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The Power of Epigenetics: How Your Environment Can Change Your Genes Even Without Genetic Variations

Written by Portland Clinic of Natural Health on May 1, 2023

Our genes provide the blueprint for our physical and biological characteristics, but they do not act in isolation. Environmental factors can interact with our genes and affect their expression, leading to a range of outcomes, such as disease susceptibility, behavioral traits, and physiological responses. (1)

The interaction between genes and the environment is not limited to cases where there is a specific polymorphism or genetic variation. Instead, environmental factors can impact gene expression through a process called epigenetics. Epigenetics refers to changes in the way genes are expressed without altering the underlying DNA sequence. These changes can be caused by a variety of environmental factors, including stress, nutrition, toxins, and lifestyle choices. (2)

For example, studies have shown that prenatal exposure to stress can alter gene expression in the developing fetus. (3) Environmental factors that can impact gene expression include exposure to toxins such as cigarette smoke or pollutants, as well as lifestyle choices like exercise and sleep habits. Even social factors such as childhood experiences and social support can affect gene expression and have lasting effects on health outcomes.

The impact of the environment on gene expression highlights the complex interplay between nature and nurture in shaping who we are. While we cannot control our genetic makeup, we can take steps to promote a healthy environment that supports optimal gene expression. This includes eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, managing stress, and avoiding harmful substances. By understanding how our environment impacts our genes, we can take control of our health and well-being and make informed choices that promote a healthy and fulfilling life.

Resources:

  1. Lin Y, Chen J, Shen B. Interactions Between Genetics, Lifestyle, and Environmental Factors for Healthcare. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2017;1005:167-191. doi: 10.1007/978-981-10-5717-5_8. PMID: 28916933.
  2. Al Aboud NM, Tupper C, Jialal I. Genetics, Epigenetic Mechanism. 2022 Aug 8. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan–. PMID: 30422591.
  3. Coussons-Read ME. Effects of prenatal stress on pregnancy and human development: mechanisms and pathways. Obstet Med. 2013 Jun;6(2):52-57. doi: 10.1177/1753495X12473751. Epub 2013 May 3. PMID: 27757157; PMCID: PMC5052760.

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