hair and eyes to the likelihood that you’ll hate mushrooms or love broccoli.

For a long time, most people believed that your genes determined your destiny. Put simply, they were thought to be “the hand you’re dealt in life.” And if those cards include diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s or high blood pressure, well—there’s nothing you can do about it. That’s what science used to say, at least. But more recent research is revealing that fate may be a whole lot more flexible than we thought.

Rethinking what’s possible with epigenetics

A growing field of science called epigenetics is changing what we know—or thought we knew—about the way genes work. It turns out that just having certain genes doesn’t make them active. Instead, certain circumstances in life can cause genes to be silenced or expressed over time. Effectively, it means they can be switched on or off throughout our lives. And here’s the real kicker: many factors under our control can actually influence whether certain genes turn on or off.

Although epigenetic change—that switching on and off of certain genes—happens naturally and regularly throughout our lives due to aging and other changes, it also can be influenced by external factors such as our environment and lifestyle choices. How often we exercise, how stressed we are at work, how well we sleep—all of these factors can eventually cause chemical modifications that turn certain genes on or off over time. Regular exercise, for example, could switch off genes for high blood pressure, while smoking could switch on certain genes for cancer or other illnesses.

Understanding the power of nutrition

All of this means that our health-related choices really do matter—including those we make every day about nutrition. Eating healthy isn’t just a nice idea. Epigenetics research shows that diet and nutrients can have a huge influence over gene expression. In fact, a growing number of studies are linking what we consume to our likelihood for developing—or avoiding—certain illnesses and disorders.

One of the most well-known of these studies show a direct connection between nutrition and epigenetic change. The study involved a specific breed of mice that carry a unique gene—called the agouti gene—that causes mice to be overweight, have distinctly yellow fur and be highly prone to both cancer and diabetes. In the study, scientists fed a group of pregnant agouti mice a diet rich in methyl molecules—a nutrient that’s abundant in foods such as garlic and onions as well as in nutritional supplements such as Vitamin B12 and folic acid. The majority of the offspring from these mice not only looked different—they were thin and brown rather than the typical agouti fat and yellow—they also did not develop cancer or diabetes during their lives. In effect, the study showed that the nutrient-rich diet had effectively “switched off the agouti gene in the baby mice.

Shape your destiny with informed decisions

As this and other studies suggest, nutrition could have an even bigger impact on health than many of us ever imagined. And that makes it even more important to make informed choices when it comes to your nutritional health.

And although research is still underway, one thing is clear: you have a say in your own destiny. And nutrition gives you a powerful voice to express it.