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Control of Your Genetic Destiny with Epigenetics
Blame it on our genes - the blueprint for life that we
inherit without having any say in the matter. We have
been led to believe that you can¡¯t change your genes,
and thus we are destined to inherit certain traits. It
turns out this is not entirely true. We can¡¯t change
the blueprint, but we do have enormous control over
which parts of the plan get implemented.
The genome is the sum total of all our genes which
layout the plans for building and maintaining every
aspect of life. There are over 20,000 genes within
the human genome and those genes are made up
of strings of information encoded in the DNA double
helix. Individual genes code for the production of vari-
ous proteins, some of which become structure such as
bone or flesh, with others that function as enzymes
promoting chemical reactions. The expression of all
these various proteins is what controls the body and
one¡¯s overall health.
Our genome is inherited from our ancestors, most
directly from our parents of course, and can¡¯t be
changed. However there is tremendous influence by
external factors on which genes are expressed. That
is, some can be turned on, and some can be turned
off. These ¡®switches¡¯ can be controlled by forces aside
from the genome, or above the genome if you will,
leading to the term ¡°epi¡± genetics.
During fetal development, the genome progressively
gets it¡¯s original epigenetic marching orders through
a set of ¡®bookmarks¡¯ that establish which genes are
turned on or off. These marks are influenced by
exposures in the womb and seem to be set during
adult life, but they can be tweaked by environmental
impacts, good or bad.
The main process that affects epigenetic bookmarks
is called methylation, in which a chemical ¡®methyl¡¯
group is attached to certain points in the gene. Adding
a methyl group directly to the DNA tends to turn off a
gene, and the absence of a methyl group allows the
gene to be expressed.
A second major influence on gene expression involves
bundles of proteins called histones, which cause the
DNA double helix to cluster into a little balls and hide
it¡¯s code. Again, the attachment of methyl groups to
the histones tends to discourage the DNA from uncoil-
ing and expressing its code.
Up until recently most of the focus on methylation and
epigenetics has been on heart disease and cancer, but
we are also learning it has a profound implication in
many mental illnesses, such as depression, autism,
bipolar, and even schizo-
phrenia. Chronic fatigue
syndrome seems to have
an epigenetic component
for many people.
The good news, actu-
ally overwhelmingly great
news if you think about it,
is that one can influence
the expression of your
genes and to some extent
compensate for aberrant
bookmarks. For example,
schizophrenia is caused
by an excess amount of
an excitatory neurotrans-
mitter called dopamine.
The medications used to
treat this disorder block
dopamine activity. It is
well established that in
many schizophrenic pa-
tients, simply adding large
amounts of Vitamin B3
(niacin) supplements will
cause the DNA to uncoil
and express certain
2015 February
Pg 6 - The Sunshine Express
Health & Nurturing
As science uncovers more connections between epi-
genetics and disease, I expect this will prove to be
one of the most important areas in all of medicine.
And it is not just an area for pharmaceutical compa-
nies to capitalize upon, as we already know of many
natural substances, even foods that can improve our
epigenetic bookmarks and overcome SNPs. Soon,
we just might not be able to simply ¡°blame it on our
genes.¡±
(Scott Rollins, MD, is Board Certified with the Ameri-
can Board of Family Practice and the American Board
of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. He special-
izes in Bioidentical Hormone Replacement for men and
women, thyroid and adrenal disorders, fibromyalgia,
weight loss and other complex medical conditions.
He is founder and medical director of the Integrative
Medicine Center of Western Colorado (www.imcwc.
com) and Bellezza Laser Aesthetics (www.bellezzala-
ser.com). Call 970.245.6911 for an appointment or
more information.)
Vitality
by Sandy Lauzon
Love Finds a Way
I was sad and lonely. I had lots of family and friends
to keep me company, but a young widow is often sad
and lonely in a crowd. Coming home to an empty
house after work, eating a take-out meal for dinner,
getting ready for work the next day, and sleeping with
the TV on was not much of a life.
The phone call came on the weekend. My son called
and announced that he had a problem to solve. He
lived in Palm Springs in a huge apartment complex
and was visited by the apartment manager. It seems
that a family with small children moved out in the
middle of the night, leaving behind a year old Chi-
huahua and three cats. Would Mike like a Chihuahua
puppy?
Mike replied, ¡°Not for himself, but mother was sad
and lonely. Would it be okay to take the pup for
Mom?¡±
That was the explanation given on the phone. I asked
if the family had taken the children with them, be-
cause I did want more children, or a dog. ¡°See you in
a couple of hours, Mom.¡±
Mike arrived, complete with the Chihuahua puppy,
records from the Vet and a leash and collar. The fol-
lowing morning Mike left and the puppy stayed. Then
shopping ensued - dog bed, blanket, dog dish, water
dish, food and treats. Next, was the necessary call
to my friend in Palm Desert to inform her of the new
family member.
¡°Carolee, I have a new man in my life!¡± She replied,
¡°Terrific, it¡¯s about time if you feel ready.¡± I quickly
said, ¡°Wait, he¡¯s black.¡± She said, ¡°What do you care,
you won¡¯t be raising a family.¡± I said, ¡°And he has four
feet and a tail!¡± Clunk, the phone went dead. I dialed
again, and clunk went the phone.
Pepsi became my constant companion. When I arrived
home from work, he leapt into my arms and then he
ran all about the house, as if on springs. I cooked
at home so that we could share a bit of chicken or a
piece of bacon. He sat by me in the chair to watch TV
and slept on the bed at night.
Road trips from California to Dolores took two days.
We drove half way and stayed in a motel that had ac-
commodations for Chihuahuas. He rode on my shoul-
ders, between me and the head rest, so that he could
look out the window. We relocated to Dolores, bought
a home in town and made a new life full of family and
new friends.
One evening, we were watching TV in the bedroom.
Pepsi had a favorite stuffed toy, a short plump pig
that oinked when squeezed. The bedroom door was
ajar and Pepsi held the pig in his mouth at the plump
part. He attempted to get through the door but the
pig was wider than the opening. Pepsi dropped the
pig, went through the door, turned around on the
other side, grabbed the pig by the snout and dragged
it out. My Pepsi was a problem solver.
proteins that cause the excess dopamine levels to drop.
All the way back in the 1950s, psychiatrist Dr. Abram
Hoffer proved with double-blind placebo controlled
studies showing that niacin could cure many cases of
schizophrenia.
Many of you readers may have tried a popular supple-
ment for depression called SAMe, which is known
to increase the activity of the mood enhancing neu-
rotransmitter serotonin. It does this by compacting the
DNA and inhibiting the expression of genes that code
for certain proteins that whisk away serotonin, leaving
more serotonin around to help us feel better.
A key point to all this is to appreciate that our book-
marks don¡¯t necessarily determine our destiny without
outside influence. The potential to develop a certain
disease may reside in our genome but not manifest un-
less or until the body is exposed to an external trigger,
such as stress, trauma, toxins, inflammation, illness or
nutrient deficiencies. This is why certain conditions may
suddenly begin or progress after years of being healthy.
Adding to the complex process of gene expression
are defects in the DNA code that occur due to one
single rung of the DNA ladder being turned around, or
switched. These defects are called ¡®single nucleotide
polymorphisms¡¯, abbreviated as SNPs and pronounced
¡°snips¡±. It is estimated that there are around 10 mil-
lions SNPs in the human genome, with most of them
serving as dividers between genes or not significantly
Medicine
In Harmony
by Scott Rollins, M.D.
influencing gene func-
tion. But some SNPs
can have a huge impact
on gene expression and
health.
As an example, one
of the most important
enzymes in the body is
the one that facilitates
methylation of genes,
called methyltransferase
(MT). Mutations in the
genes that code for MT
enzymes will impair the
proper methylation of
DNA and these SNPs can
have a huge impact on
one¡¯s health.
Another interesting area
of SNP testing involves
the phase-1 detoxifica-
tion pathways of the
liver, concerning gene
mutations that will lead
to over or under-metab-
olization of medications.
For many people certain
drugs won¡¯t work, need
increased doses, or
become toxic at typical
doses. I expect there will
soon be necessary SNP
testing prior to prescrib-
ing these meds.
The field of epigenetics
and SNPs is explod-
ing and we have been
testing patients for a
number of years, humbly
learning how we can
influence the expression
of their genetic code
and improve health.
Several drugs, such as
DNA methyltransferase
inhibitors and histone
deacetylase inhibitors,
are already used in
cancer treatment. New
drugs are being sought
that can remedy epigen-
etic defects.