Epigenetics is taking on the problems of disease and aging and seeking to turn back the aging clock. The heart of it is understanding and then controlling, gene expression by learning what can block or facilitate that expression.
It’s still early stages in many respects, but you can be a part of it through epigenetic testing.
In this article:
- What Is Epigenetic Testing?
- Gene Expressions
- Epigenetics vs Genetic Testing
- 7 Reasons to Get Epigenetic Testing
Why You Should Give Epigenetic Diagnostic Tests a Try
What Is Epigenetic Testing?
You’re probably already familiar with genetic testing. These tests look at your genes and can tell you your risk of certain diseases and disorders based on whether a particular gene is present in your body.
Simple genetic testing has serious limitations; however, because a disease is not just a matter of having or not having a gene. Having a gene means nothing unless that gene expresses itself and unless that expression is healthy and normal.
There are all kinds of lifestyle, environmental, and drug-related factors that can signal your genes to express or stop them from doing so properly. Take alcohol as an example.
Alcohol has a strong dysregulation effect on dopamine production, which affects the brain’s reward center. It does this for everyone, yet not everyone who drinks alcohol regularly will go on to become an alcoholic.
Studies are currently being done to see how epigenetics—in this case, environmental factors—may be changing the way certain proteins are formed through gene expression in some people, putting them at much greater risk of addiction. Specifically, we’re discovering that when a pregnant mother consumes certain substances, including perfectly legal prescription drugs, this could cause epigenetic alterations in her growing baby that change the way that a person’s genes will respond to alcohol for life.
Epigenetics vs Genetic Testing
Genetic testing can only consider risk in a vacuum. It cannot assess how lifestyle choices or environmental factors may affect you.
Epigenetic testing goes farther, combining your DNA risk with an assessment of lifestyle and environment.
7 Reasons to Get Epigenetic Testing
1. It Turns Fear Into Action
When you get a genetic test telling you you’re at risk for a certain type of disease, the natural reaction is panic and fear. For some people, hearing that they tested “positive” for the presence of a certain gene can sound like a death sentence.
The problem is, it’s not.
That gene will only cause a problem if it expresses, and epigenetics goes beyond the gene itself to help you find practical ways to prevent that expression and, if it does, catch it long before it can do any serious damage.
Instead of living in fear, you can find the motivation to adopt healthy lifestyle changes and stick to them or remove yourself from environmental influences that could increase your risk.
2. It Can Show How You’re Progressing
With genetic testing, it’s a one-and-done kind of deal.
Epigenetics allows you to go further. Once your positive changes have been in place for a while, you can measure their impact on your aging and disease risk.
As you see, the gap between your chronological age and your true biological age widen, you’ll be inspired to continue new good habits.
Epigenetics looks at specific markers, such as DNA methylation, to understand whether certain genetic expressions are happening and at what rate. This gives you real feedback on how a lifestyle change is affecting the way an unwanted gene behaves.
3. It Can Empower
You are not doomed to a destiny controlled entirely by a genetic makeup you had no say in. There are things you can do to influence your genes and whether they express or do so in a healthy way.
Once you take charge of your health and future in this way, you’ll see the effects spill over into every other area of life through increased confidence.
4. It Advances Our Understanding
The more of us who take part in epigenetic testing, the more data researchers and scientists are able to use. With more data on human chromosomes and DNA and how they’re affected by various life habits or environmental factors, they can continually refine their understanding and offer even better help to those looking to stop the advance of age and disease.
Not all of us can be scientists, but all of us can have a part in advancing this area of scientific knowledge.
5. It Really Works
The whole science of epigenetics is relatively new, causing some people to dismiss it in favor of “tried and true” methods. But the truth is that epigenetics already outperforms many of these older methods, and the more we learn, the better our epigenetic understanding and interventions become.
For years, the gold standard for detecting cervical cancer in women has been the PAP smear or PAP test.
PAP Smear Definition: This test removes a few cells from the cervix and looks for abnormalities or precancerous cells.
We also test for cervical cancer using the HPV virus test, since HPV is one of the leading causes of cervical cancer. However, just because a woman has HPV doesn’t mean she’ll get cancer.
In fact, many women clear the HPV infection and never get cancer, so a positive test for HPV doesn’t do much more than alert you to greater risk and cause tremendous worry in the process.
Recently, epigenetics was pitted against the PAP smear and HPV tests in a group of 15,744 women. The test chosen was an S5 methylation assessment, which analyzed the women’s DNA for chemical markers that indicated the genes causing cervical cancer had been turned “on.”
Astoundingly, this test was able to correctly identify 100% of the invasive cervical cancers that developed in these women. The HPV test, meanwhile, only detected 50%, while the PAP smears returned a miserable 25% correct detection rate.
6. Precision Medicine
An epigenetic test can lead to tailored medical treatment.
Precision Medicine Definition: Medical care designed to optimize efficiency or therapeutic benefit for particular groups of patients, especially by using genetic or molecular profiling.
For a given phenotype, there are genetic mutations, a different number of repeats in the genome, and environments and diet differ between individuals.
In other words, we need personalized approaches to diagnose, understand, and treat diseases because illnesses affect everyone differently.
In line with this, epigenetic biomarkers can help:
- Early diagnosis
- Monitoring disease progression
- Predicting disease outcomes
- Selecting and grouping patients according to risk factors
- Assessing the impact of therapeutic interventions in patient subsets
- Predicting future diseases
7. It May Shed Light On Psychiatric Conditions
Psychiatry is one of the toughest areas of medicine when it comes to diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment. First, there are no tissue samples, like tumors, you can take from a live patient. Environmental factors play a significant role, and no two patients exhibit a disease in the same way.
Researchers working in psychiatry hope epigenetic markers can shed light on these illnesses and, ultimately, suggest drug targets.
In a 2015 study, researchers found epigenetic signatures in mice similar to those in the postmortem brains of schizophrenic patients. They also discovered a promising suicide biomarker, but they need a panel of 20 or more biomarkers for clinical testing to become a reality.
While it may still be a few years before epigenetic tests for psychiatry are available, the technology exists. Currently, researchers are looking for novel ways to identify biomarkers, such as machine learning. In the near future, epigenetic tests may be a viable method for detecting psychiatric disorders.
Epigenetics is changing the way we understand ourselves, the diseases that afflict us, and the whole aging process. With the right testing, we don’t have to stay in the dark about our genetics or feel panicked and helpless.
To learn more about epigenetics, watch Tru Diagnostics, and stay on top of all the latest news in the field. Or, you can order a TruAge Kit to know more about your biomarkers and biological age.
Do you think epigenetic testing is the future of medicine? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.