Epigenetics is a relatively new field of study which focuses on heritable changes in gene expression. Genes are portions of our DNA that encode information for all of our various biological functions. They are the fundamental units of data which collectively emerge as our biological lives, affecting everything from eye color to sub-cellular metabolic processes. Genes are hereditary, meaning they endure and are passed through generations, a historical record and mandate of life.
The field of epigenetics shows us that although our genes may to some extent control who we are, they do not necessarily determine what we become. We provide feedback to our genes, through our interaction with the environment, which has the potential to influence the way those genes are expressed. This has powerful implications, especially in the areas of longevity and health. In recent years, epigenetics and its relation to health and disease states have become the focus of much novel research.
The genetic link between certain diseases, like cancer and diabetes for example, has been long established. Epigenetics is helping us to better understand how certain environmental factors, like diet and lifestyle, affect the expression of these genetic risk factors across individuals. What this means for the average person is that their diet, exercise, and lifestyle can have an enormous impact on whether the disease state, performance, health, and longevity genes they carry are expressed or suppressed. By understanding the signals we are sending to our body, and implementing the appropriate signals at the appropriate times, we can better mitigate our genetic risks and weaknesses, and better capitalize on our genetic strengths.
One of the most interesting things about epigenetics is that the changes in gene expression we enact are heritable. This means that our diets, our exercise regimin, and our heath directly affect the heath of our children. Thus it is possible to break out of the cycle of family illness and disfunction and affect a better future. Perhaps for the next generation, we should strive to leave the gene pool a little better than we found it.