Epigenome and MY Journey
October 17, 2011
Epigenetics and ME.
Personal story time: I just finished teaching the theory of epigenetics and nutrition at Davidson College and Carolinas Medical Center in successive weeks. For all of our new readers, epigenetics is a modern theory in medicine where we have more control of our health by controlling our environment. Educating the up and coming premed students and physicians on preventative theory gives us a chance to change the medical landscape that is dominated by treat first and prevent later.
What is epigenetics? Epigenetics is the study of heritable changes in gene expression or cellular phenotype caused by mechanisms other than changes in the underlying DNA sequence. In other words, our bodies function and appearance is dictated by our inherited cellular book of life, DNA. This book of life is processed and read differently based on environmental inputs. These inputs can be in the form of stress, food, drugs, exercise, chemicals and basically anything out there.
The trick lies in knowing what positively influences your personal book of life. For me, it was written on the wall that heart disease runs rampant in my family history. In medical school my cholesterol level was creeping up to 200 mg/dl. By 2003 it was at 270. My diet and stress levels were nightmarish. Heart attack risk time.
At the time, my personal physician recommended a cholesterol lowering statin. I obliged and lowered my level to 160. Unfortunately, I felt like a 90 year old man. I exercised almost everyday between soccer, running the streets or gym time only to feel my muscles ache unbearably. This is a known side effect of the medicine. Alas, I stopped the lipitor. Back to problem #1 - high cholesterol.
Enter integrative medicine. There had to be a root cause to the problem. The answer lay in the "Blue Zones"*. I had to refocus my life on what my body wanted and not what I wanted. The years of childhood self repair and health were gone. I was a thirty something. So, I drastically changed my diet to the anti inflammatory type, continued to exercise and worked on my personal stress level.
The results are fantastic. I recently had my blood work done and my total cholesterol is down to 170 and my good cholesterol is up to 60. My risk is dramatically reduced. No meds and no cholesterol lowering supplements.
Epigenetically, I have to assume that my cells want the vegetables and fruits, the exercise and the happiness to do their job correctly. It was obvious to me that my body did not like stress, processed food, large volumes of wheat and three times daily meat. My DNA is the same. I have the same inherited risk, however, now the book of life is being read and used appropriately.
Epidemiologically, we know that the AI diet is great for most.
Stress is generally bad and I find stress hard to avoid. How I handle it is new. Stress does not define me anymore, it is merely a byproduct of my great job. Knowing my place in life as a healer, husband and father has helped me.
Now the trick is to keep it up for 50 years and help others do the same. I am officially 6 years into healthy eating and still mentally sane, so I think!
* Blue Zones-see the link
My take home point today: It can be done!.