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"Your genetic history is not necessarily your destiny."                   ~ Tana Amen  B.S.N.,  R.N.

Epigenetics.

I am fascinated by this.

I am new to the term but not the concept.  My husband and I came to the conclusion, after the research that we've done over the past 7 years or so, that genetics was not what it was cracked up to be. We no longer believe that just because a disease runs in a family, one is certain to get it.  That doesn't mean we don't think it's possible...but we believe that other factors come into play and that these 'genetic' or 'hereditary' diseases are preventable.  Now I have a word for it.

I first ran across the word in The Omni Diet.  And then again in It Starts With Food.

It turns out this term has been around since 1942 when the word was coined by Conrad Waddington, a developmental biologist and geneticist. So perhaps I've come across this word before -  but it didn't sink in before now.

Epigenetics is the study of changes in gene expression which is  not caused by changes in the DNA sequence.  It is the coming together of your genes with your environment. While we are all born with a particular genetic code, our environmental input including diet, exercise, sleep patterns, emotional stress, excessive alcohol consumption, drug use, air quality, exposure to chemicals, etc. affects whether certain aspects of that code are switched to the 'on' position.  In other words, one can carry a gene but that doesn't mean the gene has to be ignited or become active.

So the old term "you are what you eat" really does bring truth since the relationship between environment (the food you eat) and chemical compounds that make up the epigenome is intertwined and continual.  It determines whether your genes are expressed as health or in illness.  You will not develop heart disease, bipolar disorder or Parkinson's disease because your father or your mother did. It takes the combination of your genes with your environment to bring on this chain reaction.  Therefor, as Tana Amen states in her book, The Omni Diet, "Your genetic history is not necessarily your destiny".   

Furthermore, YOU are in control of many of these factors!  YOU determine what food you eat, your exercise level, your consumption of drugs and alcohol, whether you buy organic vs. conventional produce which strongly affects the number of chemicals your body ingests, and more!

Online Resources:

The Epigenome NoE

DNA Isn't Everything 

Why Your Genes Don't Determine Your Health

Summary of the Whole 30 - It Starts With Food

**  Just to note.  The resources and links I give you are for your information.  I do not receive any monetary benefits from telling you about them.

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Yesterday, I touched upon this subject when I wrote about maintaining our health as part of why we homeschool.  About 8 years ago, I read the book Is This Your Child? by Doris Rapp M.D..   Reading that book began a journey I am thrilled to be on and can only hope that in sharing our story, it may lead someone else to begin that same incredible journey in leaving some sort of illness behind in the dust.

Dr. Rapp only briefly spoke of the dangers of MSG and other neurotoxins in her book, but following her protocol for an elimination diet led us to much research into MSG and other neurotoxins as well as other artificial ingredients in our Standard American Diet (SAD).

When my son began demonstrating the typical signs of ADHD, I felt I had the qualifications to parent and educate my child without medical intervention.  Not only was I a former special education teacher (retired early  - very early), but I also was aware because of previous research, that the wrong medication could ignite a gene for Bipolar Disorder should he happen to be carrying that gene, inherited through me, as my daughter had and I had from my biological mother.  My daughter's gene was already ignited and traveling full speed ahead (part of that personal part of our decision to homeschool - see previous post).  I did not want this for my son.  Of course, I didn't want it for my daughter or myself either but I thought perhaps I could do something to 'save' my son while I could not, or so I thought, do anything for my daughter and I.  Little did I know -  I could do something for us all!

Reading on natural methods of treating ADHD and my knowledge of how food dyes and sugar can affect this disorder led me to Dr. Rapp's book.  I insisted the entire family, husband included, do the elimination diet together out of empathy for my son.  I simply could not expect him to do it alone.

What we discovered upon adding things, one day at a time, back into our diet was alarming!  Honestly, all I had expected to find was that sugar and red food dye would most likely increase his hyperactivity and inattentiveness to mundane (school) activities.  We never even got around to trying red food dye!

In reality, Dr. Rapp's elimination diet is short.  I know now that most elimination diets actually suggest a longer period of elimination to adequately determine an 'allergens' effect. With Dr. Rapp's elimination diet, foods listed were only avoided in totality for one week and then slowly, one day at a time,  added back:  milk, wheat, sugar, egg, cocoa, food coloring, corn, preservatives, citrus and peanut butter.

Without boring you with all the details, our biggest reactions were with sugar (especially my son), food coloring and preservatives.   Note I said "our" reactions!  While we never anticipated it, we all (I, my husband, son and daughter) all exhibited major reactions including rashes, red skin, hives, nausea, vomiting, headaches and major mood disturbances - just to name the most obvious ones!

This discovery led to intense research on my part - on the internet, in books and by talking to LOTS of people!  One person in particular that I feel helped us the most at that time was a homeschool mom I met at my children's homeschool soccer practice.  Becky actually came to my house and helped me clean out my cupboards and refrigerator!  She told me all kinds of things about artificial ingredients and helped me figure out healthier substitutes and suggested some further sources of reference.  I am so incredibly grateful to Becky!

Through the years, we have learned more and more and continue to learn more.  My son and husband still tend to be a bit distractable (though NOT as much as before) as we did not eliminate sugar from our diet as well as we have eliminated the artificial ingredients.  However, my daughter and I have not had any (That's right.  ANY) symptoms of our previous Bipolar/Anxiety Disorders in over 7 years.  We do not take ANY medications and have no reason to do so.  Simply avoiding the additives that our FDA says is completely safe and allows to be added to processed food products has eliminated these diseases and other health problems from our family members!

Currently, our family (other than my daughter as she is away attending college)is further dabbling with the Paleo diet and researching the effects of grains, legumes and sugar on our bodies.

I hope that in writing on this blog about our food choices (among other topics) to further share things I have learned about health and food related issues will help others to learn the same.  I hope you will benefit.

In the meantime, if you wish to learn more about MSG and it's many hidden names (Yes, it's even in products that say "No MSG" on the label!), Truthinlabeling.com is a wonderful source for these hidden names and other information.

I end by saying THANK YOU to Dr. Rapp, thank you to Becky, thank you to all the sources that have brought me to the understanding, knowledge, and HEALTH that I have today.  I will continue writing about all of our adventure and what we have learned and provide these sources to others. And thank you to my husband for supporting my research and being open-minded enough to know that conventional medicine does NOT have all the answers and for wanting the best health for our family right along with me.  I am very grateful to you all.

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ADDENDUM:  Today, January 31, 2014 - this post is linked onto FIGHT BACK FRIDAYS on Food Renegade.com  🙂