How much weight do you give genetics when it comes to your health? Do you blame them for that extra belly fat you’ve been carrying around? Or maybe you acknowledge that you have a higher risk for certain kinds of cancers that run in the family, and take actionable steps to reduce that risk.
Some genes can predispose you to obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and a slew of other problems. But here’s a really great secret: predisposition is not predestined.
Ninety percent of our current health is controlled by the environment in which we bathe our genes—the food we eat, our exercise regimen, our resilience in the face of stress, and our exposure to environmental toxins.
If you come from a long line of overweight and sick people, you don’t have to sit back and accept that you’re doomed to become fat and sick, too: genetics are not your destiny!
Epigenetics is the study of how our environment and behavior can influence which of our genes are turned on or off (1). That’s right—we’re born with many different genes but that does NOT mean they are all active. Genes can be activated or silenced from so many different things, like what you eat, how you move, and how you restore your system. Your thoughts, feelings, and social connections even regulate your genes, too. You can turn on genes that create health or disease, weight gain or weight loss.
This has been one of the biggest breakthroughs in medicine. Most people tend to attribute far too much power to their genes, but it’s actually your lifestyle impacting your genes that maps your health outcomes.
Look at it this way: genetics loads the gun, but environment pulls the trigger.
SNPs, or single nucleotide polymorphisms, are the most common type of genetic variation and can be caused by all sorts of internal and external environmental factors like our nutritional status, stress, mental health, and our biochemical individuality.
There are actually more than 100 million types of SNPs and there are 4 to 5 million present in a person’s genome, most of which have no effect—remember, just because they are present doesn’t mean they are impacting our health. SNPs can be identified through genetic testing and if they correlate to certain symptoms or diseases someone has, they can be a huge clue as to what actions will be most helpful.
Some SNPs can represent a greater risk for osteoporotic fracture; other SNPs are correlated to prostate cancer; and a specific SNP in the vitamin D receptor (VDR) gene has been associated with a higher chance of Crohn’s disease, which may relate to the inflammation-modulating properties of vitamin D. So, if it’s known a patient with Crohn’s disease has a VDR SNP, it makes sense to test vitamin D levels and supplement accordingly.
To sum up SNPs, they’re important puzzle pieces that reveal more about our individual genetic state.
MTHFR Is Not a Bad Word
Chances are you’ve heard some buzz about methylation and the MTHFR SNP. Methylation is a key biochemical process that is essential for the proper function of almost all of your body’s systems.
It occurs billions of times every second; it helps repair your DNA on a daily basis; it controls homocysteine (an unhealthy compound that can damage blood vessels); it helps recycle molecules needed for detoxification; and it helps maintain mood and keep inflammation in check (2). An enzyme, called methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR), carries out these methylation processes—it’s pretty busy!—and the MTHFR SNP is a variation in the gene that codes that enzyme. This enzyme relies on folate, B2, B6, B12, and betaine to do its job properly.
As more and more people realize they have some variation of the MTHFR SNP, it’s important to realize that the right kind of B vitamins are a major must-have. Folic acid is not the same as folate; folic acid is the synthetic form of the vitamin and harder to absorb and utilize, especially if you have the MTHFR SNP. That’s why you want the active forms of all of the important B vitamins, like folate (as 5-MTHF), B6 (as pyridoxal-5-phosphate), and B12 (as methylcobalamin).
Wash Your Genes
Caring for your genes can mean a lot for your health. It means you can stop feeling like a victim and start taking control of the inputs you give your body to achieve your optimal genetic potential!
So what does taking genetic action look like? Here are a few of Dr. Hyman’s favorite ways to change your genetic destiny:
Dial-in your diet. Are you eating a diet high in processed carbs and refined sugars? Cutting the junk is the number one tip for cleaner genes. Poor food choices not only impact your own genes, they also could affect future generations (3). You should always focus on real, wholesome foods (think produce, high-quality animal proteins, healthy fats like olives and avocado, nuts and seeds). The nutrients you get from these support the good genes to work well and help to silence the bad ones. Most people do much better with a higher-fat, lower-carbohydrate diet but we’re all biochemically different, so pay attention to your own needs.
Fit body, fit genes. You can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet, but exercise is a crucial part of achieving optimal health. The lower your fitness activities, the higher your risk of death. Exercise can come in many forms, and it’s got lots of genetic benefits like impacting energy metabolism, insulin response, and inflammation within muscles (4). So working out your body means working out your genes.
- Step-up your sleep routine and de-stress. Sleep deprivation leads to damaged genes, which probably explains why a lack of sleep makes you fat and leads to depression, pain, heart disease, and diabetes (5). Stress is just as important. When we’re stressed the body releases hormones called glucocorticoids which can cause changes to DNA and specifically affect the brain (6). Lack of sleep contributes to stress in the body, so they both deserve equal attention. Find things that help you relax, whether it’s a walk in nature or some deep breathing exercises, and practice them daily. Give yourself a good 8 hours to get restful sleep in a peaceful environment, your genes will thank you!
Genetics can seem like an overwhelming topic, but it’s actually empowering. We have control and we can change our health, from the very deepest part, inside out. If you want some extra guidance be sure to check out Farmacy’s 10 Day Reset, which includes all of these lifestyle pieces as part of a full-body wellness plan.
To great health,
The Farmacy Team
- Epigenetics: Definition & Examples. Live Science. https://www.livescience.com/37703-epigenetics.html
- What You Need to Know About the MTHFR Gene. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/mthfr-gene
- How Diet Can Change Your DNA. Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/custom-media/science-for-life/how-diet-can-change-your-dna/
- How Exercise Changes Our DNA. The New York Times. https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/12/17/how-exercise-changes-our-dna/
- Sleep deprivation may affect our genes. EurekAlert! https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-01/w-sdm012419.php
- Stress Hormone Causes Epigenetic Changes. National Institutes of Health. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/stress-hormone-causes-epigenetic-changes