Wouldn’t it be great if the only thing you had to do to achieve optimal health and longevity was to think about a nutrient dense, low calorie diet? But there is another huge factor that affects most things that we think and do, and is reflected right down at the core of our DNA: Stress. Our emotions and the stress we experience in everyday life are mirrored in the signals that control our DNA.
Think about some of the stressful jobs people have, nurses for example. They may work 14 hour shifts several days in a row until they are burned out. You can see it in their bodies and in their disease incidence,
Now look what happens in their DNA. The poor nurses who were under a lot of stress had little methylation right at the feel good gene serotonin. This may have been a coping mechanism, because serotonin helps people relax.
Environmental stress affects DNA methylation of a CpG rich promoter region of serotonin transporter gene in a nurse cohort. PLoS One. 2012;7(9):e45813. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0045813. Epub 2012 Sep 28.
Alasaari JS, Lagus M, Ollila HM, Toivola A, Kivimäki M, Vahtera J, Kronholm E, Härmä M, Puttonen S, Paunio T.
Public Health Genomics Unit, National Institute for Health and Welfare, Helsinki, Finland.
Shift-working nurses are exposed to a stressful work environment, which puts them at an increased risk for burnout and depression. We explored the effect of environmental stress on serotonin transporter gene (SLC6A4) promoter methylation among nurses from high and low work stress environments.
Our findings show that environmental stress is concurrent with decreased methylation of the SLC6A4 promoter. This may lead to increased transcriptional activity of the gene, increased reuptake of serotonin from synaptic clefts, and termination of the activity of serotonin. This could present a possible coping mechanism for environmental stress in humans that could eventually increase risk for disturbed functional capability and experience of depressed mood in long-term stress.
For a simple explanation of how epigenetics works, take a look at this excellent, easy-to-understand presentation here: