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Epigenetics and Heredity

by Rosalind Gray Davis on May 18, 2010

Making News

The emerging field of epigenetics is changing scientific thinking about the way our genes work and may have profound implications for our health and the health of our children and grandchildren.

The dramatic rise in diabetes, asthma, heart disease and obesity may at least partially be attributed to an epigenetic mechanism, predisposing succeeding generations to these diseases. Simply put, diet, stress, nurturing, our behavioral habits and even environmental exposures may change gene activity without altering the actual sequence of our genes. Epigenetics has already changed the way researchers think about how diseases arise and how doctors treat them. The implication is that lifestyle choices have the potential to change our heredity.

“Epi” means above the genome, the total genetic material of an individual or species. The epigenome literally sits over the genome. Chemical changes called “epigenetic marks” may switch genes on or off, leading to disease; these epigenetic changes can occur during fetal development or even later in life. Scientists use the analogy of a computer to illuminate the concept. Our genome (DNA sequence) is the computer’s hardware. The epigenome is the software that tells the computer when, where and how to work.

Medical experts believe that elements such as poor nutrition choices, pesticides and exposures to synthetic compounds can trigger a chemical change in the body that mobilizes molecules called a methyl group (a basic unit in organic chemistry). This methyl group attaches to the control segment of a gene and either silences or activates the gene, causing it to deviate from its intended purpose. The process is called methylation. Methylation has been likened to “putting gum on a light switch. The switch isn’t broken, but the gum blocks its function (Duke 2005).” Other epigenetic changes may occur as well.

The good news is that scientists currently believe that if you take away environmental stressors, methylation is potentially reversible. Methylated genes can be “demethylated,” which means a healthy lifestyle can pay big dividends for your clients and their children.

Rosalind Gray Davis

Reference

Duke University Medical Center Library Newsletter. 2005. www.dukehealth.org/health_library/news/9322; retrieved Apr. 5, 2010.

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About the Author

Rosalind Gray Davis

Rosalind Gray Davis IDEA Author/Presenter

Rosalind Gray Davis is a dynamic and creative author and highly regarded health, fitness and wellness industry expert, having published numerous articles in well known national periodicals. She penned the critically acclaimed book Puccini & The Girl, along with musicologlist Annie J. Randall. It is the first book to explore Italian opera composer Giacomo Puccini’s most unique work, La Fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West), to which World famous Musicologist Philip Gossett said, “the book will forever change how we think abut Puccini’s American opera.” The director of the Met Opera Archives says, “this brilliantly researched volume will help Fanciulla find its rightful place in the operatic repertory.” As a sought after Communications Consultant, Ms. Gray Davis has provided dynamic marketing, public relations consulting, and writing expertise for numerous high profile international, national, and local companies that include McDonald’s, IDEA Health & Fitness Association, DavisElen Advertising, Chiat/Day Advertising, McGraw-Hill School Systems, Shea/Campbell, Inc., and the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s volunteer department. In this role, she has been credited with developing “cause marketing” programs prior to their mainstream adoption by companies as part of their regular marketing strategies. She has served as President and Founding Partner of Gelman & Gray Communications, Incorporated, and Executive Vice President and Founder of Bob Thomas & Associates, Incorporated. Her early career history includes work as a Guest Lecturer at the University of Southern California, Senior News Writer and Producer at KCBS Television, Associate Professor of Upper Division Broadcast Journalism at California State University, and Assistant to the Managing Editor at Psychology Today Magazine. Ms. Gray Davis’ received her Bachelor of Arts in Contemporary American History and Journalism and worked toward a Master’s Degree in American History at the University of California at Los Angeles. She is a Certified Pilates Instructor, and has expanded her well-rounded knowledge of health and wellness through participation in numerous classes, seminars, and workshops in the fitness field. Her broad based expertise has resulted in her selection to several prestigious community and industry based leadership roles, including Contributing Editor of IDEA Pilates Today, IDEA Heath & Fitness Association, board member and selected author for the Carmel Author’s Table and Board of Directors for the Carmel Bach Festival.