|Early on in our education, we were taught the idea of genetics. Essentially, genetics is thought the “code” by which your body develops and grows as you get older. As the old thought process goes, you are born with your genetic code and, try as you may, you will die by what your genetic code gives you.
In other words, if you’re born with a certain gene or genes, the belief is that you are destined to develop whatever that gene or genes have in store for you. Let’s use an example…
One chronic disease that is especially scary is Alzheimer’s. From a genetic standpoint, there are 3 genes that are closely associated with Alzheimer’s disease: APOe2, APOe3, and APOe4. You inherit one APO gene from your mom and one from your dad, so there are a total of 6 potential APO “combinations” you have yourself: e2/e2, e2/e3, e3/e3, e3/e4, e4/ e4.
Research shows that the more high numbers you have as APO combinations, the higher your likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s. In other words, if you have 2 APOe2 genes, you have a small and insignificant chance of developing the disease while having 2 APOe4 genes means you have a high and potentially significant likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s.
Years ago, if you were tested and were found to have 2 APOe4 genes, your doctor would’ve prepared you for the worst and convinced you that you’re going to develop Alzheimer’s at some point in your life whether you like it or not. That type of thinking is guided by the “genetic” theory of aging. We are and become what our genes are coded to become.
However, recent research is slowly starting to debunk this type of thinking. As a matter of fact, research on another type of genetics is showing that your genetic code actually has less to do with how you age then previously thought.
The other type of genetics I’m talking about is called epigenetics. The prefix, epi, comes from Ancient Greek and means “over, outside of, or around”. Epigenetics is the changes in the “expression” of a gene (how a gene releases the information it carries) without changing the underlying DNA sequence of the gene itself. In other words, while genetics are changed and developed over generations and generations, epigenetics is changed and developed from one generation to the next and within the current body that’s developing…which is YOU.
There are many factors that impact your epigenetics. However, the factors that are most obvious and easiest to understand include the environment you live in, the behaviors you take a part in, and the mindset and mentality you build as you participate in life.
Now, to bring this back to how we started this essay, cellular senescence and mitochondrial dysfunction play a big role in how we age. Both of these cellular issues are epigenetic factors. Cellular senescence, being a natural program of life, is either increased or decreased based on your environment, how you behave, and how you think. The same exact rules apply to mitochondrial dysfunction. It is epigenetic in nature, meaning it has the potential to negatively or positively impact gene expression based on your environment, your behavior, and how you think.
So, now that we’ve covered some of the most important hallmarks of aging in our previous essay, cellular senescence, and mitochondrial dysfunction, and learned more specifically how senescent cells AKA zombie cells impact how you age, also through mitochondrial dysfunction, AND how these epigenetic factors play a bigger part in our development than our genes do, NEXT TIME we’ll take a look at how we start to turn around these epigenetic factors to allow our genetic code work FOR us instead of AGAINST as we strive to age so that we can participate in the Centenarian Olympics on our 100th birthday.