What is epigenetics?

Epigenetics Q&A & Myth Busters

What is epigenetics?
Epigenetics controls how your genes behave. You are born with your genetic makeup, but you can affect your epigenetics through your lifestyle. 

How does it work?
Life circumstances such as diet, exercise, stress and smoking can cause genes to be silenced or expressed over time – they can be turned off or turned on by how you live your life, affecting health and fitness and influencing disease and illness prevention.

Where is epigenetics currently used?
Epigenetics is currently used for cancer diagnostics, elite athletics and as an advanced wellness tool for High Net Worth Individuals. Muhdo is the first company to offer an epigenetics profiling programme direct to consumers for monitoring epigenetics on a regular basis.

What is the science behind it?
Epigenetics is the process by which the DNA methyltransferase (MTase) family of enzymes catalyze the transfer of a methyl group to DNA. When the methyl groups are added to the DNA molecule, it can change the activity of a DNA segment like a mutation without changing the sequence inherited from parents.  Although your DNA does not change, MTase disrupts the activity of a DNA segment so it behaves in a different way, either amplifying positive change or mitigating negative potential.

Are the changes to gene expression permanent?
Some changes can be permanent, but most are not – they require sustained positive engagement to be maintained. The longer they are maintained, the better the outcome.

Is epigenetics a proven science?
Epigenetics is an established health science that has been identified as a key driver in the future of healthcare. In 2013, experts in epigenetics were nominated for the Noble Prize in Physiology of Medicine for their work in methylation and gene expression. Muhdo also provides peer-reviewed research into epigenetics and is currently conducting a long-term study of the impact of stress on methylation and links to sleep, exercise, neurological diseases, mood disorders and metabolism. 

Do you employ epigenetic scientists?
Dr. Tanya Petrossian, epigenetics clinical lead at Muhdo Health, is a world leader in epigenetics and holds a Ph.D Biochemistry & Molecular Biology. Dr. Petrossian made the groundbreaking discovery of the Methyltransferasome lead to her nomination by the National Institutes of Health to represent the United States in the 2010 Meeting of the Nobel Laureates.  She is also pioneering the development of the first non-hormone therapeutic for endometriosis – the number one cause of infertility and disability in women during their reproductive years.

How is epigenetics used in medicine?
Epigenetics will increasingly be used to personalise healthcare by using a DNA map of the patient to work out which medicines would be most effective. The epigenetic regulation of expression of genes involved in the absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion (ADME) of drugs contributes to inter-individual variability in drug response. The ability to track epigenetic change on an ongoing basis will allow clinicians to measure factors such as the patient’s metabolization rate, the likelihood of toxicity and side effects. This will lead to more cost-effective healthcare with better clinical outcomes.

How can it play a role in disease prevention?
Epigenetics maps and monitors methylation sites in the body and this includes monitoring them for signs of ill health.

In the case of mental health, there are mental health and stress methylation sites in the body that correlate with prediction of depression.  There has also been evidence that practices such as Tai Chi can dramatically change the epigenetic profile of individuals linked to improved physiological and psychosocial functions, well-being, quality of life, and disease conditions. When we see this, we recommend activities that may combat this and change the methylation patterns.

In breast cancer, individuals who were more physically fit and who exercised more minutes per week had lower levels of BCRA DNA methylation, potentially decreasing risk for cancers (breast, colon).

We can measure that change and using exercise and nutrigenomics, the study of how genes and nutrition react with regard to the prevention or treatment of disease.

Unlock your Gene Genius – Myths About DNA

DNA testing tells you whether you are a warrior
Popular DNA testing has focused on the past, examining heritage and ancestry. People like to know whether they are descended from Vikings or whether they are one of the 0.5% of the total world population descended from Genghis Khan. You can’t change the past – but you can change your future. Taking control of your life will make you more of a warrior than having a Viking lineage.

All genetic mutations are bad.
The most commonly known genetic mutations are cancers. However, there are genetic mutations that could potentially be beneficial. For example, research has shown that people with a particular mutation in SLC30A8 gene are 65% less likely to get diabetes, even when they have risk factors like obesity.

Nature trumps nurture.
Not so. Research shows that mother rats who spend a lot of time licking their pups produce calm adults. Those who don’t get this attention, grow up anxious. She is writing information onto her pups’ DNA in a way that completely bypasses their genetic inheritance and programmes it for success. We can do the same through our behaviours. And we don’t even have to lick rats.

You benefit from the good life your parents lead
You actually benefit more when your grandparents starve. The rural Swedish district of Överkalix has been subject to highly variable harvests over the past century. Surprisingly, life expectancy was significantly raised in men whose grandfathers had endured a failed crop season just before puberty: they had acquired something due to starvation, and passed it on.

Your genes dominate how you age
Something called the epigenetic clock may actually be able to buy us more time. It can predict biological age based on DNA analysis. If you have an unhealthy lifestyle, your biological age will always be higher than your chronological age.  Effectively, the clock ticks faster. DNA analysis can identify the key biomarkers that you need to look out for. It pays to keep an eye on the clock.

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