Lifestyle and Genetics
Great news; your genes don’t solely dictate your life, or your destiny. Key facets of your lifestyle play an important role. In a book called, Super Genes, written by Deepak Chopra, MD and Rudolph E. Tanzi, PhD, the tandem expounds the real role of our genes in our lives. In contrast to what most people know, genes are not completely the main factor behind anyone’s talent or beauty. Genes are not behind someone’s ill fate. Genes are not a mixture of bad or good elements.
The truth is, only about 5% of disease-related gene mutations are fully penetrant, and 95% of genes linked to disorders only act as an influence. The genes may change, affect one’s health, or one’s physical body, depending on more other underlying factors.
Like Deepak Chopra and Rudolph E. Tanzi have said, “Your biology doesn’t spell your destiny”. Other factors like diet, exercise, stress management, and emotional events, are influences that can affect your life — or at least the part of your life that you thought is directed to genes.
However, these influences don’t mean they can change your genes. Your genes will remain the same from the moment you were born until your last day. These influences can only affect how genes work; your genetic activity. The genetic activity involves the behavior of innumerable proteins, enzymes and chemicals that regulate a cell. When a cell is in good condition, the entire body does good as well, and so are you.
The book, Super Genes, discusses about how your choices in the six areas of mind-body lifestyle can change your genetic activity: diet, stress, exercise, sleep, meditation, and emotions.
The approach given in the book aims to overcome the main problem of lifestyle shifts: compliance. Many individuals who have read all the effects and benefits of positive lifestyle changes thought they would be able to pull it off, only to catch themselves lapsing on their old, damaging habits after just a while. One example is the fact that only 2% of people who go on a diet successfully loses 5 lbs. off their weight after five years.
Super Genes offers a menu of easy choices that you can start with, and stick with among each of the areas. After you are able to successfully comply with the easy selection, that’s when you can only move on to the difficult ones.
The approach goes like this, choose only one change and make it last a month, before you can choose the next change. You can freely choose only one of the six areas, but it’s not advised that you choose more than one area, since it increases the risk for non-compliance. In Super Genes, the authors gave out more than 12 choices for each area. In this post, however, we’ll give out a few choices as a sample from the book.
Researches imply, a new importance of diet due to microbiome (intestinal microbes), which doesn’t only digest food, but also initiates a vast effect on the genetic component of the body. According to claims, toxicity in the microbiome can be leaked into the bloodstream, which may cause inflammation in the body.
- Consume foods with soluble fiber together with breakfast ((e.g., oatmeal, pulpy orange juice, bran cereal, bananas, a fruit smoothie made from unpeeled fruits).
- Always eat salad together with lunch or dinner, preferably both.
- Consume food with probiotics once a day to enhance the microbial population in the digestive tract (e.g., active yogurt, kefir, pickles, sauerkraut, and kimchi).
- Eat any fatty fish at least twice a week (e.g., fresh salmon, mackerel, and tuna, canned or fresh sardines).
- For vegetarians, consider eating foods that are rich with healthy proteins such as soy, tempeh, and mycoprotein.
Stress can disrupt the functioning cells due to the introduction of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline that are meant to be temporary, which should only last for a couple of minutes when the brain senses danger. However, today, low-level yet chronic stress can lead to cellular distortion, which are epigenetic markers that can cause long-lasting effects.
- Reduce distractions and noise during work.
- Do not multi-task, focus on one task at a time.
- Stop stressing other people.
- Make sure to change your routine, including your breaks and downtime in your lifestyle.
Exercise doesn’t necessarily need to be intense. The important factor you need to assure when doing an exercise is motion. Sedentary lifestyle is often linked to diseases like type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular health, which begins on a genetic level. It also means that the benefits of exercise are more optimized if done earlier, and if will be maintained throughout our entire life.
- Get up and move every hour.
- Take the stairs to the second floor before using the elevator.
- Do house chores instead of hiring someone to do it.
- Take a walk after dinner.
Sleep is the master rhythm that sets all bodily functions on mutual, harmonious rhyme. Although the body has multiple cells that beats in different rhymes, overall, the body has a mutual program. With quality sleep, brain activities and hormonal levels come to balance. Conditions that are affected by sleep such as obesity can worsen if sleep is frequently compromised. Furthermore, sleep is a major contributor to reduced stress, which as mentioned, plays an important role in the body’s genetic activity.
- Make sure that your room is as dark as possible. Use dark shades, or better yet, wear sleep masks for total darkness.
- Keep a quiet bedroom. If that’s not possible, use earplugs, which can be helpful if early morning noises wake you up.
- Make your bedroom cozy, warm and draft-free.
- Take a warm shower before sleep.
Four decades of research about mind-body connection implies that meditation has abundant health benefits. In fact, one recent on-going study by Chopra Center claims that it affects the body on a genetic and cellular level. It demonstrates that our body is as aware as we are with what we are experiencing, except that the body is aware in terms of chemicals. Meditation as part of one’s lifestyle institutes positive chemical activity in the body at a genetic level.
- Use 10 minutes of lunch break to sit alone with eyes closed.
- Learn a simple breath meditation that you can use for 10 minutes every morning and every evening.
- Meditate with a friend.
- Find a time to meditate whenever you need it, at least once a day.
Thorough and detailed learning about emotions is the most complicated part of the mind-body system for two reasons. First, emotions are fleeting. Second, emotions have complex chemical structures. However, it’s true that extreme emotional upset can negatively affect the body, as during such times, trillions of cells in the body eavesdrop about our experience. For now, science cannot fine tune the relation of emotions to the body and how it works, which has genetic implications when it comes to chemical output and DNA markers through epigenetics. Controlling our emotions, and how it can positively affect our health is all up to us.
- Note down five things that make you happy, and make sure to make at least one of them daily.
- Express gratitude at least for about one thing in your life every day.
- Express gratitude for at least one person everyday.
- Spend more time with happy people, and spend less time with those who are not.
As Deepak Chopra, MD and Rudolph E. Tanzi, PhD notes:
As you adopt these simple habits, they reinforce your ability to adopt more, and then to move on to choices that might be more challenging, such as more vigorous, regular exercise or a vegetarian diet. The whole point is to start a conscious conversation with your genes–that’s the breakthrough which will make a huge impact on your wellbeing for years to come.
See what famed doctor, Andrew Weil, who is a physician, author, spokesperson, and broadly described “guru” of alternative medicine has to say on the subject: