What is Epigenetics?
In order to understand epigenetics, you first need to know about the foundation of who we are. You have probably heard the terms genes, DNA, chromosomes, and cells, but what is the difference? Knowing these terms will give you the baseline you need to understand the massive impact epigenetics has on disease, and how we use it to bring you quality supplements.
Let’s start with cells. These are the basic building blocks of us, and all other living things. Each cell has a specialized function and carries out individual tasks we require to function. We are made up of trillions of them, and they can replicated, grow, and even die. This is all natural as it’s part of a cells life-cycle.
Within the center of each cell, called the nucleus, DNA is organized into tightly wound pairs called Chromosomes. We have 23 pairs of chromosomes within every gene. Each pair contains a DNA strand from your mother and father.
DNA is the hereditary material given to you by your father and mother and is well-known for it’s double helix shape.
This brings us to genes. Genes are sections of DNA that contain the blueprint for making proteins. Some sections are small, and some are large based on the size/function of the protein needed. Proteins are the building blocks of our body.
In every cell within our body, we have the same 20,000 genes. So why and how are cells different? What makes a skin cell different from a muscle cell? If every cell has the same exact 20,000 genes, shouldn’t every cell look and behave exactly the same?
Enter: gene expression. The mechanisms governing gene expression are called epigenetics. What genes are being expressed or creating proteins designates your cell’s function. Genes are either on or off, and can create proteins at different speeds and volumes. Some genes are mutated meaning they don’t create normal proteins or proteins that don’t function at all. One well-known example is the BRCA genes. These mutations prevent the gene from creating an important protein that helps fix damaged DNA. Women who have the BRCA mutation are not able to make this critical protein which is what increases their risk of cancer.
Think of your DNA as your own personal 20,000 page cookbook with each page being a gene. Just because we all have the same pages doesn’t necessarily mean we are all cooking the same proteins at the same pace. Skin cells may use pages 367-789, while muscle cells may use pages 13,568-15,6798. Depending on what pages are being used designates what gene is being expressed and what proteins are being coded.
Cells: The basic building block of living things. We have trillions of them and all have specialized functions. (skin cells vs muscle cells vs brain cells)
Chromosomes: Each cell has 23 pairs of chromosomes. They are made up of tightly wound DNA.
DNA: A long molecule that contains our genetic code.
Genes: These are segments of our DNA. We all have the same 20,000 genes. The expression of these genes is what makes us all unique. You are your gene expression.
Let’s take a look at identical twins. They are born with the same DNA, and their cookbook has the same exact pages opened, yet they are two separate and unique individuals. How is this possible? When we are developing in the womb, we start with our gene expression handed down from our parents, but that doesn’t mean it stays like that forever.
Epigenetics is the changes in your gene activity. In another words, it is the changing of what pages are being opened and closed and the volume/speed at which proteins are being made from a page through outside factors other than our inherited gene expression.
These epigenetic changes can occur based on what you do, where you live, how you live, what you eat, your exercise levels, emotions, etc.. If twin A sits on the couch eating pizza every day and rarely works out, their gene expression will be significantly different from Twin B, who eats well and competes in triathlons. While this is an extreme example, we can see how our lifestyle and choices can significantly impact our mental and physical health, one page at a time. When you decide to walk somewhere instead of drive, you have made a decision that will end up affecting your gene expression. All of our actions and environments have small to significant effects, depending on the scale and frequency.
One interesting example is that women who live in brighter neighborhoods tend to have a higher incidence of breast cancer. This is because they typically have brighter bedrooms at night as more light tends to leak in from surrounding buildings and street lamps. When you sleep in brighter rooms, your body begins to release less melatonin which is critical for the quality of your sleep. This can epigentically change your gene expression, changing which pages are opening/closing in a negative way that can actually increase your risk or breast cancer.
Another more uplifting example is the epigenetic effect yoga and meditation can have. Studies have shown the process of yoga and mediation actually open and close certain cookbook pages to overall decrease your risk of cancer.
This begs the question, what if we can change our cookbook pages into a healthy and anti-cancer position?
What if through a very specific grouping and timing of supplements can we systematically correct our poor gene expression and reverse cancer at it’s very core?
At Elsie Genetics, we use this information to inform our research. We select over 150 genes whose cookbook pages play a significant role in the formation and progression of breast cancer to be our targets. Our goal is to bring you an optimized combination to fight back against the epigenetic failures that cause cancer to thrive.