Epigenetics with a Spiritual Twist

I remember when I was first learning about genes in my 6th grade science class I was so confused. Well... every time my teacher said the word "genes", I thought she was referring to "jeans". Half of my jeans were from my mother and half of my jeans were from my father?? What?! I'm not splitting my jeans in half. No way. I like my jeans whole, in one piece, thank you.

Fast forward quite a few years later and now I'm learning more about those "jeans", ahem... genes. Emerging research from the Human Genome Project is now telling us that there is more to it than once thought.  The idea that diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, obesity are handed down through our genes is only about 2-10%. Which means that 90-98% of human disease is epigenetically determined.1

Epigenetics

The definition of epigenetics is "on top of genetics". If refers the the external modificiation of DNA that turns genes "on" or "off". These modifications change how the genes are expressed.2

So let's start from the beginning. When an egg is fertilized, half of the genes (genetic makeup) from the mother is joined with half of the genes from the father. Even in the early days of development of the embryo, signals are received that may influence gene expression. Each signal either activates a gene or shuts it down. This is the very basis behind cell differentiation- the "specialization" of cells. All cells, from brain cells to skin cells all have the same DNA, but perform completely different functions. Mother's nutrition plays a huge role in the development fetus' epigenome. Other signals, such as stress hormones can also travel from mother to the fetus.3

 Epigenetics with a Spiritual Twist -- The Holistic Dietitian

After birth and during our life, our epigenome continues to develop. A wide variety of enviromental factors can influence which genes are turned on and which ones are turned off. These factors include how you live your life, what you eat, the toxins you're exposed to, the supplements you take, your beliefs, and how you handle stress. So while environmental factors like diet, stress, and prenatal nutrition can make an imprint on genes that pass from one generation to the next, how you care for your genes with environmental, dietary, and lifestyle choices can influence how your genes behave.

Many tumors, for example, are thought to be attributed to environmental factors that have turned on growth-promoting genes and have turned off tumor-suppressing genes.4

Another example is that during pregnancy, if a mother has gestational diabetes, the developing fetus is exposed to high levels of the sugar (glucose). High glucose levels trigger epigenetic changes in the fetus' DNA, increasing the likelihood that they will develop gestational diabetes later in life.5
Prenatal diets that are low in folic acid, vitamin B-12, and other nutrients containing "methyl groups", a set of molecules involved in epigenetic changes, have been linked to an increased risk of asthma and brain and spinal cord defects in children.6
Pregnant women who were at the World Trade Center on 9/11 were more likely to give birth to infants who reacted with increased fear and stress when faced with loud noises, unfamiliar people, or new foods.6
Even during childhood, lifestyle and diet choices have profound effects.  Research shows that the diet of children during the period right before puberty is critical on their health as well as the imprinting for epigenetic transmission, affecting the health of their future children.7


Without fail, someone is going to argue the point, "my mother ate this way, and I turned out just fine." But did we? What about the soaring rates of infertility, cancer, autism, and behavioral disorders such as ADHD? Epigenetics is revealing the powerful effect of deficiencies of specific nutrients can have a trans-generational effect (and may even carry down three generations!). This means that although we may not have any {blatant} indication of diseases, that if our diet remains poor throughout, degeneration on future generations will be more profound.

We are not destined by our genetic inheritance! Just as we can activate genes for increased risk of disease, we can silence genes. By ensuring we are eating a nutrient-dense, whole foods diet as well as becoming more aware of environmental influences (toxins, exercise, behaviors) and the weight of our emotions and beliefs, we can arm ourselves and our future offspring with optimal health. Simply put, food helps reset genes for illness or wellness. By supplying our body with the wholesome foods that God provided us, we can better care for our bodies, our temples.

The Spiritual Twist

I want to make it clear that although I think that through balancing the body and detecting specific nutrient deficiencies we can help us walk towards health, I mustn't downplay the role in a Greater Power at play.

It is as God's Will, that will be done.

 Epigenetics with a Spiritual Twist -- The Holistic Dietitian

Take the bible story from Mark 5 as an example. A woman, fueled by nothing but faith, went to meet the Son of God. For 12 years, blood had flowed from her body, making her physically sick and socially unacceptable. "She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse" (Mark 5:26). Imagine the suffering she experienced from bouncing from doctor to doctor with no avail. Experiencing pain and feeling as though she was a medical anomaly. However, this entire time, her faith did not waiver. She had faith that she would be healed. "When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak" (Mark 5:27).  "Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering" (Mark 5:29). It was her faith in the Son of God that had carried her during her entire journey through suffering and to pursue the One True God. Let us not forget that there is One and only One that truly heals us.

Spiritual renewal through diet

 Epigenetics with a Spiritual Twist -- The Holistic Dietitian

Jen Hatmaker, in her book titled 7:An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, explains that when we remove the excess from our lives, we allow more room for the Holy Spirit to work within us. In this case, we're talking about excess in regards to the excess "junk" in our diets. The processed foods, the refined foods, the foods that have been manipulated by science, the foods that do not provide the nourishment that our body requires. God provided us with foods in their purest forms and then we feel the need to tinker with them. Why do we feel it was a mistake that God made whole-milk producing cows? Or apples that when sliced, turn brown? Foods in their purest forms will provide the foundations in which our bodies hunger, just as our spirit thirsts for a relationship with Jesus. Epigenetics-- It's really quite simple-- just get back to the basics. The foods that God provided us through nature. So we may walk towards health while pursuing God.

 

 

 

 

1. Lipman, D. (n.d.). Is Our Health Determined By Our Genes? Retrieved September 11, 2015.

2. Rettner, R. (2013, June 24). Epigenetics: Definition & Examples. Retrieved September 11, 2015.

3. The Epigenome learns from its experiences. (n.d.). Retrieved September 11, 2015.

4. Epigenetics. (n.d.). Retrieved September 11, 2015.

5. Epigenetics and Inheritance. (n.d.). Retrieved September 11, 2015.

6. Epigenetics: How our experiences affect our offspring. (2013, January 20). Retrieved September 11, 2015.

7. Bygren Lo, Kaati G, Edvinsson S. Longevity determined by paternal ancestors' nutrition during their slow growth period. (2001). Acta Biotheor., 49(1), 53-9. Retrieved September 11, 2015.