A Brief Intro to Epigenetics & How to Improve Your Health

Flatlay with healthy food, water, and exercise equipment.

A Brief Intro to Epigenetics & How to Improve Your Health

Everyone wants to feel vibrant, energetic, and healthy in their day-to-day lives. Unfortunately, many of us end up stressed, sluggish, and with constant aches and pains. Some people may even suffer from chronic health issues or major diseases that just won’t go away.

When you want to feel better, you may first wonder which pill or medication will take your symptoms away. Or, you may think you need to make some lifestyle improvements, but you’re unsure why—or where to start.

You likely don’t blame your genetics for your poor health, but sometimes they are the culprit behind your health issues. If your genes don’t function properly, you won’t feel your best. However, you’re not stuck with the genes you have. External environmental factors—such as diet and exercise—impact how well your genes function.

These external factors are known as epigenetics. Let’s dive into this brief intro to epigenetics and how to improve your health. 

Before you continue, start by reading part one of this series: Strategene Analysis in San Francisco


Why Should I Care About My Genes?

Your genetic code is responsible for nearly every aspect of your appearance and bodily functions: skin color, eye color, metabolism, cell function, and more. 

Genes are responsible for your body systems functioning properly. If your genetic makeup is altered in any way, your body may struggle in fighting disease.

When your body isn’t functioning properly thanks to genetic problems, your quality of life is less than ideal. Chronic physical or mental health conditions that never seem to go away may be due to an issue with your genes.

Some people may even develop serious health problems due to poor genetics, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, autism, chronic illness, autoimmune disease, and mental illness.

No one wants to deal with these health problems or have a lowered quality of life. When you understand your genetic makeup with the help of a doctor, you can find current healing and prevent future diseases.


Intro to Epigenetics (Why Genes are One Piece of the Puzzle)

According to the CDC: “Epigenetics is… how your behaviors and environment can cause changes that affect the way your genes work.” Genetics involves the actual sequences of DNA that code your body parts, while epigenetics affect the way your body reads your DNA. 

You can’t physically change your DNA code, but you do have control over your epigenetics: improving your diet, engaging in physical activity, and managing stress. 


Better Your Epigenetics to Improve Your Health

If you’re currently experiencing uncomfortable symptoms, a chronic health condition, or a serious illness, you may feel overwhelmed with where to start your healing journey.

As a functional medicine provider, Clare Cattarin (MSN, FNP, IFM-CP, S-CP) recommends that patients start by improving their epigenetics in the following ways:


Improve Nutrition 

Our highly-processed American diet is affordable and tastes great, but it doesn’t leave our bodies feeling their best. Start by increasing awareness around your current eating habits and consider the following:

  • Eating balanced meals with carbs, fat, and protein
  • Adding organic foods to avoid chemicals and toxins  
  • Adding vegetables and fruit for color, texture, fiber, and micronutrients
  • Incorporating whole grains such as oatmeal, quinoa, rice
  • Choosing omega-3 fats like fish, avocado, flax seeds, or olive oil
  • Eating high-quality protein sources for satisfaction and muscle growth

For a professional perspective, consider working with a dietician or functional medicine practitioner like Clare Cattarin. 


Exercise Regularly

Who doesn’t love being strong, flexible, and capable in their day-to-day lives? Regular exercise strengthens your muscle, improves flexibility, and makes your heart and lungs stronger. Also, movement boosts your mood and strengthens your immune system.

We often associate exercise with the need to burn off calories or slim down. Instead, let’s reclaim the mentality behind exercise and engage in movement to feel good—not to punish ourselves.

Start by experimenting with movement that feels good to you. If pumping iron in the gym isn’t for you, consider other forms of movement that bring you joy:

  • Swimming
  • Biking
  • Kickboxing
  • Dancing
  • Hiking
  • Running
  • Walking
  • Strength training
  • Yoga
  • Pilates


Manage Stress

Our fast-paced world contributes to the huge amounts of stress on our bodies and minds. Many of us cope with stress with Netflix binges or a bag of chips. While these methods may bring us temporary relief, they likely don’t make us feel good in the long run.

When our bodies are stressed, they’re easily worn down and don’t function optimally (thanks to epigenetics). To improve your stress levels, engage in activities that bring you true relief and rest. 

Some people may engage in calming activities such as a warm bubble bath, walk, night out with friends, journaling, yoga, or meditation. Others may seek out mental health counseling to learn coping skills when life’s stressors seem overwhelming. Either way, prioritizing mental health is going to improve your epigenetics—and your health as a whole.


Get Quality Sleep

Whether we’re stressed or up late in front of our phones, most of us don’t get the sleep we need. When we don’t sleep well, our bodies aren’t able to cleanse, rebuild tissue, and regenerate cells for optimal function.

Getting better sleep isn’t easy, so start with a small step:

  • Shut off screens 2 hours before bed
  • Create an evening routine
  • Dim the lights in your home when the sun goes down
  • Purchase a weighted blanket and/or white noise machine
  • Diffuse calming essential oils
  • Journal to relieve stress


Stay Hydrated

Water is essential for our livelihood, and yet most of us aren’t drinking nearly enough. Your systems can’t function without proper hydration, so it’s important to provide your body with enough water. 

Thankfully, there are many ways to make hydration fun and rewarding. Purchase a pretty metal water bottle to carry around with you or install an app to help you track water intake. If you’re not a fan of plain water, add fresh fruit to an infused water bottle for added flavor.


Avoid Toxins

Our world is chock-full of toxins that impact our genetics and damage our health. Also, even if you don’t see significant changes in the short-term, you will likely pass these toxins and affected genes to your future children.

When it comes to toxins, keep the following in mind:

  • Using metal/glass containers and water bottles instead of plastic (which has BPA and BPS)
  • Purchasing a filter for your water
  • Buying organic food
  • Eating at locally sourced restaurants 
  • Buying organic coffee
  • Having clothing and linens without flame retardant or other toxins


Improve Epigenetics with Functional Medicine

The lifestyle habits that influence your epigenetics are all interconnected. For example, when you’re less stressed, you’re able to make more mindful food choices and likely get better sleep.

Functional medicine takes into account the fact that your body is one entire system. Instead of simply treating symptoms with medication, functional medicine practitioners like Clare Cattarin address how your body is functioning to determine why you’re experiencing health issues.

With functional medicine, you’re not another set of symptoms that an orange pill bottle can treat. You’re a complex human being, and your treatment should be as unique as you are.

Functional medicine is ideal for improving your epigenetics thanks to the whole-body approach. Providers like Clare Cattarin work with patients every day to improve their nutrition, exercise, stress, sleep habits, and hydration. 

Read more about functional medicine from Clare Cattarin.  


When It’s Time to Address Your Genes

Once you’ve addressed your epigenetics and have quality lifestyle habits, your health problems may not magically disappear. When you reach this point, it may be time to dive into your genetics and identify what’s going on beneath the surface.

Clare Cattarin provides Strategene testing and analysis in San Francisco to help patients understand how their body is functioning on a structural level. If something is off, she’s then able to recommend treatment to get you back to feeling your best. 

Ready to take your first steps after this brief intro to epigenetics? Start by taking our readiness assessment then schedule your first appointment with Clare Cattarin. 

NOTE: Stratagene is a trademarked creation of Ben Lynch.