It's a well-known fact that numerous health problems run in families. You're more likely to have problems with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and many other ailments if your ancestors did. But people don't just attribute their health problems to genetics. They also assume that qualities like intelligence, athletic ability and aptitudes for artistic abilities, like music, are determined by genetics.

We now know that this isn't completely true. Genetics aren't fixed; new research has revealed that genetics are surprisingly flexible. This is because of a complex of markers that rest on top of the genes. Known as the epigenome (literally upon the genes), this epigenetic system alters how genes get expressed. It can both turn genes "on" and "off" and regulate the "volume" of genetic expression, exaggerating expression of parts of the genome and down playing other parts.

It turns out that our diet, lifestyle and even our thoughts affect how our genes express themselves. This means that you're not doomed to develop cancer or diabetes because both of your parents did. It also means that you can increase aptitudes and intelligence beyond that which your parents and grandparents possessed.

What's especially interesting, however, is that changes made in the epigenome can be passed onto offspring. This means that doing things to enhance your own intelligence, for instance, will enhance the intelligence of your offspring. It also means that doing things that harm your body, like smoking and drinking, will pass on epigenetic information that will make your offspring less healthy.

The research is both promising and a little scary. On the negative side, we can not only make our own genetic expressions worse, we can adversely affect our offspring in the process. On the positive side, we're not stuck with our genes. We'll discuss all this, and how to regulate our genes for the better in this month's Herbal Hour.

October 29, 2014
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