Epigenetics, or What I Mean by “Reprogram Your Genes”
You can’t change your genes. But you can program them.
The modern world presents a number of problems for our genes. The world we’ve constructed over the last 50 years is not the environment in which our genetic code evolved. Our genes don’t “expect” historically low magnesium levels in soil, spending all day indoors and all night staring into bright blue lights, earning your keep by sitting on your ass, getting your food delivered to your door, communicating with people primarily through strange scratchings that travel through the air. So when these novel environmental stimuli interact with our genetic code, we get disease and dysfunction.
The genes look bad viewed through a modern prism. They get “associated” with certain devastating health conditions. But really, if you were to restore the dietary, behavioral, and ambient environments under which those genes evolved, those genes wouldn’t look so bad anymore. They might even look great.
This is epigenetics: altering the programming language of your genes without altering the genes themselves.
Think of your genome as computer hardware. If you were to program your computer you wouldn’t be changing the hardware; you would be changing the software that tells the computer what to do. So just as we talk about reprogramming or programming a computer and don’t suggest that the hardware itself has changed we likewise can talk about reprogramming our genes without suggesting that the genes have changed.
Okay, so how does this play out in reality? Are there any good examples of epigenetics in humans?
One of the most striking cases of the environment altering gene expression was in an old study of a homogeneous population of Berbers from North Africa.https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-12/aafc-ilc122308.php‘>2 Since MTHFR is the gene that constructs the proteins we use to activate thousands of other genes, suppressing MTHFR suppresses all those genes that rely on MTHFR-related proteins for activation. This disrupts numerous physiological systems and can set the stage for things like birth defects, cancer, and heart disease. It’s an epigenetic disaster, and it’s one reason why smoking increases the risk of so many different diseases.
Tobacco also induces hypermethylation (overactivation) of the GCLC gene which controls glutathione production. This causes a suppression of glutathione levels, an increase in oxidative stress, and initiation of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22666405‘>4
If the idea of someone being an exercise “non-responder” sounds ridiculous and unbelievable, you’re right. It turns out that while regular cardio is neutral or even detrimental to this genetic profile, high-intensity training confers the normal benefits you’d expect from exercisehttps://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18098291/‘>6
If you have some of the common MTHFR mutations, you need to eat more dietary choline (eggs, liver).https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20220206/‘>8
PUFA Metabolism Epigenetics
Your genes also affect fat metabolism. Some mutations in the FADS1 improve the ability of a person to elongate plant omega-3s into long-chained omega-3s like the fish fats EPA and DHA. In the context of a low-fish diet, they can still make the EPA and DHA they require to function as long as they eat some alpha-linolenic acid. This mutation is more common in populations with a long history of farming.
Another mutation impairs the ability of a person to elongate those plant fats into animal-type EPA and DHA; they need to eat a high-fish diet or supplement with fish oil to get the omega-3s their bodies need. That’s the boat I’m in—I fucntion best with a steady supply of long-chained omega-3s in my diet, probably because my recent ancestors ate a lot of seafood. This mutation is more common in populations with a shorter history of farming, or a longer history of reliance on seafood.
What’s the point of all this?
There are multiple future possible versions of you. It’s up to you to decide which version you will become. It’s up to you to make lifestyle choices that direct genes toward fat burning, muscle building, longevity and wellness, and away from fat storing, muscle wasting, disease and illness. The day-to-day choices we make—whether it’s what to pack for lunch, or hitting the snooze button and missing the gym, or even sneaking a cigarette break—don’t just impact us in the short-term (or even in ways that are immediately clear to us). That can make this scary, but it can also be empowering.
You can fix yourself. You can be better. Your genes can work better. Everyone, no matter how dire their circumstances or how “poor” the cards they were dealt were, can forge their own epigenetic destiny.
You can’t ignore the genes. They still matter. You have to figure out, of course, how your particular genes interact with diet, exercise, sleep, sun, nature, socializing, and every other lifestyle behavior. That’s the journey you’re on. That’s the journey we’re all on—it’s what this website and movement are about.
There’s a lot we don’t know about this topic. What if I don’t have a study I can refer to? What if I don’t sign up for a DNA analysis—am I out of luck?
Use your intuition when you don’t have a study or haven’t defined an epigenetic mechanism: Does it feel right? Does it feel wrong? Are you getting good results? How’s your energy? How’s your performance? Those subtle (or not-so-subtle) cues from our subconscious and direct feedback from our waking life are where true knowledge and wisdom lie. After all, your genes “want” you to do the right thing. If we’re cued into our subconscious and we’ve led a generally healthy way of life, we become more sensitive to those messages. Those flutters of doubt or little urges we get are the body’s way of telling us we’re headed for epigenetic ruin or success.
Listen to those, or at least consider and don’t ignore them.
This is what The Primal Blueprint, The Keto Reset Diet, The Primal Connection, and even Primal Endurance have all been about. It’s why the sub-title of my first book is “Reprogram Your Genes for Effortless Weight Loss, Vibrant Health and Boundless Energy”. And it’s what we talk about (either directly or indirectly) day-in and day-out here at Mark’s Daily Apple.
Now I’d love to hear from you. Do you have any questions about epigenetics? About how we can alter our genetic destiny through modifying our environments?
Leave them down below.
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