Epigenetics – The Loaded Gun

Last week I presented that even if I trained my hardest, I’ll probably never beat Michael Phelps at swimming.  He’s genetically superior in that area and I conceded defeat (hypothetically).  Not to say that if I applied myself, I couldn’t be a great swimmer.  He just has an edge with what nature provided him.

Why That’s Not a Great Excuse

In the past, I may or may not have been guilty of using my genetics as an excuse.  Maybe you’ve heard this as well amongst friends and family.  To some extent, using genetics as an excuse has some validity.  But it’s not a be-all-end-all.  Lets get into epigenetics…

Epigenetics Is New, And Exciting

Study in this field started around the early 20th century.  Prior to its existence, genetics were believed to operate based on DNA sequencing and that alone.  Any changes meant that the actual DNA sequencing must change.  This could only be accomplished through spontaneous mutation or deliberate manipulation by guys in white coats in a lab somewhere.

An interesting example of this is the bully whippet.  Geneticists manipulate the myostatin gene of these dogs and other animals.  Myostatin regulates how much muscle can be grown.

This belief truly limited us.  In this case our genetics would dictate our DNA.  However, epigenetics says that modifications can occur to the DNA that don’t involve changes in the DNA sequence.  These modifications affect how our DNA is expressed.  Interesting and confusing yes?  I’ve been thinking hard of a good example to try and clear this up.

Imagine a long strand of DNA looks like a long line of light bulbs hanging from the ceiling in a big room.  Our previous knowledge says that there is one switch, and that switch turns on all the lights in the line, whether they are needed or not.  Epigenetics says that we control a bank of switches.  These switches turn on and off individual lights.  The lights we want on, we turn on, the ones we don’t, we leave alone.

The lights in this example are the equivalent of genes which express health or disease.  We (via our environment) control the switches.  We can turn on switches that express disease, or we can choose to leave them off or turn them on in such a way that disease is not promoted.

We Control the Switch, Via Our Environment

The light switch is a good example.  We’re not changing anything by throwing the switch per se.  The current is there, we’re just closing the circuit to express the current as light.  Same thing with the genes.  Via our environment, we modify the genes to express or ignore health or disease.

Study is still limited.  But, scientists observe that two known triggers are behavioral and dietary.  Also worth mentioning, genetic changes via our choices are passed on for two to four generations.

Here’s where things get a little crazy.  Epegentic changes can occur by being in the presence of other individuals, i.e., a person can pass on changes to any children they have in the future, but also any previously born children can benefit as well.  Kinda freaky, but this confirms that our peer group has the potential to be influential.

What This Is Really Saying Is This

We have no excuses.  We have hope that even though we may have a genetic disposition to not gain muscle or to gain more body fat than we’d like these changes don’t have to be the final outcome.  We can change how our DNA expresses itself by the environments we choose.  Our ability to adapt isn’t set at birth by our inherited DNA.

What I’m not saying is that you can watch someone run on a park bench and get better at running (unfortunately).  But we control the switches.  I believe it is important to understand what our limitations are.  Define them clearly, so that we don’t get frustrated by them and give up.  But also, we possess the power to succeed even with a genetic pre-disposition if we choose the right behavior and environment.

You’re a CPM member and I’m assuming (and fairly confident) that you keep showing up for your workouts.  This is throwing a positive switch.  Next week, we’ll explore some of the dietary switches we can throw.

What switches will you flip on in your life?  Which will you leave off?

The O-Board Says…

For Time:
25 burpee
25 thrusters (light-ish side)
500 row
50 burpee
50 thrusters
500 row
75 burpee
75 thrusters
500 row

Posted by: Stets