Change is inevitable, but your choices can alter the path. Epigenetics literally means ‘above genetics.’ Epigenetics can’t change your DNA, but it has the potential to change the way your genes are expressed.
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Epigenetics is one of my favorite topics. I have written about different aspects of epigenetics in two blogs in the past: How To Control Your Gene Expression and The Key to Reversing Your Biological Age. This week, we will explore the more technical side of the third hallmark of aging, epigenetic alterations, and how it contributes to the acceleration of aging.
In their landmark paper, The Hallmarks of Aging, Lopez-Ortiz et al composed three requisites and criteria that each hallmark should fulfill: “(i) it should manifest during normal aging; (ii) it’s experimental aggravation should accelerate aging; and (iii) its experimental amelioration should retard the normal aging process and, hence, increase healthy lifespan.” While each of the nine hallmarks meets these criteria in varying degrees, epigenetic alterations give us significant examples of all three.
Our DNA’s package
Before we elaborate, we must delve a little deeper into our biology lessons to get to the foundation of this hallmark of aging.
If you took a single DNA molecule and spread it out in a linear fashion, it would measure about six feet in length! In a human cell, this must be packaged into the nucleus of a cell with a diameter less than a human hair. So it goes without saying that our bodies have to do some pretty miraculous work to fit 46 of our 6-foot DNA molecules into the nucleus of every cell. And remember, we have approximately 30-40 trillion cells in our bodies!
In order to do this, the DNA must obviously be condensed. We’ve mentioned that our double-helix DNA is tightly woven around proteins. These proteins are called histones, and our cells wrap about 150 base pairs of DNA around a group of eight of these histones together – known as the histone octamer – to form what’s called the nucleosome. These resemble beads on a string, and they continuously spiral to form what’s known as the solenoid, which then supercoils further and stacks together to form a single fiber known as the chromatin. The end result is compacted DNA, histones, and a percentage of RNA, and the final condensed structure of this process results in the chromosome.
Chromatin is important because it strengthens the DNA to withstand cell division. It also allows for DNA replication, transcription (the process of making an RNA copy of a gene’s DNA sequence), DNA repair, and genetic recombination (diversity).
Our genetic on/off switch
There are many epigenetic alterations that affect our cells throughout our lifetime. The first change is what has been observed in DNA methylation patterns.
Remember that DNA is made up of nucleotide bases that form pairs of adenine (A), guanine (G), thymine (T), and cytosine (C), which in turn spell out our genetic code. One way that the body regulates how those genes are expressed is through a process called methylation. DNA can be tagged, or marked, with tiny molecules called methyl groups at some of its cytosine (C) locations. Like a switch, this literally silences that section of the gene, which can allow for normal cellular differentiation when we are developing as a fetus.
As we age, methylation can be thought of as a way for DNA to adapt to the never-ending changes in our environment – for better or for worse. The methyl groups need to be in the right place at the right time. It is when the methylation patterns become disrupted that things start to go awry. For example, some cancer cells are known for methylating areas of the DNA that are usually protected, and vice versa, which ultimately leads to abnormal suppression of activity in our DNA and thus, our gene expression.
Our genetic volume control
Another change that has been observed as an epigenetic alteration is modification of histones.
Remember the histone proteins and chromatin formation we mentioned earlier? Histones are not only one of the primary components of the chromatin but are also integral in the regulation of gene expression. They can alter how tightly or loosely the DNA is wound around them – the looser they are, the more the genes expressed; the tighter they are, the less genes expressed – similar to how a knob would control volume. Abnormal modifications of histones have been correlated with various diseases, including cancer, autoimmune disorders, inflammation and neurological conditions.
Our structural integrity
A third change that is characteristic of epigenetic alteration is chromatin remodeling. The chromatin’s tight coiling structure condenses and protects our DNA. It also prevents DNA from being transcribed continuously. However, in order for genes to be accessed and expressed, they must ‘open’ in a process known as chromatin remodeling. This is crucial for proper cell functioning.
In aging cells, enzymes that are involved in the DNA methylation and histone modification processes start to fade. This results in loss of integrity within the chromatin. Since the strength of the chromatin is necessary for DNA replication and repair, it becomes apparent that deterioration of this important structure can adversely affect the aging process. When the chromatin remodeling process starts to decline, epigenetic abnormalities accumulate, which can result in diseases such as cancer.
Food is medicine
In my best-selling book, The Longevity Equation, I indicate, “Research shows that epigenetic alterations can be slowed down by including plenty of bioactive compounds in your diet. You can do this by consuming healthy fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and oils.”
There is also research that these bioactive compounds alter DNA methylation and histone modifications and have the ability to favorably alter gene expression and prevent tumorigenesis. Foods particularly effective include turmeric, soybean, green tea, grapes, and cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower. The authors state, “The emerging field of nutritional genomics targets nutrient-related genetic and epigenetic changes for prevention and therapy of various diseases including cancer.”
Find out your epigenetic age
The Longevity Equation provides a step-by-step blueprint to hack your genes, optimize your health and master the art of existence. In my book, I take an in-depth look at aging, explore what it means to extend your healthspan, and outline the pathways and factors that lead to a lifelong solution to the burdens of aging.
In collaboration with TruDiagnostic™, I have developed The Longevity Equation Epigenetic Consult. We are offering a revolutionary new way to access your health using an epigenetic test called TruAge™. This test will help tell you what your body is actually doing right now and what that means.
TruAge™ works by using mathematical models and a powerful algorithm to measure DNA methylation-based biomarkers. Methylation is what modifies the function of the genes in the body by adding what’s called a methyl group to DNA, which is what signals genes to turn on or off. DNA methylation is the best indicator of age-related changes and is the best-studied biomarker of age. This comprehensive testing method determines your epigenetic, or biological age, and can detect the acceleration of aging before the signs of aging even begin to appear.
The Longevity Equation Epigenetic Consult is intended to give you a snapshot of your biological age, as well as the lifestyle and environmental shifts you can make right away to start adding vitality and wellness into your life. Click here to schedule your consult!
More about The Institute for Human Optimization
The Institute for Human Optimization is committed to helping you create a personalized plan for living your longest, healthiest life possible. My team and I leverage the most cutting-edge advances in genetic testing, nutritional analysis, and functional medicine to get to the root biological imbalances that cause aging.
The Institute for Human Optimization was created with the intention of pursuing a highly personalized approach to longevity medicine to help enhance healthspan. Where lifespan is the actual number of years we’re alive, healthspan is how many of those years are spent in health and wellness.
We believe that a long healthspan – not just a long lifespan – is the most important thing you can cultivate. A long healthspan means you don’t miss out on life as you get older. It means remaining independent and having the vitality to travel and see the world. A long healthspan means that you can be there – in full body and mind – for the people who need you the most and that every day will feel like a gift.
We know that each person is truly unique. From DNA to iris, we all possess a blueprint that is genetically inherited and environmentally influenced. By gaining a deeper appreciation for the person on a molecular level and addressing the root causes driving disease, we can help promote optimized health through our unique scientific, N of 1, approach to individualized care.
The Institute for Human Optimization provides the most comprehensive, data-driven, personalized approach to wellness. It is:
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I am so excited about the possibility to support you on this cutting-edge journey to extend your lifespan AND your healthspan. Click here to schedule Your Longevity Equation Epigenetic Consult! Can’t wait to meet you!