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The term ‘epigenetics’ has been around for over a hundred years, and yet, there is still so much we don’t understand about it. However, as the research into the field of epigenetics processes – scientists are uncovering more astonishing information about how your genes (DNA) and your epigenome affect many things from your health, your likelihood to develop certain diseases, your ability to build muscle, and even your struggles with weight loss. Learn more about epigenetics and how they may affect your weight loss journey in this article.

The fundamentals of genetics and epigenetics

Epigenetics is the study of how biological mechanisms can effectively ‘switch on’ or ‘switch off’ certain genes. Of course, the science is much more complex than this definition makes it sound. So, let’s cover a few basic things you first need to know about cells, DNA, and gene sequences.

  • Our CELLS are the fundamental makeup of every being, from humans, to fish, to plants, and everything in between. Different cells in our bodies have different purposes and all of the instructions for how these cells work inside the body are contained in an ‘instruction manual’ of sorts: the deoxyribonucleic acid or ‘DNA’.
  • In humans, our DNA is made up of around 3 billion nucleotide bases and there are four fundamental types of bases that make up our DNA. These are adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine, commonly abbreviated as A, C, G, and T.
  • The sequence or order of these bases is what determines our cells’ instructions for life, and what makes us human. Small changes in the sequences of our DNA is what makes us different from every other living thing on the planet and, interestingly, we humans are most closely related – in terms of DNA sequencing – to chimpanzees!
  • Genes are specific sequences of genetic bases, and we have around 20,000 different genes that make up our DNA.
  • These genes instruct our bodies to produce certain important proteins (or complex molecules that trigger the biological reactions we need to carry out our bodies’ functions for life).

And now we come to EPIGENETICS. The study of epigenetics helps us to understand how our genes (or our ‘instructions’ for producing proteins) can be switched on or off, to make our body function in different ways. In simple terms, epigenetics affects how genes are ‘read’ by our cells, and in turn, whether or not our cells should produce certain proteins. Here’s a little more detail about epigenetics:

Nature verses nurture: Epigenetics controls our genes through both the ‘natural’ (what we’re born with) and environmental or ‘nurture’ (what we encounter in our lives). In other words, our epigenetics determines a cell’s specialization (our skin colour, eye colour, hair colour and texture, our liver cells, etc.), and our environmental stimuli or what we are exposed to – then work to switch some of these genes on or off.

Epigenetics is expressed by many factors: From what you eat, to how you sleep, who you interact with, where you live, how you exercise and even ageing – all of these factors and more determine chemical modificiations to how your genes are read. As an example, your DNA might predispose you to diabetes, but epigenetic ‘switching’ off of certain genes through diet and lifestyle choices could steer you away from this fate. The same can be said for weight loss, Alzheimer’s, cancer, blood disease, or even your chances of becoming a world-class athlete.

The technical side of epigenetics

Want a little more detail about the science? Here, we take a look at three fundamental ways in which epigenetics affects gene expression:

DNA methylation: By adding a chemical group to specific places along the DNA, methylation works to ‘block’ the proteins that ‘read’ a gene and effectively switch that gene ‘off’. Alternatively, the process of ‘demethylation’ can switch a gene back ‘on’.

Histone modification: Our DNA wraps around proteins called ‘histones’. When the DNA is wrapped tightly around histones, they cannot be ‘read’ by the gene, and likewise, when they are not wrapped tightly around histones, they can be read. Certain chemical groups can be either added or removed from the histones to change whether a gene is wrapped (off) or unwrapped (on).

Non-coding RNA: Within our DNA are instructions for making coding and non-coding RNA. The coding RNA is used to make proteins, whereas the non-coding RNA assists in controlling gene expression by attaching to coding RNA alongside certain proteins and then breaking down the coding RNA, which prevents it from being used to make proteins. Your non-coding RNA may also utilise proteins to modify histones and to then turn genes ‘on’ or ‘off’.

Epigenetics and weight loss

If you’re reading this blog article because you’re curious about weight loss, you’re probably wondering how all of this science can assist you on your weight loss journey. As we discussed in our recent post, Weight Loss and Your Genes: What We Know, obesity genes are a very real and substantial indicator of your likelihood to struggle with your weight. Certain genes present in your body can determine your likelihood to experience obesity, just in the way that you may be more likely to develop diabetes, or Alzheimer’s, or to be a champion weightlifter. Importantly, epigenetics can work to ‘switch on’ or ‘switch off’ certain genes, and thereby, help to tackle any genetic predisposition you have for obesity.

“Having overweight parents significantly increases your risk of obesity, but the inheritance of specific mutations can’t always explain why this is the case. In a study, researchers show that differences in gene expression (epigenetics) play a key role in determining one’s predisposition to obesity. In genetically identical mice and human twin pairs, epigenetic marks altered the activity of weight-control genes to produce distinct subpopulations of lean and obese individuals.” – Epigenetics switch for obesity, Science Daily

Through our Nutrigenomics Program, we can determine your genetic precursors for weight, and utilise epigenetics to turn on or off those genetic expressions which aren’t serving you. This means that through simple but very specific lifestyle changes, directly tailored to suit your genetic profile, you can enhance your ability to lose weight. These recommendations are so unique to every individual, and include a number of very personalised dietary recommendations which help to optimise your weight loss and your health, or the uptake of certain exercises which are particularly useful for your unique body.  Epinegetics absolutely and scientifically proves that the ‘one diet fits all’ approach to weight loss is a complete waste of time, and also helps you understand why some people can lose a lot of weight by following a particular diet, yet has minimal impact for others.

To find out more about what your genes say about you, and most importantly, how epigenetics can help you to switch certain genes ‘on or off’ in order to make your weight loss journey more successful, get in touch with us today.

Michelle van Namen
Author: Michelle van Namen