What is Epigenetics and Why Does It Matter to Me?

What is Epigenetics and Why Does It Matter to Me?

Have you noticed that genes seem to be the hot health topic of the year? Direct-to-consumer companies are now offering DNA testing to find relatives, discover an increased likelihood of developing diseases, and even help you learn what foods you should and shouldn’t eat depending on your unique makeup. The study of genes, also known as epigenetics, is complicated, so scientists are now doing more research in hopes of finding a better understanding of how lifestyle factors play a role in disease. Epigenetics is defined as, “The study of changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than the alteration of the genetic code itself.”1

If that sounds a little confusing, let me give you an example.

During our lives, we are exposed to or participate in many different health-influencing factors such as diet, physical activity, smoking, drinking, stress, and environmental pollution. Each have been shown to play a role in how our genes express themselves. For example, research has shown that a mother’s exposure to pollution can impact the likelihood that her child will develop asthma.2 Other studies have even found that children born during 1944-1945 have increased rates of heart disease and obesity from mothers who endured the Dutch famine.3 In other words, our exposure to our environment and the way we react to it determines our health.

Epigenetics goes even further into sub-categories such as nutriepigenomics, the study of genes and diet. A study published in 2015 states, “Nutrients or even diets affect the epigenome by lifelong remodeling. Nutritional imbalances are associated with noncommunicable diseases.”4 Scientists are now finding that food can alter your disease outcome by way of epigenetics. Dana Dolinoy, associate professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan even points out that BPA, a chemical used in plastic water bottles and food containers can influence the likelihood of obesity.5

It is important to take care of your body from the inside out. Focusing on a whole-foods diet and limiting packaged and processed foods is a great place to start. However, a geneticist can truly let you know what foods you should focus on and which you should avoid. Examples of whole foods include:

  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Green beans
  • Zucchini
  • Spinach
  • Wild-caught salmon
  • Free-range chicken
  • Eggs
  • Raw almonds
  • Apples
  • Blueberries

If you are interested in learning more about your genes and disease risk, talk to your doctor about making an appointment with a geneticist or genetics counselor.6

A personalized supplement program could also help to support your nutritional health and fill gaps that your diet may be lacking. Take our assessment to find out what your body really needs with science-backed supplement recommendations. Persona makes it easy to get the nutrients you need with convenient, daily vitamins packs delivered to your door each month.


  1. Alegría-Torres JA, Baccarelli A, Bollati V. Epigenetics and lifestyle. Epigenomics. 2011;3(3):267–277. doi:10.2217/epi.11.22
  2. Gregory, D.J. et al. (2017). Transgenerational transmission of asthma risk after exposure to environmental particles during pregnancy. American Journal of Physiology – Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology, 313(2): L395-L405.
  3. Painter R.C., Roseboom T.J., Bleker O.P. Prenatal exposure to the Dutch famine and disease in later life: an overview. Reproductive Toxicology 20, 345-52 (2005).
  4. Remely M, Stefanska B, Lovrecic L, Magnet U, Haslberger AG. Nutriepigenomics: the role of nutrition in epigenetic control of human diseases. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2015;18(4):328-33.
  5. Urdahl N. Nutritional Epigenetics: Your Genes Are Not Your Destiny. University of Michigan. https://sph.umich.edu/pursuit/2017posts/nutritional-epigenetics.html. Published October 31, 2017. Accessed August 21, 2019.
  6. What is a genetic consultation? National Institutes of Health. https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/consult/consultation. Accessed August 21, 2019.

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