It's never too late to switch on your good genes.
Lunch Hour Lesson #8
As my last Lunch Hour Lesson of 2018, I want to end the year on a hopeful note. I’m going to talk about the emerging science of epigenetics.
Once I learned what epigenetics was, it changed how I thought about genetics and heredity, particularly in relation to disease.
But first, let’s go back to April 14, 2003. That is when it was announced that the Human Genome Project had been successfully completed, effectively giving us a map of all the potential genes in the human body.
Unfortunately, the project hasn’t been a cure-all. Genes have been found that link directly to disease, and it is a lot easier to find them now that the genome has been sequenced. But, it turns out that many diseases or abnormalities are not purely the result of a genetic component.
In fact, there are many genes that will never even be expressed in the body unless the right conditions exist. It’s like they’re there, but dormant.
That’s where the science of epigenetics comes in. It’s like a second wave in the understanding of our genes. Epigenetics (literally “upon the gene”) explains that basically, our genes have switches on them that can be turned on or off depending on how we influence them with dietary and lifestyle factors.
For example, you may inherit genes from your mother that make you susceptible to breast cancer. Or genes from your father that make you particularly at risk for diabetes.
If, as you live your life, your diet and lifestyle include more damaging than protective factors, these genes could be turned on, and be allowed to be expressed. This could eventually lead to a diagnosis of the dreaded disease.
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On the other hand, if your diet and lifestyle includes more protective than damaging factors, the genes could be turned off, and be prevented from expressing themselves. You would not ever manifest the disease. Or you may begin the disease process, but your body chemistry and immune system are so strong that you’re readily brought back into a state of health.
With only genes in mind and not knowing about these epigenetic switches, it’s really easy to adopt a fatalistic view when we see the weak points in our family’s health history. We may think that we are destined to get these diseases. Possibly drugs or surgery can offer some reassurance, but these treatments are often devastating for quality of life. This is not a hopeful scenario.
But I did say that this was a hopeful message 🙂 It is true that knowledge is power, because with the knowledge that epigenetic switches exist, a person has the power to improve quality of life and at the same time go a long way towards preventing the negative possibilities that lurk in our genes.
So what are the protective lifestyle and dietary factors that switch on the good genes and switch off the bad ones? Here are some examples:
Protective Foods: Organ meats like liver, organic meats and seafood, full-fat dairy, eggs (especially the yolks), butter, lots of vegetables, sea salt, mineral-rich water, and little to no added sugar.
Protective Lifestyle: Plenty of supportive exercise that doesn’t ramp up your stress response like walking, gentle yoga, tai chi, and resistance training (in moderation). Prioritize and optimize sleep. Make time for leisure activities like reading, watching a funny movie, taking a bath, drawing, or playing music.
Introduce one new protective food this weekend, and try out a protective lifestyle habit.
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