Genetics vs Epigenetics – what does it all come down to in practical terms?

Gene expression


Genes are inherited and we can’t change what we’ve got. However, what you need to understand is: you are NOT a sole product of your genes. You are a product of epigenetics. And the good news is:  you CAN change epigenetics.


Epigenetics can be translated as “outer-genetics” in the sense that it encompasses all elements that influence the result of your genetic code in contact with your environment.  It refers to the study of gene expression and the possible alterations that can be caused by factors others than DNA modification.  In other words, your DNA may predispose you to develop certain characteristics and physiology but it won’t necessary make them come true.  What your DNA encodes is only part of the recipe necessary to make you turn out the way you are. The rest of the story comes from the environment you live in and the influences caused by it. Food, lifestyle and emotional aspects are all relevant modifiers of these characteristics which are described in general as your phenotype. Your DNA can be the same but the possibilities for the many versions of “you” are endless. You can modify a lot about yourself (your gene expression) without changing your DNA (which you can’t change).

That means if you have the genetic code predisposing you to certain diseases, you won’t necessary develop the diseases just because it’s in your genes.  Depending on external factors, such as lifestyle choices, diet etc, you may have the gene for a disease but never develop such disease.


My story as an example

I have always had a tendency towards blood sugar imbalances (which I have recently confirmed through a DNA test).  The clues were there from the start.  I suffered regularly with hypoglycaemic episodes from teenage.  I used to have partial-blackouts and needed to sit down very suddenly in order to avoid falling in the street.  I used to struggle with energy levels and sometimes a set of stairs would be enough to get me out of breath.  I used to be unable to spend more than 4 hours without food or I would get irritated, anxious and jittery.  These episodes used to happen on a regular basis even before I was 20 years old and they carried on happening for decades until I changed my diet.  The changes happened gradually as I learnt by trial and error.  There were many setbacks as I was not aware of what caused my energy peaks and troughs in the past.  After I started studying nutrition, the hypoglycaemic episodes subsided and nowadays I feel I have complete control over my energy levels.  I can fast for 48 hours and my energy levels will keep me in perfect conditions not only to go about my daily activities but also for exercising at a high intensity. Comparing my health status from my 20’s to my currently nearly 40’s, I can firmly say that my health has improved with age.  But that is certainly not what’s expected to happen to people as they get older unless they take responsibility for their health.  My genes haven’t changed.  What changed were the lifestyle factors that interacted with my genetic/biological individuality.  I now lead a life that is more adapted to my physiology.  I have habits that are more appropriate for me as they work to protect me from developing imbalances.  I have found the correct way to manipulate external factors so that my genetic weaknesses don’t show up.

Type 2 Diabetes is something that is present in my family history and I believe today I would be either on the road to Diabetes or have developed the full blown disease.  What stopped this fate was the fact that I managed to modify the predisposing factors and even if I have genes that favour the development of Diabetes, I might be able to avoid it all together.


My childhood diet

Although I had a better than average childhood diet, for me it contained more refined carbohydrates than I could handle.  Perhaps other children would have grown up to be very healthy on the diet I had.  In fact, my brother was not only always very slim but never suffered from blood sugar imbalances.  We ate virtually the same foods.  However, for myself, a diet providing ample amounts of carbohydrates, even if in the form of home-made biscuits, cakes and breads + some white rice and beans, was not conducive to health.  Amongst other changes, I needed to decrease the proportion of carbohydrate rich foods and increase protein and fats in my diet in order to control energy levels.  This is not a recipe for everyone.  This is what was necessary for me.  My exercise regime had to be changed accordingly as well and it took me many years to learn how to fine tune my choices of exercise to my physical abilities.  My main point here is: to achieve peak performance and health, we need to know what suits our individuality.  What works for one person, may well not be suitable for another one (as in the example of my brother and me).  Food affects us differently. Whilst excess carbohydrates might have caused me weight and energy imbalances, for my brother they have made little difference.

It is important to learn to decode our own body’s messages and learn how to adapt our lifestyle in order to achieve our best in health.  By analysing several overlapping factors in diet, lifestyle, medical history and family background, Nutritional Therapy can provide you with the best set of instructions on how to optimize health.  With optimum energy and disposition you can enhance your experiences in life.

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