Epigenetics and Family History
Epigenetics is a quickly developing field of science that has proven to be practical in medicine. It focuses on changes in gene activity that are not a result of DNA sequence mutations. Epigenetics studies the volatility of DNA methylation, chromatin, and distinct RNA which can alter gene expression. Consequently, the human phenotype is affected by physical traits and diseases. Several complex traits have been proven to be linked to epigenetics. Since they are hereditary, the process is known as transgenerational epigenetic inheritance. Some patterns of heritable traits are uncontrollable, but others are activated by environmental conditions, such as nutritional intake (Trerotola, Relli, Simeone, & Alberti, 2015).
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Common physiological disorders are linked to hereditary epigenetics. A customary practice for medical professionals is to inquire about the family medical history to determine elevated risks for any conditions, which can be addressed before further treatment. Examining personal family history gave me a chance to explore the possible health concerns that may afflict me in the future. One widespread condition affecting my family history is hypertension, with some cases being pulmonary hypertension and others leading to cardiovascular issues. There are also cases of type-2 acquired diabetes. Both conditions have been common in the family for generations and are complemented by environmental factors; it is possible these traits are inherited genetically.
Environmental factors such as malnutrition, constriction of blood vessels due to stress, alcohol, and smoking prevalent in the family history in the past generations have all been linked to the development of hypertension in offspring. The hyper-methylation of the Methyl CpG binding protein 2 transporter gene (MECP-2) leads to an extensive autonomic responsiveness. Also, the high concentrations of cortisol (released during stress), which controls kidney sodium absorption, causes raised levels of arterial pressure.
My family history suggests high-stress levels due to socio-economic circumstances. Hypertension is linked to histone alteration, which can be seen during a process of disruption of telomeric silencing. The nutritional impact is evident in a diet with elevated sodium and salt levels, causing a deficiency of lysine-specific demethlase-1 (LSD-1). LSD-1 serves as a catalyst in de-methylation of histone H3. Hypermethylation of H3 resulting from an LSD-1 deficiency is correlated to hypertension. The cultural background and lifestyle of my family include a particularly high-sodium diet (Raftopoulos et al., 2015).
The onset of type-2 diabetes is tremendously impacted by environmental factors, usually affecting a whole family group and therefore thought to induce hereditary epigenetic alterations. The environmental factors cause epigenetic changes in the progeny by reprogramming insulin sensitivity and beta-cell function. However, due to the compound and multifactored nature of diabetes, genetic predisposition often must be complemented by external factors such as lifestyle. Research has shown that epigenetic complications can be reversed to some extent if healthy habits are adopted (Raciti et al., 2015). The described epigenetics processes are just a part of many possible factors that can affect genetic, physiological conditions in my family medical history and possibly passed on to me.
The Blue Zone questionnaire was completed to create a model for possible life expectancy. The results were significantly lower than expected, especially with the consideration of the rising average life expectancy with medical developments. This model is an approximation based solely on lifestyle, without consideration of any hereditary epigenetics. However, in consideration of my family history, environmental factors and lifestyle have an influence on my health. Diseases such as type-2 diabetes and hypertension are more susceptible to development and complications under certain conditions, a lot of which are unfortunately exhibited in my lifestyle.
Ironically, my most derogatory behaviors revolve around diet and emotional health (stress) which are a common factor in family medical history, in turn aiding in the emergence of type-2 diabetes and hypertension respectively. Due to my age and status in life, my diet often consists of processed food that is full of refined sugars and sodium. Fast food and junk food are a health hazard, affecting cardiovascular and metabolic systems. An abundance of meat, particularly frozen or processed is considered carcinogenic and is shown to lower life expectancy. Lack of whole grains, fresh vegetables, and fruit in my diet creates a deficit of vitamins and minerals needed for a healthy body function. Stress is also common in my life, as I often become anxious about trivial things. In addition to pressure to succeed and financial difficulties, it causes physiological hardships such as headaches, chest pains, and fatigue. Combined with poor diet, such lifestyle leads to hypertension. Recent research shows the importance of diet in health sustainability and prevention of cardiovascular and metabolic disorders.
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Continuous research on epigenetics has many benefits to clinical practice, and the knowledge can be applied to medical technologies as well as promotions to personal and public health. It gives more tools for diagnosis and treatment to practicing health professionals who have embraced the reductionist theory of genetic determinism (Goodson, 2015). Meanwhile, personal behaviors must be altered to help improve health and prevent the onset of diseases despite my hereditary epigenetic predisposition.
It is recommended of those who are at risk due to family history to monitor for diabetes and high blood pressure. The onset of type-2 diabetes can be avoided through a low fat and sodium diet. Also, regular physical exercise to maintain healthy weight improves insulin and glucose related functions in the organism. Considering the epigenetic processes focusing on insulin resistance related to hereditary type-2 diabetes, this is a necessary habit to adopt. Combining dietary and physical factors reduces the risk of diabetes onset by 58% (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, n.d.).
Many similar principles apply in hypertension prevention as diet and exercise directly affect the cardiovascular system. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that avoiding derogatory behaviors such as smoking and alcohol abuse along with healthy active lifestyle directly correlates to lower risk of complications related to hypertension such as stroke and heart disease. Continuous monitoring of blood pressure, which is affected by uncontrollable factors like weather, is recommended to address any arising issues (CDC, 2017).
CDC: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2017). Preventing high blood pressure: Healthy living habits.
Goodson, P. (2015). Researching genes, behavior, and society to improve population health: A primer in complex adaptive systems as an integrative approach. advances in medical sociology genetics, health and society, 127-156. doi:10.1108/s1057-629020150000016005
NIH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (n.d.). Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP).
Raciti, G. A., Longo, M., Parrillo, L., Ciccarelli, M., Mirra, P., Ungaro, P.,… Béguinot, F. (2015). Understanding type 2 diabetes: from genetics to epigenetics. Acta Diabetologica, 52(5), 821-827. doi:10.1007/s00592-015-0741-0
Raftopoulos, L., Katsi, V., Makris, T., Tousoulis, D., Stefanadis, C., & Kallikazaros, I. (2015). Epigenetics, the missing link in hypertension. Life Sciences, 129, 22-26. doi:10.1016/j.lfs.2014.08.003
Trerotola, M., Relli, V., Simeone, P., & Alberti, S. (2015). Epigenetic inheritance and the missing heritability. Human Genomics, 9(1). doi:10.1186/s40246-015-0041-3