I was recently at an extended family gathering and with so many family gatherings people want to share about their health. Of course they do, our health impacts every single aspect of our lives and quality of living. In addition, since I’m a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) people bring up their health to me often, which I love and welcome.
So, at this gathering I was talking to some of my cousins about thyroid health. The conversation kept focusing on how our family has a genetic predisposition to hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (the autoimmune disease that can be linked to hypothyroidism). I kept trying to gently steer this conversation away from genetics in order to talk about how there is so much that can be done to prevent Hashimoto’s from developing and/or to reverse symptoms of autoimmune disease once it develops despite our genetic predisposition. Essentially, I was trying to warn and empower my younger cousins who are in their 20’s to take action now instead of “just waiting for genetics to do its thing.”
The focus of this conversation being on genetics is common because our society is well versed on genetics and how they play a role in our health. What most people do not understand or recognize or even know about is that epigenetics is what actually pushes the body into a state of disease or ill-health. There is a common phrase that feels a little dark and yet aptly describes the interplay between genetics and epigenetics: Genetics loads the gun and epigenetics pulls the trigger.
What is genetics?
At its most basic level genetics refers to the biological process of heredity, which is the process by which a biological parent passes genetic information to offspring. The genes a person inherits from both biological parents guides certain aspects of how they may develop. For example, genetics can determine how tall a person is, what color their eyes are, if they have curly hair or become athletic. Every person is born with their own unique and individual genetic make-up. Genetic material cannot be altered, but gene expression can via epigenetics.
What is epigenetics?
Simply put epigenetics is how your behavior and environment has the ability to change how your genes are expressed. Put another way, epigenetics is the study of how your environment can turn genes on or off. Therefore, what genes become expressed by your body can be impacted by positive experiences (such as loving relationships, a healthy living environment, a low-stress childhood, a nutrient dense diet, etc.) and also negative experiences (such as exposure to environmental toxins, trauma, malnourishment, emotional neglect, gut dysbiosis, infections, etc.).
Epigenetics and autoimmune disease
In my family we have a long history of health issues related to thyroid health–hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, Hashimoto’s and thyroid cancer. Clearly, my family has a genetic component to thyroid disease. And yet, only some of us have developed thyroid issues, not all. So, why is that?
Currently, research shows that 30% of all autoimmune diseases are the result of a person’s genetics and 70% are due to environmental factors. Therefore, epigenetics plays a large role in how genes are turning on and off, thereby impacting the development of autoimmune disease.
So, in order to understand why certain individuals in my family have developed thyroid disease we need to look at more than their genetics. We need to look at their epigenetic history, i.e. what they eat (currently & historically), their health status, adverse life events, lifestyle components, infection history and chemical or toxin exposures. Once we do this it most likely will become much more obvious as to why some of us have developed autoimmune issues and others haven’t.
As for me, I can trace back through my life the epigenetic reasons why my genetic predisposition to Hashimoto’s was ultimately expressed:
- Exposure to chemicals
- Grew up on processed foods
- Gut health issues from early age resulting in chronic & unknown inflammation
- Severe adverse childhood events resulting in PTSD
- History of epstein barr infection (mono)
- History of multiple tick bites (infection)
- Nutrient deficiencies related to vegan diet as young adult
- Consumption of unknown food sensitivities that caused inflammation
- Birth trauma resulting in more PTSD
When I review this list it is overwhelming. But, it is also empowering because it shows me how to prevent and reverse any future autoimmune flares that I may have. And, it shows me how to try to prevent autoimmune disease for my child.
Genes aren’t your destiny
Overall, your genes don’t necessarily determine your destiny. We have the power to try to change how our genes are expressed and hopefully impact the development of disease in ourselves and our children. And, if you’ve already developed an autoimmune disease, the power of utilizing epigenetics is what can help you reverse those symptoms.
If you want to work together to discover the root cause of your autoimmune issues and how to reverse your symptoms then book a free 1:1 health consultation with me…Let’s find wellness together!