These days, most people have heard about DNA tests that can tell you about your ancestry or even give you insight into genes you’re carrying that could make you susceptible to disease. As great as these tests are, they aren’t as useful as epigenetic testing. Once you understand how epigenetic testing works, you’ll understand just why it’s so crucial.
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In this article:
- Genetics vs. Epigenetics
- Genetic Expression
- How Epigenetic Testing Is Done
- Biological Age vs. Chronological Age
- Turning Back the Biological Clock
- Learn More About How Epigenetic Testing Works
How Epigenetic Testing Works
Genetics vs. Epigenetics
If you’ve ever read one of those “choose your own adventure” books, you know a bit about the difference between genetics and epigenetics. With these books, you as the reader come to a certain point and can choose whether you want the main characters to make choice A or choice B.
Depending on which you choose, you’re directed to a different page of the book.
Genetics is like the entire book, while epigenetics is the reader, choosing their own adventure. The code inside you is all written down, but not all of it gets “read.”
Genetic tests can tell us everything that’s written down in the code within our genes, but only epigenetics can tell us which parts of the code will actually be expressed.
Inside every gene is a code called DNA. That DNA is basically a set of instructions ordering molecules in the body to do something.
But not every set of instructions is used, and some instructions are used only for a time and then shut off. As these genes turn “on and off,” they are expressing.
How Epigenetic Testing Is Done
1. Blood Samples
The first step in epigenetic testing is a blood sample.
While some testing companies use saliva, the best results are always obtained from the blood. That’s because blood samples give much higher global DNA methylation levels than can be found in saliva, and they are always of better quality.
What is DNA methylation? A chemical process where certain molecules, called methyl groups, are added to DNA. They block the DNA from working, which can be good or bad.
In some cases, you want a gene to “turn off.” Certain genes tell our cells to divide and reproduce, for example, but if that process never stops, tumors result.
In other cases, turning off genes is a bad thing. What epigenetics tests look at is whether the methylation cycle is healthy or not.
2. Visual Check
The first step in checking the blood sample is to look at it with the human eye. This is a very basic check to ensure there’s enough of the sample to work with.
If there’s not enough to work with, the testers will ask the donor for another sample.
3. DNA Extraction
Once testers are sure there’s enough DNA to work with, the next step is separating the DNA from the other components of the blood and purifying it so it can be analyzed. It can take two tries to get this right, however, and that’s simply because any given blood sample may or may not have enough DNA in it to run full tests.
Sometimes blood samples are DNA-rich, and sometimes they’re not. If a sample doesn’t have enough DNA, testers will simply obtain another.
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4. DNA Copying
To get a good sense of the state of your DNA and the methylation that might be going on within it, epigenetics testing will first copy the DNA it finds in the blood sample until there’s enough to process and will then “cut” it into smaller pieces to get a better understanding of all the parts that bear on methylation.
5. Measuring Methylation
Once there’s enough DNA to do a proper test, it’s time to look at the various markers within the blood to measure the rate of DNA methylation. You should expect that a good methylation test will examine 5,000+ CpGs in the genome.
What is CpGs? The acronym CpGs stands for 5’—C—phosphate—G—3′, which refers to a cytosine (C) molecule separated from a guanine (G) molecule by a phosphate molecule group. CpGs sites are spots on DNA where methylation can happen, which is why epigenetic testing focuses on them.
6. Evaluating Biological Age
The point of measuring DNA methylation is to understand the biological age of the sample donor. This is done by looking at DNA methylation and other epigenetic markers to see if they are as expected for the donor’s chronological age.
The sample can be more advanced than expected, meaning the donor’s biological age is greater than their chronological age, or it can be less advanced than expected, meaning the donor’s biological age is younger than their chronological age.
Biological Age vs. Chronological Age
Our chronological age is easy to understand. We measure it in years from our birth, and most of us expect that we’ll be young, healthy, and strong in our earlier years and slowly deteriorate as we age. In reality, though, these averages don’t always pan out.
Some people develop classic signs of aging, from wrinkles and age spots to diabetes and heart disease, even when they are very young. Conversely, some people remain fit, strong, and healthy well into old age.
This happens because our biological age is dependent on our epigenetic code. This code determines when genes related to the diseases and disorders of aging will express, and our lifestyle choices have a lot to do with controlling our epigenetic code.
Turning Back the Biological Clock
Understanding how epigenetic testing works is only the first step. That knowledge doesn’t do any good if we don’t know what to do with it.
Once you know your true biological age, the next step is taking control of the lifestyle factors that can change DNA expression. A healthy diet, stress management, regular exercise, and getting enough sleep go a long way to regulating the DNA methylation cycle in a healthy way.
A poor diet, a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption all age you more quickly.
Learn More About How Epigenetic Testing Works
If you’re interested in learning your true biological age through epigenetic testing, visit TruDiagnostic today and learn more about the simple TruAge™ testing kit. With a simple mail-in kit, you can take charge of your health and future.
Would you have your genes tested? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!