What’s With the Genes?
Science’s New Leap Into Enhancing One’s DNA Through Better Gene Expression
When you stop to think about it, barely 10 years ago was when the first map of all the genes in human beings emerged. With it, came leaps in understanding about the workings of the body: One’s DNA, it turns out, is not fixed at all, and outside influences – lifestyle, thinking, nutrition, nurturing, and environmental factors – actually influence the way genes express in our bodies. In fact, we now know that genetic expression comes from generations before us and will continue for the generations after us. Today, the debate is not nature versus nurture. We have evolved into understanding that it is nature plus nurture.
Science has now evolved into a revolutionary new way of understanding the body and the influences on genes other than one’s DNA. More and more health professionals are beginning to embrace epigenetics, the study of factors that influence gene expression other than DNA. My new book, The Gene Therapy Plan: Taking Control of Your Genetic Destiny with Diet and Lifestyle presents the latest science behind epigenetics and how each individual can take simple steps to alter gene expression that was inherited and to enhance gene expression for one’s life and for one’s children and the generations after them.
The scientific breakthroughs in this field of epigenetics are revolutionary in their approach and have huge implications for an individual’s participation in his or her own health. My book, due in April from Viking, outlines simple steps that have profound effects on one’s personal health. I wrote it for those who may have challenges from chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. I also wrote it for those without chronic illness who want to keep their bodies at optimal functioning and thereby reduce the likelihood of future illnesses – for themselves, their children, and generations far into the future. As an integrative oncologist for more than 30 years, I have seen first-hand how a patient’s participation in his or her health through diet and lifestyle changes can extend life as well as enhance the quality of life.
But back to the beginning:
What Is a Gene and Gene Expression?
If you look at the double helix that defines the ladder-like shape of one’s DNA, it may just look like an interesting spiral. What you can’t see is that genes make up the double helix ladder shape. Each rung is one gene. And – there are 3 billion chemical base pairs that comprise the human DNA. That’s a whole lot of activity constantly shaping and expressing in one’s body.
Looking deeper into the spiral, we know that inside the nucleus of every cell in our body are chromosomes, and they hold strands of this double helix. In addition, all of that is made from the proteins we eat. The genetic ladder, then, holds our genetic code, and it’s safe to say that our nutrition, our mental state, and our lifestyle choices can change the way that genes manifest in our bodies. Also, the way that electrons surround the nucleus of atoms is not strictly circular. Their activity has a much larger range of patterns; this understanding will help inform the way that we look at genetic health in the future.
When I talk about Gene Expression I am referring to the ways that genes express in the body – for good (optimal health) or for bad (disease). While some genes are fixed, such as our height, hair color, etcetera, there are thousands and thousands of leftover genes referred to as “junk genes.” These non-fixed genes are where the new science of epigenetics is focused. Each individual can take actions to help repair damaged genes or optimize genes for better functionality. Our destiny is not fixed.
The Science of Epigenetics
Nutritional epigenetics is a key area where individual actions can directly affect gene expression. My book talks about the specific health benefits of nutritional supplements and gives recipes tailored to certain needs: for example, garlic and fresh salmon are great ways to cut inflammation in the body (and that means that when the cells are not inflamed, our immune systems can function better). Other lifestyle choices, such as meditation to reduce stress and home environments with low toxic loads have an actual, measurable effect on enhancing gene expression. In fact, countless scientific studies have documented how meditation and chanting can reduce the stress hormone, cortisol. Other recent studies have linked the effects of early nurturing (in utero and as infants) and how nurturing most likely leads to better brain functioning and less fight-or-flight responses later in life.
Here are some other interesting discoveries in the field of epigenetics in the last couple of decades:
- The optimal function of the digestive tract goes beyond our digestion and absorption of food. It also comprises about 85% of our immune system. So, the phrase, “we are what we eat” takes on dramatic new meaning.
- In addition to pumping blood, the heart is a type of brain that actually stores memories. Interestingly, in the Pali language, heart and mind are one word (citta). The ancients knew in their own wisdom that the two entities function as one and that what affects one, affects the other.
As an integrative oncologist, my vow “to do no harm” informs all of my research and treatment of patients. As the field of medicine embraces modalities that enhance traditional healing, the fixed ways of viewing the body and its systems, will continue to expand our individual support of these systems. Epigenetics is the newest frontier in this more holistic view and treatment of the body. Fortunately, more and more science has documented the direct effect on genes from various influences, such as diet, lifestyle and mental equilibrium.
Major Influencers on Optimum Genetic Expression
I outline simple and easy steps that each of us can take to enhance our genetic expression in The Gene Therapy Plan (preorders are available at all major bookstores and Amazon)
My new blog, www.genechanger.com, focuses exclusively on epigenetic breakthroughs and offers new tips, suggestions, articles, and scientific evidence for their efficacy every week. You’ll also find links to my guided meditations and healing sound therapies that I have created to augment health. We also provide links to other interesting tips, research, and perspectives in this field.
The main areas that I outline for optimizing gene expression are Lifestyle Choices, Nutritional Supplements, Diet, and Mind Balancing. Briefly,
Lifestyle choices: This includes exercise, reducing stress, living and working in a low-toxic environment. Yoga combines mind and body benefits. Toxic chemicals should be left out of our environments: Never heat dishes wrapped in cellophane or in plastic containers in the microwave. “Plasticizers,” the chemicals that make plastic, are highly toxic and when heated, their toxicity grows exponentially.
Nutritional Supplements: Different supplements support health in specific ways. For instance, Olive Oil reduces cholesterol; Green Tea increases the body’s basic metabolic rate; Chaga Mushroom is one of the world’s strongest antioxidant foods; Turmeric is an anti-cancer powerhouse. The list of beneficial supplements grows every year, and nutritional experts are constantly evolving their understanding of the vast positive effects of various supplements.
Diet: This is a key area where an individual can directly optimize their health on a daily basis. My new book includes many food and juicing recipes tailored to specific benefits. Briefly, cruciferous vegetables are both anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer. Choose whole grains, but skip the “multigrain” foods. Cassava, beans, peas, and yams provide complex carbs for pumping up energy.
Mind Balancing: Meditation and guided music meditations have been proven scientifically to reduce stress hormones, thereby enhancing the body’s natural health and equilibrium. Twenty minutes a day is a powerful way to support your body’s natural inclination to find harmony. Sound, as in Tibetan singing bowls or chanting, adds another dimension to the healing. There are guided meditations that will be appearing soon on this site and links to original sound healing meditations that I composed are posted on www.genechanger.com
Our bodies are not static. Destiny is not fixed. There are, literally, hundreds of different ways that you as an individual can enhance your gene expression and reduce adverse health risk to you and your descendants.
What’s With The Genes is changing the way, literally, that we can optimize our very DNA; change the outcome of our illnesses; create a base line of continuous, vital health; and support a mind-body-heart paradigm that will thrive in the present and last far into the future.
Welcome to the world of Gene Changers. It is my privilege to share with you the science behind the breakthroughs in epigenetics and to show you simple steps that you can take today to change your past – and your future.
“Stress and Anxiety, Possbile Complications,” New York Times, Oct. 18, 2014.
“DNA Is Not Destiny: The New Science of Epigenetics,” Ethan Walters, Discover Magazine, November, 2006.
“Change Your Genes, Change Your Destiny With Epigenetics,” Deane Alban, www.bebrainfit.com
“Beyond The Brain,” James Shreeve, National Geographic, 2003.
“Epigenetics: How to Alter Your Genes,” Chris Bell, The Telegraph, October 16, 2013.
“Microwaving and Plastic: Healthy or Not?” Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide.
“We Are Not Victims of Heredity,” Bruce Lipton, Ph.D., www.creationsmagazine.com
“Why Your DNA May Not Be Your Destiny,” Denise Chow, LiveScience, June 04, 2013.
“Mind and Mental Factors: Ayya Khema quote, “In Pali, heart and mind are one,” Oct. 6, 2011, www.viewonbuddhism.org