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Your DNA Expression - Your Health

Your DNA is the essence of who you are. It determines every nuance about you: what you look like, your aptitudes, how you will grow and change. Up until now, it seemed that DNA was pre-determined and unchangeable, but recent science tells us it isn’t as cut and dry as we thought. Scientists have discovered that we have the potential to change how our genes express themselves. This means you have so much more control over your health than you ever thought possible.

"DNA is the blueprint we are given as part of the double helix strand in our chromosomes. The other part is made of protein that acts as a covering over the double helix, similar to how skin covers our bodies. Environmental factors that we are exposed to influence the activation of some DNA and also the regulation of the protein that can read or trigger the expression of said DNA."  - Jess Lee, Huffington Post, 12-12-14

“Epigenetics” is the new science that studies how lifestyle, environment, and the mind can impact your body chemistry and change how our cells read and signal our genes. Epigenetics is radical in that it challenges the common misconception that DNA is destiny. Instead of being fated to certain diseases and characteristics, we are able to influence our gene expression, although most of the time we are doing this unknowingly. This new paradigm challenges us to ask “how can we have more control over this process?” 

No Seriously, You Are What You Eat

"Each nutrient, each interaction, each experience can manifest itself through biochemical changes that ultimately dictate gene expression, whether at birth or 40 years down the road." -  Fred Tyson, Ph.D., National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).

Diet plays a huge role in gene expression. The evidence for diet having major effects on how our genes express themselves is growing rapidly. Science points to various compounds turning on and off various gene functions. A 2008 study exposing mouse brains to high blood sugar led to epigenetic changes which could increase vascular damage. These gene adjustments lasted 6 days, indicating long-term damage.

In another study, pregnant mice with the agouti gene, which makes them obese and prone to early death via cancer and diabetes, were given a diet rich in methyl molecules. These molecules are found in many foods including onions, garlic, beets and in supplements such as choline, folic acid, betain and vitamin B12. Even though the gene for cancer and diabetes was passed along to the offspring, the unique diet had added a chemical switch to the gene that dimmed the gene's harmful effects—essentially “turning off” the gene in the babies, rendering them healthier and slimmer throughout their lifetime.

Study after study shows various chemical compounds from natural foods such as vegetables, fish and meats, nuts, and other foods like alcohol and sugar have immediate and dramatic effects on the epigenome. This tells us that, at the core, we are truly shaped by what we consume. If something as simple as food can have profound effects. It begs the question, what other “regular” things could be affecting your gene expression?

As You Believe, So You Shall Become
In his book The Biology of Belief, Dr. Bruce Lipton, a pioneer in molecular biology and epigenetics, discusses how the genetic activity of our cells is affected by the chemistry derived from our brain via the bloodstream. Since our thoughts and perceptions directly affect our brain chemistry, the environment for our cells depends upon how we perceive our environment. Our perceptions are rooted in our beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. Ultimately, our beliefs in the moment and over time affect our gene expression.

“The way we “perceive” our environment controls our health and fate. Most importantly, when we change the way we respond to the environment we change our health and fate.”  -  Bruce Lipton

The powerful connections between perception and health are shown in numerous studies in which a sugar pill placebo has the same symptom treatment success equal to the drug administered to control group.  Another unique example of the power of the mind is when patients with dissociative identity disorder/multiple personality disorder were able to change physical characteristics such as visual acuity (think eye exams) or blisters within seconds of changing personalities. If our minds can affect our bodies to such a degree, how do our “everyday” perceptions and beliefs affect our health?

Stress and Perception: To Freak or Not to Freak
Most of the time, in everyday modern, first-world human life, we are not being chased by lions or threatened by harm or death yet we still generate stress in our relatively comfortable surroundings. This suggests that our stress has almost everything to do with perception. Even though “real” threats are scarce, our perception of circumstances or our perception of the future signal stress triggers, which unleash a cascade of over 500 biochemical events that undoubtedly have an effect on our bodies.

While short-term stress responses serve us in life-threatening emergencies, what happens when we perceive constant stress—does the mind ever really come down from these stress perceptions? And if not, what chemicals are we marinating ourselves in day in and day out, year after year? What does that do to our gene expression? We certainly know stress is one of the leading causes of death, but even if we don’t die, what could we have avoided genetically without those stress chemicals coursing through our system? Numerous studies show how stress turns off the body’s growth and thriving chemicals, but it doesn’t just affect one individual.

Handing Down the Stress of Trauma
A clear example that stress can also affect the genes or "epigenetic inheritance" of future generations is highlighted in a study from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. Thirty-two Jewish men and women who were traumatized in some way during WWII passed on a stress-related gene that affects how humans cope with our surroundings. The holocaust survivors and their offspring had the same epigenetic tags in a specific area, but these were not found in any of the control group of Jewish families and offspring not living in Europe during WWII. Further, the research team ruled out the offspring suffering any trauma themselves.

“To our knowledge, this provides the first demonstration of transmission of pre-conception stress effects resulting in epigenetic changes in both the exposed parents and their offspring in humans,” - Rachel Yehuda, research team leader

Although we cannot prevent being traumatized by unforeseen events in life, we can realize that our everyday stress not only affects our own epigenetic markers, but also those of our progeny.

Push-ups and Poisons: Other Things That Affect Your Gene Expression
What else affects our gene expression? Exercise and environmental toxins, for starters.

Epigentics, the alteration of genetic expression from influences coming from outside the gene, occurs mainly through methylation—a process in which a methyl group (three hydrogens and a carbon) is attached to DNA. Studies are showing the role of exercise in methylation and the great potential it has in shaping the gene expression. The good news is that these studies suggest just a few hours of exercise may protect the body from metabolic disease.

"We can no longer argue whether genes or environment has a greater impact on our health and development, because both are inextricably linked."  - Randy Jirtle, Ph.D.

Environmental toxins influence epigenetics as much as diet and exercise:

"Most recently, researchers from Washington State University, led by biology professor Michael Skinner, reported last month that short-term exposure of pregnant rats to several kinds of chemicals caused ovarian disease not just in their daughters but also in two subsequent generations of females." [source]

Perhaps this is the tip of the iceberg of what scientists will discover in epigenetics. It is obvious that several factors are at play in how your DNA will manifest and that it is open to change. If we can influence and change our gene expression, the obvious next step is to find out what is most positively impactful to that end.

You Don’t Have to Be Like Your Parents:  Influencing Your DNA Expression
When we look at the variety of factors that affect DNA expression, the new insights from the realm of epigenetics imply that healthy lifestyle practices are fundamental—not optional—to having a great quality of life.

The fact that we can influence and even control how your genes express themselves is game changing. The game of life which is greatly defined by our health is now in our hands to a large degree. We may not have to be just like our parents when it comes to our health. The question is, how will you attempt to positively influence your gene expression?

Get in the Driver’s Seat
By their ability to modulate and control gene expression, food and dietary supplements can intiate cellular behavior for beneficial effects such as improving our health, burning fat, or strengthening our immune system. Wise choices in nutrition are a way we can consciously influence our DNA for healthful and positive functions for our bodies and our minds.

Consider doing a 360-degree look at your lifestyle and your beliefs, and identify what changes would be most impactful for you. What will produce a better environment for your cells?

  • Diet and nutrition – Try upgrading your diet to natural foods, supplements, and pure water.
  • Exercise – It’s time to move it. In no universe is it better to not exercise.
  • De-stress and think positive – Now that you know brain chemistry has an effect what will you do? Adjusting perceptions of the world and your response to it is a tall order, but is achievable—and necessary—for the mind to truly release stress triggers.
  • Detox your environment  – Control what you can control through being discerning with what you buy, how you dispose of waste, what you put on your skin and how you live. We are all connected.

Even though perceptions and beliefs play a key role in our body chemistry, remember this: Action reinforces belief. Belief reinforces action and the cycle, when guided in the right direction, can have a huge impact on your health and your quality of life. Perhaps you don’t have to end up with the same health challenges as your ancestors and maybe your children won’t either.

Embrace Your Possibilities
Epigenetics is such a new and complex field of study we are just beginning to understand what this new perspective in science will mean for humanity. One thing is clear from the beginning: how we live and our environment does affect our gene expression. The old paradigms of identity, heredity, and disease are crumbling and a new model for health is right in front of us.  Where will you take this new model for health in your life? What is possible?

Richard G. Hunter, "Epigenetic effects of stress and corticosteroids in the brain," Apr. 19, 2012.
Duke University Medical Center, "'Epigenetics' Means What We Eat, How We Live And Love, Alters How Our Genes Behave," Oct. 27, 2005.
Helen Thomson, "Study of Holocaust survivors finds trauma passed on to children's genes," Aug. 13, 2015.
Ethan Watters, "DNA Is Not Destiny: The New Science of Epigenetics," Nov. 22, 2006.
Dr. Bruce Lipton, "How Our Thoughts Control Our DNA," Jun.10, 2014.
Daniel Goleman, Probing the Enigma of Multiple Personality," Jun. 28, 1988.
Vaibhav A. Diwadkar, Angela Bustamante, Harinder Rai1 and Monica Uddin, "Epigenetics, stress, and their potential impact on brain network    function: a focus on the schizophrenia diatheses," Jun. 23,2014.
Hannah Waters, "Exercise Alters Epigenetics,"| Mar. 6, 2012.
Gretchen Reynolds, "How Exercise Changes Our DNA," Dec. 17, 2014.
Sang-Woon Choi3, Simonetta Friso, "Epigenetics: A New Bridge between Nutrition and Health," 2010.
Austin Perlmutter, MD, "Dietary Epigenetics: New Frontiers," 2014.


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