Do you believe disease is bound up in genetics? Do you think your genes determine whether you will develop certain health problems? Are you resigned to a future in which you have no sway over emerging health problems?
If so, it’s time to check your assumptions. We have more power over our DNA — and the potential for a healthier future — than ever imagined.
What does DNA do, Anyway?
DNA is our genetic code. Think of it as a rulebook the cells in our body use to turn genetic information into proteins. This process is gene expression.
In simple terms, if your DNA were different you would be someone — or something — else. Getting Alzheimer’s isn’t carved in stone by our DNA. Some of the things that affect how DNA shows up and works are within our control. That’s where epigenetics comes in.
What is Epigenetics?
Epigenetics studies biological processes that activate and deactivate genes. It decides how cells "read" genes, and how they create proteins.
According to Live Science, “Epigenetics means ‘above’ or ‘on top of’ genetics. Epigenetics refers to external modifications to DNA that turn genes ‘on’ or ‘off.’
A skin cell contains the same DNA as a brain cell and a bone cell. How different parts of the gene are turned "on" or "off" is epigenetics. So, if you carry a gene for Alzheimer's (APOE e4), a healthy lifestyle could turn that gene "off."
For example, healthy diet or consistent exercise create healthier cells. In other words, we have the ability to take charge of some very important aspects of our wellbeing. There are also factors we can't control or undo, such as air pollution or concussions and head trauma.
Give it to me Straight: Is Alzheimer’s Genetic?
While genetics play a role in Alzheimer’s, environment and lifestyle also increase -- or -- decrease our risk. This means 2 of the 3 risk factors for late-onset Alzheimer’s are within our control.
How can Epigenetics Delay or Derail Alzheimer’s?
“The story of epigenetics is a story of hope,” says Lily Sarafan, CEO of Home Care Assistance. While aging boosts the risk of Alzheimer’s, it is by no means a foregone conclusion.
While the notion of cutting off Alzheimer’s at the pass is nice to think about, what can we do about it today?
An Exercise in Epigenetics?
The Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation reports that regular exercise cuts our risk for Alzheimer’s as much as 50%. Until recently, even the brightest minds couldn’t explain why and how exercise helps. Yet the latest findings suggest that exercise actually changes how our genes work. The answer may lie, in part, in our DNA. One study finds that exercise changes the shape and functioning of our genes.
Diet and Your DNA
Last year, nutrition scientists reviewed the effect of diet on epigenetics. As reported in Scientific American,
“A person’s diet is an important source of epigenetic signals, and scientists are now investigating how eating habits modify gene expression in adults and their offspring.”
Clarifying the connection between genes and diet could mitigate Alzheimer’s disease. In the meantime, explore commonsense dietary solutions:
Embracing Positive Change
The relationship between epigenetics and Alzheimer’s Disease is beginning to be understood. What we know today hints at a brighter, more empowering future for everyone.