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Natural Health Glossary
Medical Terms, Therapies, Accreditation

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epigenetic
Something which influences the behavior of a cell without directly affecting its DNA or other genetic machinery, such as an environmental effect. Epigenetics is the study of changes in gene expression or cellular phenotype, caused by mechanisms other than changes in the underlying DNA sequence -- hence the name epi- (Greek: επί- over, above, outer) -genetics, some of which are heritable.

Examples of such modifications are DNA methylation and histone modification, both of which serve to regulate gene expression without altering the underlying DNA sequence. Gene expression can be controlled through the action of repressor proteins that attach to silencer regions of the DNA. These changes may remain through cell divisions for the remainder of the cell's life and may also last for multiple generations. However, there is no change in the underlying DNA sequence of the organism.

DNA damaging chemicals, such as benzene, hydroquinone, styrene, carbon tetrachloride and trichloroethylene, cause considerable hypomethylation of DNA, some through the activation of oxidative stress pathways. Foods are known to alter the epigenetics of rats on different diets. Some food components epigenetically increase the levels of DNA repair enzymes such as MGMT and MLH1 and p53. Other foods components can reduce DNA damage, such as soy isoflavones and bilberry anthocyanins.

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