Most of us were raised to believe that the genes we were born with were our destiny, and that those diseases which “ran in the family” were most likely coming for us too. Well, here’s pretty amazing news: those dreaded diseases may not have to be gunning for you after all! Contrary to what had been the prevailing wisdom since Darwin’s day, scientists have discovered that we have the power to alter our genetic lot, as well as our children’s and grandchildren’s!
In the last few years, scientists who study the molecular mechanisms by which the environment and external conditions influence controls gene behavior have found that the blueprints encoded in our genes are not set in stone from birth. They’ve established that factors such as lifestyle and diet can heavily influence what roughly 98% of our genes do, how they behave and how they express themselves. Which means that though you may be susceptible to the classic, chronic diseases like diabetes or heart disease, you don’t necessarily have to succumb to them – predisposition and susceptibility do not equal inevitability.
So, knowing now that we can positively effect so much of our genetic present and future, the question is how do we go about it? Here’s some food for thought – and what you need to know about the life-changing power that’s in your hands:
Show your genes some love.
If we know that most of our genes are modifiable, with the ability to be turned on or off based on how we treat them, then treating them well is a no-brainer — it can be the difference between health and disease. So, whether or not these chronic disease genes get expressed and blossom into illness is determined by how you live your life, your beliefs, how you eat, how you handle stress, the toxins you’re exposed to, the supplements you take. When you consider that our genes are responding daily, possibly even hourly to the lifestyle choices we make, then you can see how important it is to treat your body with care. Bottom line: show your genes love, by making by health-supporting choices every moment of the day.
Actions, both good and bad, add up.
Simply put, the better your lifestyle choices, the better your genes will “behave,” flipping on the health-sustaining switches and turning off the ones that promote chronic diseases, cancers, inflammation and oxidative stress. Several studies have shown that lifestyle changes, both good and bad, trigger changes in gene expression. For example, a healthy diet turns on disease-fighting genes; smoking cigarettes inhibits your anti-cancer genes ability to fight cancer growth, leaving you vulnerable to a host of ills that might never had manifested themselves had you not smoked. So if you’ve tried to quit smoking or lose weight before and haven’t succeeded, keep trying and never give up – your efforts make a difference – and actions, even the small ones, count.
Send a message to your genes.
How you communicate with your genes will influence how they’ll express themselves, so my advice is to bathe them inside and out in the healthiest environment possible. Nourish your body by eating healthfully and organically and add supplements that support your body’s metabolic pathways for optimal nutrition. Minimize exposure to chemicals and toxins as much as possible, exercise regularly, meditate to help reduce stress, and please, please get enough sleep. Nourish your spirit with loving relationships, positive thoughts and frequent laughter. Strive to do all of the above every day.
Go for the gold.
“But doc, I’m human. Sometimes I screw up.” O.K., I hear you, but get back on the pony every day. If you ate a less-than-nutritionally-ideal dinner last night, redouble your efforts today and eat healthfully. If you shorted yourself on sleep yesterday, try going to bed a half hour earlier tonight. The idea is to be constantly aware of your choices and to keep striving to make more health-supporting choices than not, every day. Gradually, the smart choices will become second nature. Having trouble convincing yourself to make the positive lifestyle choices necessary to help keep your genes in line? Then ask yourself this simple question every time you’re about to eat something unhealthy, bail out of going to the gym or lighting up a smoke: Is this promoting my health or pushing it further from my grasp? If nothing else, the question will force you to be honest about and conscious of the choices you make – and to acknowledge your pivotal role in creating a healthier life.
Take charge, now.
When all is said and done, the idea that epigenetic changes are reversible is just this side of revolutionary. Though a mutated gene is unlikely to revert back to normal, a gene with a defective epigenetic code may very well be reprogrammed back to normal functioning – so we should do everything we can to help the process along. To learn more about epigenetics, take a look at these two articles on the topic, from Time Magazine and The Atlantic.