Epigenetics is an exciting field, where studies have shown that gene activity is affected by the environment. The combination of DNA that you have (called the genome) is fixed, but the expression of your DNA (called the epigenome) is changeable. Epigenetic modifications are also inherited across multiple generations, meaning changes that you make now will affect many future generations.
Studies have found that what we eat, our exposure to toxins and microbes, stress, social connections, the amount of physical activity we get, and even our thoughts affect gene expression. These factors turn off or on genes which then signal disease or health. What this means is that we have a considerable amount of control in the expression of the genes that we carry. In practical terms, this may mean that you have inherited a genetic susceptibility to cancer, diabetes or heart disease, but whether or not these genes are expressed is determined by how you live your life. Most genes (98% of them) are modifiable, not fixed.
One of the most clear examples of epigenetics in action is work by Dr. Dean Ornish on seminal prostate cancer. His research showed that the simple change to eating a plant-based, whole-foods diet beneficially affected over 500 cancer-controlling genes in men with diagnosed prostate cancer!
Studies such as this one show that small changes like optimizing your nutrition, managing stress levels, reducing your exposure to toxins (and detoxifying what you have been exposed to), and having social support you can potentially turn on genes for health, and turn off genes for disease. All of these basic lifestyle factors can make a huge difference in your long-term health. These positive changes that you make pre-conception will then be passed on to your children; and changes you make in their health will be then passed on to future generations. Epigenetics is very powerful.
The overall message is that your family history is does not have to be the direction that your health progresses. You can make choices every day that change your genetic expression – improving your nutrition, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly and lowering your toxin exposure can all powerfully influence your future health and also the health of your children.