Epigenetics and our HEALTH….. “Will I develop Parkinson’s disease because my father has it?’

We have often heard that we are a product of our GENES and our ENVIRONMENT. Have you noticed we have all become somewhat desensitized to finding out a friend or a family member has been diagnosed with cancer, heart attack or an autoimmune issue?  20-30 years ago, we were absolutely SHOCKED.  Now, we are also similarly saddened but not so shocked anymore because we hear about someone suffering from it so often.  My father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease almost 8 years ago.  He also suffered from prostate cancer at the age of 55.  Does this mean that those genes have been passed down to me and that I eventually will have either or both diseases?  Well, since 2003, when the human genome project was completed by John Craig Venter, we have learned more about the influence of our surroundings, particularly of our environment on our DNA.

Epigenetics studies heritable changes in gene expression, how genes are read by cells and how they produce proteins. Genes can become dormant or become active. Our environment can cause chemical modifications that may turn the gene on or off. Our diet, our sleep patterns, where we reside and with whom we interact are factors (stressful workplace:). For example, with Alzheimer’s and cancer, genes are switched away from the healthy state.

According to the International Human Epigenome Consortium (IHEC), “The really interesting thing about epigenetics is that the marks aren’t fixed in the same way the DNA sequence is: some of them can change throughout your lifetime, and in response to outside influences. Some can even be inherited, just like some highlighting still shows up when text is photocopied.”

Epigenetics makes us unique from our physical features to our taste buds. Evidence shows some epigenetic change can be inherited. Experts believe that ENVIRONMENTAL  conditions and individual life experiences of our parents and grandparents can flip the “on/off” switch, changing the genetic code of their offspring. For instance, cigarette smoking and overeating are harmful and such lifestyle choices may predispose an individual’s children to certain diseases.

I always remind my patients and myself of three important words when it applies to our health:

  1. Chronic Inflammation
  2. Timing
  3. Commitment

Chronic inflammation is something I have written about in one of our previous Miracle Babies blogs.  Acute inflammation is important for our survival but chronic inflammation can be harmful.  Imagine a pregnancy where a mom is sleeping adequately (good luck:) or at least filling in the lack of sleep at nights by taking frequent naps; staying active; eating very well (avoiding refined sugar, fried food, etc); engaging in activities that reduce stress and staying emotionally positive VERSUS another mom who is not consistent with those healthy lifestyle habits.  Who will develop a more chronic inflammatory response at a cellular level?  The answer is obvious.  TIMING plays an important role in the development of our children.  While the STRUCTURE of the genes from mom and dad passed on to our children do NOT change, the FUNCTION of those genes can.  Therefore, we must make sure to COMMIT ourselves to a healthy lifestyle especially at a time when we may have long lasting effects on our newborn’s health.

In summary, remember to follow the SENSE model of life:

Sleep – Research in the American Journal of Respiratory Critical Care Medicine shows DNA methylation is active in the connection between sleep and the body’s ability to combat diseases. Insomnia often aggravates stress and negative emotions.

Exercise and weight management can reduce our risk for heart disease and diabetes. Physical activity may activate or suppress certain genes. From cardiovascular to yoga, exercise can switch on the healthy genes.

Nutrition is a significant environmental factor in epigenetic change. It is recommended to consume foods such as green vegetables like peas and broccoli. Limiting alcohol consumption is also advised. A diet deficient of folate has been linked to excessive methylation (plays a role in “switching off” cancer genes). An anti-inflammatory diet that doesn’t have too much carbohydrates and sugar decreases your chances of acquiring certain diseases. Load your diet with nuts, fruits and vegetables!

Stress-reduction – Take some time to relax and unwind. High levels of stress are never beneficial. “…improving our ability to cope with stress may epigenetically help to improve our sleep and even decrease our chances of developing insomnia in the long-run.”

Positive Emotions – Positive thinking provides healing. Changing our perception/thoughts may change the fate of our cells.  This is also self-preserving!

Disclaimer
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualifies health provider before making any health, medical or other decisions based upon the data contained herein. Information provided is for informational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or other medical professionals.

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Sean Daneshmand MD

Sean S. Daneshmand, M.D. is one of the busiest and most caring people you may ever meet. As the founder of the charity, Miracle Babies, as well as a full-time doctor, father, husband and business owner, it is hard to believe that he sleeps at all—or perhaps, he has found a portal to the 36-hour day. Dr. Daneshmand is a perinatologist (high-risk obstetrician) whose expertise includes obstetric and surgical management of invasive placentation, care of pregnancies following in-vitro fertilization, and management of maternal medical problems during pregnancy at the San Diego Perinatal Center. He was recognized by CNN, in their CNN Heroes segment, for his work with Miracle Babies and his dedication to his patients.