Updated: Oct 9, 2018
90% of human disease can be attributed to the exposome. What the hell is the exposome you ask? Well it’s the myriad of non-genetic influences that you are exposed to throughout your life. Your exposome is the food you eat, the air you breath, the water you drink, your stress level, the people you interact with, your metabolism and the environment you live in. Sure genes are important, but as the famous functional medicine saying goes ‘genes load the gun, but environment pulls the trigger.’
Many attribute disease to simply having ‘bad genes’. It’s more correct to say that our healthy genes have been altered via genetic expression, and made sick as a consequence of our Exposome. ‘Just as we can get sick when we don’t take care of ourselves, it turns out, so can our genes’ - Catherine Shanahan, Deep Nutrition.
Epigenetics explores how the exposome affects the expression of our genes. Being healthy and winning the ‘genetic lottery’ is nothing to do with luck, and everything to do with the health of your ancestors and the effects of your environment on your genes. Every single second, the variety of inputs from your environment are potentially changing the expression of your genes.
‘Epigenetic researchers study how our own genes react to our behaviour, and they’ve found that just about everything we eat, think, breathe, or do can, directly or indirectly, trickle down to touch the gene and affect performance in some way. These effects are carried forward into the next generation, where they can be magnified’. - Catherine Shanahan, Deep Nutrition.
This helps explain how identical twins can evolve with the same genes to have unique health outcomes, or how a mother or fathers diet pre-conception can alter their babies health.
3 main categories:
The influence of the exposome is vast, but can be broken down in to 3 main categories
Specific External: This are the direct inputs you chose to expose your body to like diet, water, physical activity, cleaning and skin care products, drugs, supplements etc.
General External: These are broader influences on your life like the climate, air quality, pollution, urban environment, social structure etc.
Internal Environment: These are related to your unique internal environment and cover factors like your metabolism, hormones, cellular function, inflammation, oxidative stress, microbiome, mitochondrial health etc.
According to the World Health Organisation over 70% of noncommunicable diseases are related to four exposome factors. These were: tobacco use, unhealthy diet, insufficient physical activity and the harmful use of alcohol. Noncommunicable diseases (cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke) are also known as chronic diseases, and are the result of a combination of genetics and exposome factors like physiological, environmental and behaviours factors.
What does it all mean?
It means our genes are not our destiny and that there is a certain genetic plasticity that empowers us with the potential to rebuild our genetic wealth. Addressing the exposome is the first point of call in functional medicine as it creates significant positive shifts for the majority or people. Changing lifestyle factors and environmental triggers is powerful, but often overlooked as too simple. Many people fail to give credit to the potency of poor food, environmental toxins or lifestyle stress in depleting health.
Starting a health building program by addressing your unique exposome, will always give you the biggest bang for your buck. Generalised, health building practices that seek to alleviate the burden on the body, and allow for systemic, non-specific healing go against much of what we have been ingrained to expect when it comes to health. We are accustomed to expect a specific treatment for a specific ailment, which makes us suspicious of the seemingly simple and logical generalised health building approach.
The traditional medical model is disease management – it’s brilliant at diagnosing and reacting to acute illness, it’s not so great at preventative ‘health care’. Disease processes occur from multiple system breakdowns rather than one simple fault, and thus attempting to build overall health non-specifically allows for greater healing. In other words you can treat chronic pain by taking a pain killer, which will mask the pain symptom but often create new symptoms and problems, or you could reduce inflammatory foods or environmental toxins, or underlying pathology that is behind the pain. The later approach is sustainable and gives greater promise of longevity and vitality.
Rebuilding genetic wealth
It’s sounds complex, but we promise you it’s not. It’s actually strikingly simple! Optimising your exposome means looking at your environment to remove health hurters and increase health promoters. Here are a few simple ways you can optimize the expression of your genes:
Diet: Eat a nutrient dense, organic diet of quality, real food that agrees with you, and avoid junk, processed food full of chemicals and additives. Drink good quality water to hydrate well.
Movement: Move often and move well. Daily intermittent movement is more important for ultimate health than an exercise program. Train for fitness, strength and power with variable strategies, manage heart rate intensity and move often throughout your day.
Circadian rhythms: Avoid artifical light after dusk, and get natural sunlight during the day, especially in the morning and onto bare skin and into the eyes. Match the cycles of the day and the seasons to your sleep wake cycle.
Get into nature and be barefoot to detoxify from technology and urban life.
Screen for underlying pathologies before they become diseases and seek to manage blood sugar, increase gut health, reduce inflammation and oxidisation and balance hormones
Reduce exposure to toxins like alcohol, drugs, chemical laden body care or cleaning products, reduce pollution in your environment and biotoxins like Mold. Likewise upregulate detoxification to assist in healthy function.
Check out this list for some ideas on habits you can reduce or introduce to build your health and optimise your genes. As always if you have any questions, reach out to us!