Genetics vs Epigenetics

It’s Not All the Luck of the Draw

Sometimes it’s easy to assume that whether you get a disease is all the luck of your genes.  And sometimes that might be true.  But there is another player in game of luck and it is called epigenetics. 

Epigenetics is how your lifestyle – your behaviors and surroundings, regulate which genes get expressed and to what degree.  Epigenetic changes are reversible because they involve the choices you make, but they can be inherited, so the good choices you make can improve the health of your offspring.

Genetics is the DNA you inherit from your mom and your dad, that they inherited from their parents who in turn, inherited it from their parents and so on.  You will not have identical DNA to your siblings unless you are identical twins, because 2 parents can pass down a massive number of different DNA combinations.

Epigenetics studies how things like diet, aging, interpersonal relationships, stressful experiences, toxic exposures, or drugs modify the expression of genes by DNA methylation or acetylation.  Methylation of DNA (adding a methyl group CH3 to DNA) can either activate or repress the expression of the proteins encoded by that DNA.  Epigenetics do not change your DNA sequence.  DNA changes are considered mutations and they can happen.  Genetics is about which genes you are born with, and epigenetics is about which of those genes get expressed and why (gene regulation).  


Positive epigenetic influences:

Healthy diet

Clean drinking water

Caring interpersonal relationships

Opportunities for learning

Physical exercise

Clean air

Negative epigenetic influences:

Non-nutritious, processed food

Contaminated drinking water

Environmental toxins

Chronic Stress

Sedentary lifestyle

Tobacco smoking

If you are exposed to negative epigenetic influences, you can change the course of gene expression by either avoiding further exposure to the negative influences, or through harm reduction.  For example, research has shown that chronic stress is associated with epigenetic aging, however this effect can be mitigated by resilient psychological coping skills.  Overall, we should be aware that we are not sitting ducks awaiting our genetic outcomes.  We have the ability to improve our health through the lifestyle choices we make.




By Bren Boston, MD

Dr. Boston is a board-certified physiatrist with a life-long interest in integrative wellness specializes in primary care, women’s health, sports medicine and pain management 





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