Traditionally January prompts all sorts of resolutions – so how about resolving to improve your genetic health?
Historically medical scientists believed that our biological destiny was determined by our genes. In this way, it was seen that if heart disease, cancer or diabetes were part of our family history then we would inevitably develop these. However, thanks to a growing body of genetic research we now know that our genes do not determine our destiny. While we cannot alter the structure of genes or the sequence of our DNA, we can influence the activity of our genes to create good health and well-being.
This understanding is new and belongs to a growing field known as epigenetics. This is the study of the epigene, the complex sheath of proteins that surrounds DNA and it is here that the various genes are switched on and off.
Though our genes remain the same throughout our lifetimes their activity is constantly changing from year to year and minute to minute. So much so that the genetic read out of identical twins is the same at birth but considerably different by the age of 70 by which time they are no closer than two siblings who are not identical twins!
We inherit approximately 23,000 genes from our parents and some of these genes will include genetic mutations, these variations can affect how the gene expresses itself in your body. While 95% of disease related gene mutations increase your risk factor for a disease, crucially, they do not predict the disease. In other words, just because you carry a genetic mutations that predisposes you to heart disease, you are not destined to develop it. Only 5% of disease related gene mutations are fully penetrant, which means that they will directly cause a disorder.
This is exciting and empowering information as it means that we have the ability to influence the expression of 95% of disease related gene mutations, including genes for Alzheimer’s, heart disease and diabetes. Amongst others the work of Bruce Lipton in ‘Biology of Belief’ allows us to see that our internal environment instantly impacts our cellular make up and not the other way around. Through our daily lifestyle choices we can optimise how our genes behave, helping to turn off the genes that promote good health and turn off the genes that promote illness.
The new view provided by epigentics allows us to see that positive lifestyle changes such as meditation, stress reduction, good sleep, a balanced diet, moderate exercise and even feeling happy and loving have a beneficial effect reaching right down to our genetic level. Within a very short period of time these changes can alter the activity of 500 genes according to the findings of Dr Dean Ornish in his Ted talk ‘Your genes are not your fate’.
These little lifestyle changes can have a transformational impact on our health and well-being and may just be the resolutions worth keeping….