What is EpiGENEtics? Why Should Athletes take a closer look?

What is epiGENEtics?

Epigenetics is a branch of biology that studies how the environment and various factors can influence the way genes are expressed without changing the underlying DNA sequence. It examines the modifications and markers that can be added to the DNA or the proteins that interact with DNA, which can affect how genes are turned on or off.

Think of your DNA as the instruction manual for your body. Epigenetics, on the other hand, is like the sticky notes or bookmarks placed on certain pages of the manual that control which parts are read or ignored.

These modifications can be influenced by various factors including lifestyle, diet, stress, toxins, and even experiences across generations. They can influence gene expression, which means they can impact things like our traits, behavior, and susceptibility to diseases.

Here's a simple example to help you understand epigenetics: Let's say you have a gene that increases the risk of developing a certain disease, but that doesn't mean you will get the disease. However, certain factors in your environment, such as a healthy diet, regular exercise, or reduced exposure to harmful substances, can modify the way that gene is expressed. This might lower the risk or even prevent the disease from developing.

Epigenetics has important implications for understanding human health and disease, as it helps explain how our genes and environment interact to shape our traits and wellbeing. It also opens possibilities for potential therapeutic interventions and strategies to mitigate the impact of harmful genetic factors.

What are 4 Key Nutrients impact Epigenetics?

Four key nutrients that can affect epigenetics are:

  1. Folate: Folate is a B-vitamin found in foods like leafy green vegetables, legumes, and citrus fruits. It plays a crucial role in DNA methylation, which is one of the major epigenetic modifications. Methylation involves the addition of a methyl group to the DNA molecule, and folate is needed for this process. Adequate folate intake is important for maintaining proper DNA methylation patterns.

What is the difference between folate and folic acid?

Folate and folic acid are related, but they are not exactly the same thing. Folate is a naturally occurring form of vitamin B9 found in foods like leafy green vegetables, fruits, and legumes. On the other hand, folic acid is a synthetic form of vitamin B9 that is often used in dietary supplements and added to fortified foods like bread and cereal.

In the body, folic acid is converted into folate before it can be used for various functions, including DNA synthesis and methylation (an important epigenetic modification). Folic acid is generally more stable and better absorbed by the body compared to the naturally occurring folate.

Both folate and folic acid are important for many biological processes, especially during periods of rapid growth and development like pregnancy. Adequate intake of folate/folic acid is crucial for preventing certain birth defects, supporting red blood cell production, and maintaining overall health.

In terms of their effect on epigenetics, both folate and folic acid can play a role in DNA methylation — affecting how genes are turned on or off. However, it's important to get these nutrients from a balanced diet that includes natural food sources like leafy greens, rather than relying solely on supplements unless it is a methylated Folate.

Omega 3

  1. Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy fats found in fatty fish (such as salmon and mackerel), walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds. These fatty acids have been shown to affect epigenetic regulation, particularly in relation to inflammation and cellular health. They can influence the expression of genes involved in various processes, including immune function, brain health, and cardiovascular health.

Superfoods with Polyphenols

  1. Polyphenols: Polyphenols are plant compounds found in foods like berries, green tea, dark chocolate, and many fruits and vegetables. They have antioxidant properties and can modulate epigenetic changes. Polyphenols have been shown to influence DNA methylation and histone modifications, which can impact various biological processes and health outcomes.

Choline written on a chart

  1. Choline: Choline is a nutrient that is essential for the proper functioning of the human body. It is considered a member of the B-vitamin family. Choline is involved in many important processes in the body, such as nerve function, DNA synthesis, brain development, and the metabolism of fats.

How Does Choline impact Epigenetics?

Choline acts as a building block for a substance called acetylcholine, which is a neurotransmitter involved in memory, muscle control, and other important functions. Choline is also involved in the production of molecules that help maintain the structure and function of cell membranes.

There are safe choline salts and unsafe choline salts.

Choline (L+) Bitartrate is a safe choline vs choline (DL) bitartrate.

(L+) uses natural, plant derived tartaric acid.

(DL) is synthetically made tartaric acid known to cause ‘growths’ on lab animals organs.

Although the body can make some choline, it is also obtained from the diet. Good food sources of choline include eggs, meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, legumes, and certain vegetables. Choline requirements can vary depending on factors such as age, sex, and life stage, so it's important to ensure an adequate intake through a balanced diet.

Choline is a nutrient that plays an important role in epigenetics. Choline is essential for the synthesis of a molecule called S-adenosylmethionine (SAM). SAM is a crucial compound involved in DNA methylation, which is a key epigenetic modification.

DNA methylation involves adding a methyl group to the DNA molecule, which can influence gene expression. Choline helps in the production of SAM, which in turn provides the methyl groups needed for DNA methylation reactions.

Proper DNA methylation is important for regulating gene activity and maintaining the stability and integrity of the genome. It helps determine which genes are turned on or off in different cells and tissues, allowing them to function properly.

Adequate choline intake is therefore important for supporting DNA methylation and healthy epigenetic processes. Good food sources of choline include eggs, meat, fish, dairy products, and certain vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

It's worth noting that choline requirements can vary depending on factors such as age, sex, and life stage (like pregnancy). It's always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian for specific recommendations on choline intake.

Can understanding Epigenetics help Athletes?

Yes, epigenetic research can provide valuable insights for athletes and their performance. Epigenetics helps us understand how various factors can influence gene expression, meaning how certain genes are turned on or off. This knowledge can be used to optimize training programs, nutrition, and recovery strategies to enhance athletic performance.

For example, research has shown that exercise can produce epigenetic changes that enhance muscle strength, endurance, and recovery. Understanding these mechanisms can help athletes tailor their training routines to maximize their potential. Similarly, by studying how nutrition can affect gene expression, athletes can design optimal diets to support performance, muscle growth, and recovery.

Epigenetics can also be valuable for injury prevention and recovery. By understanding how certain genes are involved in healing and tissue repair, researchers can develop targeted therapies and rehabilitation strategies to accelerate recovery and minimize the risk of reinjury.

However, it's important to note that while epigenetics provides valuable insights, it is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to athletic performance. Other factors such as training techniques, nutrition, mindset, and overall health play important roles as well. Applying the principles of epigenetics to sports performance requires an integrated approach that considers all these factors.

Our next series will focus on understanding your genetic background...