Can You Outsmart Your Genes?
Fairlady|October 2017

Yes and no. The good news is you can influence how much impact some of them have on your health. Karen Fitta finds out what you need to know.

Karen Fitta

wide range of health problems have a strong genetic link, so if your mom or dad had a condition, your own risk of being diagnosed with it rises significantly too. But even if you have inherited the same genes, it’s not always a given that your health will turn out the same. Why? One explanation is something called epigenetics. And it’s possible to use it to your advantage.

What is epigenetics?

While you can’t change the genes you inherit, it is possible to influence how they function. Environmental factors, like nutrition and stress, can create epigenetic changes, which switch a gene on or off. It helps explain why only one identical twin might develop type 2 diabetes – both twins inherit the same genes, but different lifestyle choices switch the diabetes-related genes on or off.

What do we know so far?

Researchers are only just starting to understand all the ways that changing how genes function can affect a person’s health, as well as exactly what causes the epigenetic changes in the first place. For example, cancer researchers are exploring how epigenetics might turn a healthy cell into a cancerous one. What they discover could lead to more effective cancer treatments – or even a cure. Like genes themselves, epigenetic changes can also be inherited, which means your parents’ and grandparents’ lifestyles before you were conceived impact your health by determining how your genes function. Likewise, in addition to influencing your own genes, your lifestyle might influence how your children’s genes function.

How can I make it work for me now?

Some healthy habits can spark epigenetic changes to your genes right now – changes that may help to protect against everything from heart disease and stroke to diabetes, cancer and arthritis. Some habits might even make it easier to keep the weight off. Here’s what we know works.

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