Your guide to understanding epigenetics
Since cracking the human genome, academics and researchers are reconsidering the nature-versus-nurture debate. The question is whether individual traits are determined by our DNA (nature) or by the conditions of development (nurture). Increasingly, the debate is turning towards nurture — more specifically, the environment of DNA in both our ancestors’ cells and in the contemporary cellular environment where it is replicated. It is increasingly evident that the base pairs making up DNA are not the only way genetic information is passed on. The environmental influences on DNA, including toxin exposure and restricted or excessive caloric intake, help to shape the individual profoundly. The new discipline providing evidence for this shift is known as epigenetics.
Epigenetics is literally defined as “control above genetics”. It is the study of what is occurring around, above, upon, on, near or overlaying the DNA. Epigenetic mechanisms can turn a gene “on” or “off” or trigger it to express itself “loudly” or “quietly”. Epigenetic effects seem to be passed on to subsequent generations, which means the conditions our grandparents experienced affect us today. Also, it means what we do and experience in our lifetimes will affect the genetic expression of our descendants, even if our DNA itself has not been altered.
Epigenetics is a field of rapid growth and research and many new suggestions are being tossed around. The keen minds presenting at the Second International Conference on The Science of Nutrition in Medicine and Healthcare, held in Melbourne in May 2012, suggested epigenetics may well summon a new path for mainstream healthcare — one aligned with individual prescriptions based on individual genetic needs. The consensus at the conference was a cautious one: that it is still too early to make definitive statements about the effect of epigenetics, as the scientific evidence is still building.
One study presented at the conference showed that, in ewes, both over-nutrition during pregnancy and weight-loss regimes at conception spawned offspring with energy and weight metabolism issues. This suggests that both stress and over-eating can create major problems with the healthy weight management and stress resilience of future generations. These findings align with various population studies of northern Europe from last century, which revealed that restricted caloric intake (some form of fasting) positively affected longevity of subsequent generations when compared to gorging during abundant harvests, which actually reduced longevity by about six years.
Another study, published last year by Swinburne University, demonstrated how mercury sensitivity was passed down over generations. It manifested as alarmingly higher rates of autism in the grandchildren of people who had suffered pink disease, a reaction to a mercury medication of the day. Epigenetics provides us with a framework to explain how this previous exposure and reaction in earlier generations can lead to illnesses in future generations. Knowing that a sensitivity exists in a family history could prevent mercury (used in many vaccinations as preservatives) being introduced into susceptible children.
The impact of pollution from industrialisation on the environment in which DNA is replicated is slowly unfolding through epigenetic findings. It seems to confirm what I have observed through iridology over the years: how the constitutional strength of individuals, as indicated through their iris fibres, is significantly weakened in younger generations. People over 50 often have iris structures with a constitutional fortitude rarely seen in irises of people under 35.
With this growing understanding, it stands to reason that regularly using substances such as chlorella that help safely remove heavy metals, doing intensive cleansing fasts on an annual or biannual basis and maintaining supportive dietary and lifestyle routines will support healthy cellular environments and thus replication, thereby providing a better prediction for the health of future generations.
Bruce Lipton, a former cellular biologist at Stanford and now a 2012 wake-up evangelist, suggests that our latest understanding of epigenetics changes everything. His 2005 book The Biology of Belief describes DNA as the reproductive function of the cell but not the brains directing it. He writes how the environment of the cell and its “magical” membrane directs how the cell is repaired and expressed. Defining “environment” is difficult, as it has many varying factors and no clear limits, which creates major issues for the traditional scientific model. Lipton leans towards an interconnectivity paradigm affecting cellular expression. This thinking is very aligned with various earth-honouring indigenous cultures around the world and the Deep Ecology philosophy.
Lipton avers that what we think affects the environmental conditions in which replication of our genes occurs. Through our thinking, we are creating life as we go. This suggests we need to be very conscious of what we are thinking and choose our thoughts wisely. In terms of detox, eliminate any toxic thoughts and develop a vital and nourishing cognitive world. Lipton’s approach suggests adopting this more conscious, affirmative thinking will create more positive actions for our individual and shared environments.
An in-depth feature on Bruce Lipton appears in issue 143 of WellBeing
Sally Mathrick is a practising naturopath. She runs Sparkle Wellness & Detox courses online, providing effective, holistic, individual approaches to wellness. For more information, visit www.sparklewell.com.au.