The emerging field of epigenetics is quickly growing and with it, a better understanding of how your environment and experiences can impact your life. Epigenetic research is an evolving landscape. Epigenetic changes can have long-lasting and damaging effects on the body that can result in diseases such as heart disease, arthritis, or even depression.
So, what does this mean for you? Well learning more about how epigenetics works could actually give you more control over your health and well-being. Epigenetics puts some of the power back in your hands. Your health isn’t entirely determined by genetics or other factors outside of your control. By understanding more about epigenetics, you can actually change your health journey for the better.
Currently, there are at least three systems that are associated with gene expression and thought to be vital to sustain epigenetic changes. These systems include DNA methylation, histone modification, and non-coding RNA. New research is constantly uncovering the role epigenetics plays in health and disease and how it works with DNA and RNA.
The Difference Between DNA and RNA
In order to appreciate how epigenetics, DNA and RNA connect, you need to fully understand the difference between DNA and RNA. Firstly, DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid and RNA stands for ribonucleic acid. Both RNA and DNA carry genetic information and are found in every living cell, however, there are a few differences between them.
Humans have 46 chromosomes that contain all the genetic information they need. There are over 25,000 genes in the human genome. Chromosomes help to keep DNA tightly packed around proteins called histones. Without this packaging, DNA would be too long to fit in all your cells. Your genes are made up of DNA and it’s thought that there are over 3 billion base pairs. The overall term used to describe RNA and DNA is nucleic acids. Nucleic acids are considered the most important biomolecules.
DNA is a double-stranded molecule. It’s responsible for storing and transferring genetic information and is self-replicating. Whereas RNA is a single-stranded molecule and its job is to carry instructions from DNA and directly code amino acids. It acts as a messenger for DNA to control the production of some proteins. While DNA carries genetic information, RNA carries instructions. Both molecules are crucial but serve a slightly different purpose in the body.
What is Epigenetics?
Epigenetics is an emerging and growing field of science that focuses on how you are an extension of your environment and experiences. It suggests that the real reason behind many ongoing struggles and health conditions is down to epigenetics and what’s happening inside you on a cellular level. Your thoughts and mindset are powerful tools and how you perceive experiences can cause epigenetic changes.
Every day your cells are changing and absorbing information. If you’re viewing your experiences correctly then the information stored will be right. However, if you’re storing incorrect information from an unhealthy mindset, you might experience negative emotions like social anxiety, depression or even a sense of hopelessness.
You can change this though. You don’t have to stay stuck in your health journey or continue to feel down. There’s ways to actually change you’re the data in your cells. The first step in changing your thoughts. It can be a tedious process to go from someone who continually thinks pessimistic and harmful thought. But with practice, you can move beyond just positive thinking and actually rewire the way you think.
Epigenetic changes also can result in genes being switched on or off which in turn can influence disease in humans. The behavior of a person’s genes doesn’t just rely on DNA but is affected by epigenetic factors. Changes in these factors could have a huge impact on disease.
It’s been shown that epigenetics can be passed down through families. Studies have provided evidence that prenatal and early postnatal environmental factors can influence the risk of an individual developing various chronic diseases and behavioral disorders later in life. Studies have demonstrated that children during the Dutch famine between 1944 and 1945 have higher rates of coronary heart disease and obesity after exposure to famine during pregnancy as opposed to those not exposed to famine.
How do Epigenetic Changes Affect Genes, DNA and RNA?
Epigenetic changes can switch genes on and off and also control which proteins are produced. There are trillions of cells throughout the body yet many have different roles and types of cells. There are neurons, liver cells, inflammatory cells and more. Put simply, all these cells are different because certain sets of genes have been expressed or inhibited.
Epigenetic silencing is one way to turn genes off and may contribute to different gene expression. Within cells, two of the systems that can interact with each other to silence genes are DNA methylation and RNA-associated silencing. Gene expression can be affected by these two systems meaning that epigenetic factors are switching genes on and off. It’s the result of this gene expression that can lead to certain diseases and ongoing struggles.
DNA methylation is a chemical process that adds a methyl to the DNA. A methyl group is a compound that contains one carbon atom bonded to three hydrogen atoms. Methyl groups change the appearance and structure of DNA and modify the gene’s interaction with the cell nucleus. Currently, DNA is one of the most widely studied epigenetic modifications. Back in 1969, Griffith and Mahler suggested that DNA methylation may be crucial in long-term memory function.
Another major epigenetic modification is non-coding RNA mechanisms. A non-coding RNA is a working RNA molecule that is transcribed from DNA but not translated into proteins. Transcription is the first stage in gene expression in which a gene’s DNA sequence is duplicated to make an RNA molecule. Genes can also be turned off by RNA in the form of non-coding RNAs. RNA might affect gene expression in several ways such as triggering histone modifications and DNA methylation.
Epigenetics and Disease
The ongoing interest in epigenetics has led to new findings in the relationship between epigenetics and a host of diseases like cancer, immune disorders, and pediatric diseases. DNA, RNA, and epigenetics are all interconnected with epigenetic factors influencing gene expression. When it comes to disease and ongoing struggles, gene expression can play a big role.
There are numerous examples of epigenetics within lifestyle choices and environmental exposures altering gene expression, therefore, impacting health outcomes. Epigenetic influences can include the environment like air pollution. Scientists are looking into the effects of air pollution on DNA. It’s thought that air pollution could change the methyl tags on DNA and increase the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases.
Diet has also been shown to influence epigenetic tags in a significant way. One study found that a high-fat, low carb diet could open up chromatin and potentially improve mental ability.
Chromatin, an epigenetic agent, consists of DNA and protein and is found in eukaryotic cells. This suggests that a ketogenic diet could help increase an epigenetic agent that’s naturally produced in the body.
If you want to try eating a ketogenic diet, the vegan keto diet can be one of the best for your health. It combines the benefits from eating a plant-based diet with a keto diet. On top of that a plant-based diet also helps the environment and is great for reducing your carbon footprint on the planet.
While it’s normal for epigenetic changes to take place in the body for you to grow and develop, disrupting the systems such as RNA-associated silencing and DNA methylation can cause silencing of the genes and abnormal activity. These disruptions have been associated with health conditions like cancer as well as fragile X syndrome. As epigenetics research gives light to further understanding and knowledge, the mechanisms and processes involved with DNA and RNA will continue to be uncovered.
Epigenetics affects how genes are read by certain cells and ultimately, controls gene expression. It’s everywhere from what you eat to where you live and who you speak to. The different combinations of genes that are switched on and off make an individual unique. With a greater understanding of why you experience health problems and ongoing struggles, you can tap into the study of epigenetics to potentially eliminate the negative parts of your life.