Beyond Genetics: Epigenetics

Epigenetics is the science that studies changes in gene expression that are not caused by changes in the DNA sequence, but are also hereditary. It examines the disorders that occur when environmental factors such as lifestyle, nutrition habits and sports decrease or increase the activity of genes. In other words, it is the conditions caused by the genes working too much or not working enough without any change in the DNA sequence. As a result of research conducted in the last ten years, it has been understood that epigenetic events have very important effects, especially in highly organized organisms.

The epigenetic phenomenon plays an important role in the changes in gene expression that occur during cell differentiation, especially in the developmental process of living things from embryo to adult. These changes in gene expression occur when the gene is suppressed or activated, and the DNA is selectively packaged into different chromatin structures in different epigenetic states. The two most studied types of epigenetic phenomena have been DNA methylation and histone modifications. These two events are thought to be interconnected and reversible.

Epigenetic modifications provide a potential link between nutrition during critical periods of growth and changes in gene expression that can lead to disease. Therefore, it is accepted that epigenetic marks provide a mechanistic link between environment, nutrition and diseases. Nutrients and bioactive food components can influence epigenetic phenomena either by directly inhibiting enzymes that catalyze histone modification by DNA methylation or by changing the available substrates required for all enzymatic reactions.

For example, folate found in green tea leaves, cinnamic acid found in coffee, cereal grains, plum and kiwi fruit, phenols such as epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) obtained from green tea, resveratrol found in red grapes and their products, isothiocyanate and sulforaphane found in cruciferous vegetables, flax The lignans, selenium and some vitamins in the seeds are considered as epigenetic nutrients.

The regular functioning of the living body depends on the stable maintenance of the DNA and the fact that the gene expression does not undergo unnatural changes, in other words, remains the same. These changes can lead to cytotoxic and carcinogenic effects by causing chemical or metabolic mutations and modifications (Portela and Esteller, 2010).

Inherited changes in gene expression independent of DNA sequence are called “epigenetics”. This term was defined by Conrad Waddington in the 1940s as “the science that studies how the genotype creates the phenotype during development” (Dolinoy, 2007; Waddington 1940). Today, this term is defined as “changes in gene function that can be inherited by mitosis and/or meiosis that cannot be explained by DNA sequence” (Youngson and Whitelaw, 2008). Some of these changes may be acquired throughout life, while others may be reversible, but are partially stable (Bishop & Ferguson, 2015). Studies have shown that there is a relationship between people’s eating habits and gene expression changes that cause epigenetic changes.

It has been shown that the nutritional status of the mother, especially during pregnancy, and the dietary habits of the father play a role in the emergence of non-communicable diseases (such as diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular diseases, obesity and cancer) in the children to be born (Supic et al., 2013; van Dijk et al., 2015). .

For a healthy society and generation, it is possible to reduce the incidence of diseases due to epigenetic changes, especially cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and obesity, by regulating the nutritional habits of both the mother and the father, and good eating habits of the children to be born, together with physical activity, selenium, vitamin E, zinc, It is known that eating foods containing compounds such as omega 3, α-linoleic acid, polyphenol, folic acid, isothiocinate can prevent the occurrence of epigenetic changes that lead to cancer.

These supplements contain prescription drugs that should only be administered by a doctor. It should be applied after the examination and, if necessary, the examinations to be made.

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