Most people think they get an autoimmune disease because of “unlucky genes.” Therefore, they think diseases such as diabetes, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and multiple sclerosis are due to genetics, hence unavoidable.
“It runs in my family.”
“It was only a matter of time.”
I have bad news and good news. The bad news is that it’s true that you DO carry the genes for your autoimmune disease. You also carry genes for hundreds of other diseases. The good news is that the expression of your disease is only 10% related to your genetics. The other 90% is related to epigenetics.
What’s important about this? Ponder these three concepts:
- Epigenetics turn genes on and off.
- Epigenetics are constantly in flux.
- We have some “say” in epigenetic factors.
Simply carrying a gene for a disease does NOT mean that gene will be turned on, or expressed. Epigenetics has a much larger influence in whether or not a disease is activated.
So what is Epigenetics?
For one, a hot new field since scientists cracked our genome in 2003.
“Epigenetic” means any process that alters gene activity, without changing your DNA. There are many types of epigenetic processes, which signal your genes to turn on or off. Another way of saying this is that genes are expressed or silenced. What influences your epigenetic processes?
Exposures in your environment signal the expression or silencing of your genes.
Your lifetime of exposures make up your exposome
The sum total of your exposures, from conception until this moment, is called your “exposome.” It encompasses all external and internal stimuli that you have experienced in your lifetime.
Authors of this paper wrote:
What we eat, where we live, the air we breathe, our social interactions, our lifestyle choices such as smoking and exercise, and the inherent metabolic and cellular activity manipulate the biology encoded by our genome.
Exposures have everything to do with the expression of autoimmune disease
Let’s go back to the good news. If the expression of your autoimmune disease is 90% due to exposome factors, that means there are things you can do to change the course of your disease, even if it has already been turned on, or expressed.
Also, did you know that once you have expressed one autoimmune disease, you have a 25% chance of developing one or more additional autoimmune diseases? Armed with this information, you can influence your exposome in such a way as to prevent further autoimmune disease. This means you can change the course of your existing disease, AND prevent further disease from occurring.
When people with autoimmune diseases get this, it can be comforting. It can also feel overwhelming because you can’t control all your exposures. However, you can take comfort in the fact that there are many factors that you CAN take charge of, and change if needed.
In fact, there is always room for improvement in your exposome. You can look at improving your exposome as a positive, lifelong project. It’s a work-in-progress.
Functional Medicine has a role
Functional Medicine clinicians focus on exposome work. This article states:
We are not genetically hardwired for most diseases. Instead, gene expression is altered by myriad influences, including environment, lifestyle, diet, activity patterns, psycho-social-spiritual factors, and stress. These lifestyle choices and environmental exposures can push us toward (or away from) disease by turning on—or off— certain genes. That insight has helped to fuel the global interest in Functional Medicine, which has that principle at its very core.
External and internal exposome factors
External lifestyle factors like diet, movement, stress, emotions, behavior, and sleep, we, ourselves, can improve, every single day.
Internal biological factors such as our metabolism, gut bacteria, toxin exposure, and allergies, are things Functional Medicine clinicians can test for, and improve.
Exposome work and Functional Medicine go hand-in-hand. Disease expression can be altered by changing and improving external and internal influences. We have to look beyond our preoccupation with daily symptoms and suffering, towards a bigger picture. As you alter your exposome factors, both lifestyle and biological, your symptoms and suffering will change.
Your exposome is offers the means to move beyond
unlucky autoimmune genetics. You have some power, choice, and control.