Epigenetics: Can We Get The Best Out Of Life?

April 4, 2024

Have you heard of epigenetics and want to understand more about it? In this article we discuss what is meant by epigenetics and epigenesis, what are the most common epigenetic modifications, what is epigenetic diet, and what is the difference between genetics and epigenetics.

What is meant by epigenetics?

Epigenetics is the study of heritable changes in gene expression that do not involve changes in DNA sequence.

It was once believed that genetics determines all of our lives, but we have actually discovered that genes are expressed differently depending on the context.

To simplify: if I have genes that facilitate obesity, but I keep a very healthy lifestyle, those genes will not be expressed and I (most likely) will not be obese.

This field of research explores how the environment and lifestyles can influence the activation and deactivation of genes without altering their structure.

Epigenetics, therefore, gives us a deeper understanding of how life experiences, such as diet, stress, and exposure to chemicals, can have a significant impact on our biology, affecting the functioning of our genes.

The concept of epigenetics emphasizes the importance of chemical changes that occur in the genome.

These modifications can be temporary or permanent and may even be passed on to future generations, influencing susceptibility to diseases and traits.

What are the most common epigenetic modifications?

The most common epigenetic modifications include DNA methylation and histone modification.

DNA methylation involves the addition of methyl groups to nucleotides, often silencing gene expression.

This process is crucial for normal development and has significant implications in gene regulation, cellular differentiation and disease susceptibility.

Histone modifications, on the other hand, involve proteins around which DNA is wrapped.

Chemical modification of these proteins can affect chromatin structure and, consequently, the accessibility of genes to the transcriptional machinery, altering gene expression.

These modifications play a key role in cellular memory, cell cycle, and response to environmental stresses.

These are just a few examples of interventions that can influence epigenetic modifications.

Epigenetic ModificationsTypes of Intervention
DNA Methylation– DNA methyltransferase (DNMT) inhibitors
– Demethylating agents (e.g., 5-azacitidine)
Histone Acetylation– Histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors
– Omega-3 fatty acids
– Diets rich in polyphenols (e.g., resveratrol)
Histone Methylation– Histone methyltransferase (HMT) inhibitors
– DNA methylation modulators
MicroRNAs– Targeted therapies with antisense oligonucleotides
– MicroRNA inhibitors
Open/Closed Chromatin– Chromatin modifiers
– Transcription factors
– DNA accessibility regulators

These are just a few examples of interventions that can influence epigenetic modifications.

It is important to note that the efficacy and safety of these interventions may vary depending on the biological context and specific disease conditions.

What is epigenetic diet?

An epigenetic diet is based on the importance of diet in influencing epigenetic modifications.

Certain nutrients and foods can promote health by influencing gene expression, suggesting that what we eat can have lasting effects on our well-being and that of future generations.

This approach to nutrition opens new perspectives on the prevention and treatment of disease through targeted dietary modifications.

Research in this area is exploring how certain dietary components, such as folate, beta-carotene, and omega-3 fatty acids, can affect epigenetic modifications, offering potential tools for modulating gene expression in healthy ways.

The epigenetic diet represents a bridge between what we eat and how our genes are expressed, highlighting the importance of mindful nutrition.

epigenetics

What is the difference between genetics and epigenetics?

While genetics focuses on DNA sequences and inherited genetic variation, epigenetics is concerned with heritable changes in gene expression that do not change the DNA sequence.

Genetics provides us with the basic “code” for how organisms develop and function, while epigenetics regulates how and when this code is read and put into practice.

These two disciplines, while interconnected, explore different aspects of heredity and gene expression.

Epigenetics, in particular, gives us a more dynamic and modulable view of how genes influence health and behavior, incorporating the importance of environment and lifestyle into our biological understandings.

What are epigenetic markers?

Epigenetic markers are chemical changes in DNA and associated proteins (such as histones) that affect gene expression.

These markers can serve as biological indicators for health status, disease risk, and even individual responses to specific treatments.

Among the most studied, as we mentioned, are DNA methylation and post-translational modifications of histones.

Identifying and understanding epigenetic markers offer the promise of personalizing medicine, enabling more targeted and preventive treatments based on individual epigenetic profiles.

This approach represents a significant step forward in the fight against complex diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and neurological disorders, opening new avenues for more precise diagnoses and personalized therapies.

We are with you.

At Parentalife, we firmly believe in the importance of providing accurate and up-to-date information to our readers.

Through personalized guides, classes, and counseling, we are committed to supporting every parent on the journey of parenthood, providing the tools needed to navigate the complex world of life with children, from the childbearing period, to preconception, and everything that follows.

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SOURCES

Li Y. Modern epigenetics methods in biological research. Methods. 2021 Mar;187:104-113. doi: 10.1016/j.ymeth.2020.06.022. Epub 2020 Jul 6. PMID: 32645449; PMCID: PMC7785612.

About the Author

Severino Cirillo

Health, Wellness and Education Expert. With a degree in Community Health, he is the CEO of Informed Parent and is responsible for validating the blog's scientific information and coordinating the editorial team of experts, consisting of gynecologists, midwives, psychotherapists, and others in pregnancy, perinatal, and parenting wellness and health.