(Ivanhoe Newswire) – If you think you can’t change your DNA, think again. Researchers have discovered when healthy but inactive men and women exercise for a matter of minutes, it produces a rather immediate change to their DNA.
Perhaps even more tantalizing, the study by Swedish researchers suggests the caffeine in your morning coffee might also influence muscle in essentially the same way.
"Our muscles are really plastic," Juleen Zierath of the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, was quoted saying. "We often say ‘You are what you eat.’ Well, muscle adapts to what you do. If you don't use it, you lose it, and this is one of the mechanisms that allows that to happen."
The DNA changes in question are known as epigenetic modifications and involve the gain or loss of chemical marks on DNA over and above the familiar sequence of As, Gs, Ts, and Cs. The new study shows that the DNA within skeletal muscle taken from people after a burst of exercise bears fewer chemical marks (specifically methyl groups) than it did before exercise. Those changes take place in stretches of DNA that are involved in turning "on" genes important for muscles' adaptation to exercise.
When the researchers made muscles contract in lab dishes, they saw a similar loss of DNA methyl groups. Exposure of isolated muscle to caffeine had the same effect.
Zierath explained that caffeine does mimic the muscle contraction that comes with exercise in other ways, too. She doesn't necessarily recommend anyone drink a ‘cup of joe’ in place of exercise. It's nevertheless tempting to think that athletes who enjoy a coffee with their workout might just be on to something.
The findings offer more evidence that our genomes are much more dynamic than they are often given credit for. Epigenetic modifications that turn genes on and back off again can be incredibly flexible events. They allow the DNA in our cells to adjust as the environment shifts.
"Exercise is medicine," Zierath was quoted saying. It seems the means to alter our genomes for better health may be only a jog away. For those who can't exercise, the new findings might point the way to medicines with similar benefits.
SOURCE: Cell Metabolism, March 2012.