Our genes are not just genetics. Our habits and surroundings can activate or repress gene expression and change the way our cells function, for better or worse. The epigenome is a set of modifications to DNA molecules that can influence gene expression without altering the underlying DNA sequence. Put simply, it acts as a layer of information on top of the genome and gives instructions on how our genes should be activated or silenced. Epigenetic shifts play a crucial role regulating various cellular processes, including development, differentiation, and response to environmental factors.
As you can imagine, this means the various disruptions and shifts in the epigenome are valuable tools in gaining insight into longevity. Disruptions in the epigenome have been associated with diseases of aging like cancer, neurological disorders, and cardiovascular diseases. These shifts can occur in response to environmental factors, lifestyle choices, and aging.
An important piece of epigenetic modification is DNA methylation. DNA methylation involves the addition of a methyl group to the cytosine base of DNA molecules. Cytosine put simply, is one of the building blocks of our DNA. DNA Methylation silences the cytosine base and this controls which genetic instructions are being followed and when.
Healthy methylation helps our body develop, stay organized, and work correctly but methylation malfunction may lead to disease. Some pieces of DNA methylation are predetermined by genetics. Others are influenced by our environment and lifestyle. For example, our diet and nutrient intake are always at the forefront. Nutrients like folate, Vitamin B12, and other methyl donors play a role in healthy DNA methylation. Foods rich in these nutrients like leafy greens and legumes can push this process in a positive direction. Conversely, interacting with toxins will affect methylation negatively. Regular exercise prevents inflammation and reduces stress, two triggers that can offset the epigenome.
Lastly, knowledge is power. Genetic testing and counseling is a valuable tool to educate yourself and assess your risks. Methylation testing such as the Genova Methylation panel can provide excellent insight into your particular needs. This test is unique because it also addresses transsulfuration, a biochemical pathway in the body that’s essential for healthy methylation.
Disruptions in the transsulfuration pathway, such as a vitamin B6 deficiency, or other nutrient cofactors involved in this process can impact the availability of sulfur-containing amino acids and, consequently affect our DNA methylation patterns.
Supporting healthy DNA methylation through epigenetic regulation is vital to our overall health and longevity. Factors such as lifestyle, nutrition, and environmental exposure can impact patterns of genetic expression and contribute to the prevention of diseases of aging. This evolving field of research shows that supporting a balanced epigenetic environment promotes optimal cellular function, which has the potential to enhance our lifespan and well-being.