The notion that genes dictate our destiny has been solidly debunked in favor of epigenetics, the study of external or internal mechanisms that switch genes on and off. Exciting new research shows epigenetic memory can span multiple generations.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that genetics are responsible for a mere 10 percent of disease, while the remaining 90 percent is due to environmental variables.
Consider these research findings:
In rats, maternal exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals caused infertility in male offspring that was passed down to 90 percent of males in four subsequent generations.
Adaptations to traumatic experiences can also be passed down multiple generations as a way to inform offspring about methods for survival.
For example, mice who learned to fear a scent associated with a negative experience passed the response down two generations, despite the offspring never having experienced the same situation.
A similar transfer of responses has been observed in humans:
Exposure to starvation during pregnancy is associated with poor health outcomes for offspring such as:
- Lower self-reported mental health and quality of life
- Major mood disorders
- Antisocial personality disorders
- Decreased intracranial volume
- Congenital abnormalities of the central nervous system
- Enhanced incidence of cardiovascular disease
Descendants of people who survived the Holocaust show abnormal stress hormone profiles, in particular low cortisol production. Because of altered stress response, children of Holocaust survivors can be at increased risk for PTSD, depression, and anxiety.
Children of women exposed to intimate partner violence during pregnancy have higher predisposition to mental illness, behavioral problems, and psychological abnormalities due to transgenerational epigenetic programming of genes acting in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis), a complex communication pathway between glands involved in our stress response.
Classic genetic theory states that genetic change occurs over a time scale of hundreds to millions of years.
Epigenetics explains how our lifestyle, diet, environment, and experiences affect the expression of our genes over multiple generations, but it does not account for actual changes to our genetic code.
If you would like help understanding the Effects of trauma and harm passed on for generations, you can schedule a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with Dr. Celaya.
How do genetics and epigenetics relate?
Via epigenetics our genes can be influenced by factors such as:
- Sleep habits
- Where you live
- Who you interact with
- Exercise habits
- Environmental toxins
- Heavy metals
- Stress level
- Social support (or lack of it)
- Method of birth (cesarean vs. vaginal)
- And more
We inherit one variant of each gene from each parent. Epigenetics can turn off one of these two gene variants (this is called “imprinting”).
This can result in a negative health outcome if the other, still-active variant is defective or increases our susceptibility to toxins or infections.
The cumulative impacts of our lives on our genes
Related to epigenetics is the exposome, the cumulative measure of all the exposures of an individual in a lifetime — starting at conception — and how they relate to our health. Some consider the exposome the environmental equivalent of the human genome.
The exposome is divided into three overlapping categories:
The environment inside our bodies that affects our cells:
- Hormones and other cell messengers
- Oxidative stress (excess highly reactive and damaging molecules)
- Lipid peroxidation (damage to cell membranes and other molecules containing fats)
- Body shape
- Gut microbiota
- Biochemical stress
The external environment to which we expose our bodies:
- Occupational factors
- Pathogens and toxins
- Medical interventions
The general external environment, including broader sociocultural and ecological factors:
- Socioeconomic status
- Geopolitical factors
- Psychological stress
- Education status
- Urban or rural residence
Using epigenetics to positively impact the future
Epigenetic processes are natural and essential to many bodily functions. But if they go wrong they can negatively impacts not only our health but the health of our children. Researchers feel the ability for these changes to be passed down has significant implications regarding evolutionary biology and disease causation.
There are factors we have no control over such as certain environmental toxins, method of birth, and exposure to some level of stress. The good news is we can affect change in many areas that can powerfully affect our epigenetics:
- Anti-inflammatory diet
- Daily exercise
- Stress-relief activities
- Good sleep habits
- Who we interact with
- Antioxidant status
- Not smoking
- Social support
- Addressing food intolerances
- Mediating autoimmunity
Functional medicine offers many avenues to support healthy epigenetic expression. If you seek ways to help your body express its genes in the best ways possible, contact my office for help.
Don’t take your health for granted. Schedule a FREE FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with Dr. Celaya.
Weight training is not the first exercise choice that comes to mind for seniors. Instead we think of chair yoga, walking, dancing, or aqua aerobics. However, science shows weight training is one of the best types of exercise for aging whether you’ve been doing it your whole life or have never touched a barbell in 60-plus years.
Of the 57 million deaths worldwide in 2008, more than 5 million were caused by lack of physical activity. Roughly 80 percent of adults fail to meet recommended guidelines for physical activity.
For seniors in particular inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle are dangerous, increasing the risk of health conditions such as:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Cholesterol issues
- Metabolic syndrome
There is a common misperception that the elderly should stay away from strenuous activity. It is important to use safe equipment, focus on correct form, and warm up and cool down properly, but using your muscles as you age isn’t inherently dangerous.
In fact, studies show that lifting weights — whether heavy or light — helps us in many ways as we age.
Weight training reduces the risk of falling by maintaining or even increasing muscle mass and helping maintain bone density. This makes the elderly much less susceptible to age-related and disabling bone breaks from falls or accidents.
This also helps stave off loss of independence, one of the greatest worries around aging.
Strength training can promote mobility and function and even help combat depression and cognitive decline.
An analysis of the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) database found that adults 65 and older who strength trained twice a week had a 46 percent lower mortality rate. He also found strength training reduces all causes of death, including cancer and cardiac death.
Drawing from the data, the analysis outlined 78 science-backed benefits for seniors who lift weights. The main categories include:
- Combat age-related muscle loss and sarcopenia
- Burn fat and increase muscle mass
- Support functional independence
- Improve quality of life
- Improve osteoarthritis and bone health
- Increase cardiovascular health
- Improve mental health and cognitive functioning
- Reduce mortality risk
- Fight Type 2 diabetes
- Improve quality of sleep
- Recover from hip fractures
The study showed that those who had lifted regularly for some time were protected against numerous age-related health issues related to neuromuscular functioning, sarcopenia, muscle force-generating capacity, cognitive functioning, overall functional capability and performance, and mitochondrial impairment.
Schedule a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with Dr. Celaya to get to the root cause of your health issues.
Is weight lifting riskier in old age?
Lifting weights risks at any age, however, hundreds of studies have shown weight training to be safe, enjoyable, and beneficial as we get older.
Anyone can get injured when working out, so knowing how to safely use equipment, warming up and cooling down properly, and using proper form will keep you in action.
Before starting, have a medical checkup or ask your doctor for clearance. This is especially true if you haven’t exercised before or have taken a long break from physical activity.
What type of weight training is best?
Weight training is an activity anyone can start regardless of age. It doesn’t take lifting like a competitor to gain major benefits, and many of the benefits are immediate. As you train, your cardiovascular and musculoskeletal fitness will improve, thus helping you to prevent injuries as you progress.
Whether you train using your body weight, dumbbells, systems weights, full Olympic style, or with some other style, focus on gradually increasing intensity and power.
A personal trainer can help you meet your goals with a form that works for you, plus teach you how and when to safely increase your challenges. Finding a weight training style you like will motivate you so you keep showing up for workouts — whether it’s at the gym or in your living room.
Before starting any exercise program, be sure to consult with your health care practitioner, and if you are uncertain where to begin, reach out to a local certified personal trainer who can guide you.
If you would like help understanding the benefits of weight training for seniors, you can schedule a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with Dr. Celaya.