I hope I am not confusing you with my stance on epigenetics. Ever since we wrote our book The Immortality Edge (Wiley 2010) I have stressed the role of things like diet, meditation, supplementation, exercise and sleep regulation, as a way of influencing your future health, wellness and longevity. In my Longevity Now talks last year, I reviewed how these things affected epigenetics and predicted, at that time, epigenetics would be the hot topic to come. And now it is.
There is good news and bad news. Bad news first. Epigenetic study is probably not going to reveal a whole lot of new human behaviors that will modify your future. Again, reference our book. One commenter, on Amazon, noted that “eating right, exercising and meditation are hardly new”, whining that he/she wanted “new” stuff. Sorry, my friend, what has worked since the dawn of man will continue to work at a micro (telomeres and epigenetics) and macro (your health and wellness) level. Additionally, the bad news is we know less about the epigenome than the genome. What I wrote about two years ago and spoke about last year, is becoming apparent: we know less about something that may be far more important than our genes in determining our fate!
Final piece of bad news: in spite of what the usual suspects are telling you, we do not know all that much (other than eating right, meditating, exercising, and supplementing) about how to create really favorable epigenomes, out of not so favorable ones. So while “yoga for epigenetics” or “Our diet or diet pill for epigenetics” or “exercise programs for epigenetics” makes sense, they are as yet unproven, so the claims are to be taken carefully, please.
The good news is that there is tremendous interest (funding) for all that and because of ever increasing computer power and global connectivity, the answers will come flooding in over the next few years, faster than ever!
What is likely to happen first is the disease based model we have lived with in medicine for centuries. Scientists will be looking to develop tests and drugs, to combat unhealthy epigenomes – while Mother Nature has already supplied the answer!
Cancer is one area where there is a flurry of epigenetic research and colon cancer, my personal greatest fear, is tops on the list, as of today, with breast cancer a close second.
A recent article, referenced below, has identified something called VELs, Variant Enhancer Loci that can be used to predict the risk of colon cancer. These are not part of the genome, but rather the epigenome. They represent methylation gains and losses in thousands of histones (proteins attached to DNA – histones really are the major physical arbiters of epigenetics!) spread across the entire genome. Since this pattern of changes is strongly predictive of colon cancer risk, it will surely be developed into a “pre test” for said cancer, allowing us to see a person at risk, long before a polyp or cancer develops. And of course it then allows for follow up testing and a chance to change that epigenetic expression by the doctor and the patient. It does not alter your genetics and if you have high risk genes, you can’t change that. But, by far, most people succumb to their epigenetics, not their genetics, so you really can change the balance of these epigenetic marks, from sickness to health.
In case you are wondering about the role of telomeres here, an increasing percentage of short telomeres is almost always found in these situations, so therapy there may also help reverse the damage.
You will soon see profiles for other types of cancer, heart disease and diabetes, as well. All of these are markers for accelerated aging, in my book, so I am going to predict a significant overlap in these epigenetic marks. Further, I am going to predict that the central clearing house for these effects will be the telomere.
Speaking of books, if you want to know what you can do to clean up your epigenetics, make sure you read our book, The Immortality Edge, because everything that helps the telomere helps your epigenetics as well!
Stay tuned to the newsletters and blogs so you can get the developments in honest, unadulterated fashion.
Science. 2012 Apr 12. [Epub ahead of print]
Epigenomic Enhancer Profiling Defines a Signature of Colon Cancer.
Akhtar-Zaidi B, Cowper-Sal Lari R, Corradin O, Saiakhova A, Bartels CF, Balasubramanian D, Myeroff L, Lutterbaugh J, Jarrar A, Kalady MF, Willis J, Moore JH,Tesar PJ, Laframboise T, Markowitz S, Lupien M, Scacheri PC. Source
Department of Genetics and Genome Sciences, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH 44106, USA.