Mar 17, 2017

The Science of Epigenetics and The New Frontier of Weight Loss

Epigenetics is a new scientific field, only discovered in the last 10 years, and it is blowing the doors off everything we thought we knew about... well, almost everything.  For decades scientists believed that DNA was destiny, that we were hardwired for certain diseases or traits and there was very little to be done about it.  Then along comes the discovery of genetic influences and triggers that seem to act as light switches that turn on or off certain genes and all scientific hell breaks loose.

From disease, to obesity, to learning disabilities, to addiction - the ability to influence haywire genetic signals from our bodies is revolutionary.  To discover and treat genetic triggers that are not firing (methylating) properly through diet, exercise, therapy, drugs, electric shock, or whatever means necessary can change the way we approach cancer, for instance.  Instead of trying to kill the cancer cell, we try to turn on the tumor suppression gene that is not turned on properly.  An addict could potentially find true freedom from the addiction.  Obesity could be cured.

Even more compelling and interesting is that these specific triggers are passed down from generation to generation.  This was demonstrated in Dias and Ressler's study on mice subjected to an electric shock when exposed to a cherry blossom smell.  Their pups and their grand pups, reared completely independent of the initial subjects demonstrated the same fear of the smell as the original test group.

The Science of the genome is well above my expertise but I'll try to explain in common English what I've been able to glean.  Epigenetics actually means above genetics.  If our DNA is the hardware of a computer, then the epigenome is the software telling the hardware how to run.  It can also be explained as words in a paragraph punctuated differently to change the meaning.  The words are the same but the meaning is different.  (Let's eat Grandma.  Let's eat, Grandma.)

Scientists have discovered that the health and the well-being of the mother during pregnancy has a profound effect on the developing baby - not only at birth but throughout the life of the child.  It is staggering to consider that stressed mothers have children that carry the genetic markers of their mother's stress through their lives.

I have lamented throughout my life that sometimes my weight loss efforts work and sometimes they don't.  I've likened it to a perfect alignment of the stars, burying a toad by the October moon, and hopping on one leg 34 times while wearing a birthday hat.  It turns out, I wasn't too far off the map.  It turns out that there is indeed a switch, there is indeed an on/off switch, it's in my genetic material.  They have discovered it is either on or it is off.  There is no dimmer for overweight people, which would explain why we are either losing or gaining.

Part of our journey is going to be to discover what turns it on, how to keep it on, and what turns it off and how to recognize that.  We are on a Quest!

For more about the Science, check out this video and others: