We are Not Our Genes and the Power of Epigenetics
Thinking of upgrading your mind, body and life? If so, then the science of epigenetics and how you can hack your environment to change your gene expression will be of much interest to you.
Several years ago my Mom’s cancer diagnosis led me to delve into studies around nutrition, lifestyle and the science of epigenetics.
New research may now indicate that cancer is only 10% hereditary and 90% influenced by our environment and its triggers. 90%! THIS is the science of epigenetics, which revolves around the following concept:
Signals from our environment control if and how our genes are expressed. We are NOT victims of our genes. We can change our response to life and environment.
Dr. Bruce Lipton (aka, the Father of Epigenetics) states that “Epigenetics doesn’t change the genetic code, it changes how that’s read. Perfectly normal genes can result in cancer or death. Vice-versa, in the right environment, mutant genes won’t be expressed. Genes are equivalent to blueprints; epigenetics is the contractor. They change the assembly, the structure.”
Epigenetics is a hugely important field of study, as it really is a sort of paradigm shift. Instead of the traditional belief that if we are unlucky enough to have “bad genes,” then that’s simply our lot in life, now we know that our environment (aka, foods, toxins, etc.) can play a big role in altering the readings of our DNA (not changing our DNA, but either activating or silencing genes).
In very simplistic terms, epigenetics is the field of study that looks at biological pathways and mechanisms that have the power to switch genes on and off. As a certified health and lifestyle coach, my philosophy is strongly influenced by this idea, as we have the power to alter our own lifestyle and gene expression.
The Epigenetic process — It’s about environmental signals and our proteins, not our genes:
The human body is made up of billions of cells, and they are at the base of every bodily function. Our DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is essentially the instructions given to our cells. We each hold a different DNA sequence, which means that those sets of “instructions” are written in a distinct way for each individual. Genes are at the base of those sequences and tell our body how to produce proteins that trigger biological reactions.
Our cells are made up of 150,000 proteins, which are our body’s building blocks. Protein molecules are unique and can change shape due to signals/triggers from our environment (emotions, toxins, foods, etc.). Fascinatingly, this means (and is the essence of epigenetics) that we can alter our environment and change our genetic outcome.
Our genetic outcome (aka, genes being switched on or off) is largely determined by how signals from the environment are received by the cell membrane. The process begins when a signal from our environment (food, toxins, emotions, etc) is received by receptor proteins on the cell membrane. Receptor proteins then communicate with each other and alter their forms depending on the signal/message received, and then take that information to the chromosome. Ultimately, this decides/influences if the gene will be expressed (activated) or not.
How To Change Your Gene Expression Using Epigenetics
Dr Bruce Lipton states “(Genes) cannot turn themselves on or off, in scientific terms, genes are not self emergent. Something in the environment has to trigger gene activity.”
There are three primary ways that we can control our gene expression through epigenetics. Consider the following, and then we’ll get to some key, actionable steps you can take starting today.
Emotions stay with us and have profound effects not only psychologically, but also physically. Imagine that every single thought and emotion and our way of reacting to stressors in our environment affect the way that our cells are influenced and transformed. This occurs each moment of every day, and it is a phenomenon that we have the power to change.
Remember that how you perceive and react to environmental triggers create different responses. The mind sends signals, the brain releases chemicals, and these messages are sent to our cells. Think, if you see someone that is in love, they are producing huge amounts of the feel-good hormones, dopamine and oxytocin. These hormones alter our brain chemistry to fulfill the growth potential of cells. Fear, on the other hand, releases a different set of chemicals (mainly stress hormones and inflammatory agents), which signals the cells to stop growing.
Environmental factors aren’t all within our control, but many are. Our home and surrounding environment makes a significant impact on our genetic expression, from the air we breath and the water we drink to what we put on our skin. Toxins found in processed foods, commercially raised meats, chemical-laden beauty products and more can have serious consequences on our hormonal balance and cell signaling. While you might not be able to pick up and move if you live in a polluted city, you probably can eat the highest quality foods possible and omit junk food, for example.
Manage Your Stress
One study done by Dr. Dean Ornish on prostate cancer patients compared two groups. The first group received conventional medical treatments, while the second group received only lifestyle modifications with no medication. They underwent stress reduction techniques, and within 90 days, 500 genes that influenced prostate cancer development had been altered.
This is an excellent example of how stress can truly undermine all other attempts we might make at being healthy. On a chemical level, stress wreaks absolute havoc on our body and brain.
Actionable Steps You Can Start Today
- Intention, Words and Emotions
By simply stating, thinking and believing statements such as “heart disease runs in my family, so I will get heart disease,” we are outputting a lot of negative energy, which can also affect how we manifest (or don’t manifest) certain diseases and conditions. We now know that based on science and research, that we hold the power to influence our gene expression. Due to environmental factors and our own actions, our genes can be turned on or off, therefore becoming either active or dormant.
Instead of using this energy negatively to tell ourselves we are “destined” to get sick, why not channel this energy into creating positivity and healthy intentions? Whether this means finding creative outlets, spending more time with friends and loved ones or working with a coach, lessening negative thinking is top priority.
2. Omit Toxins in Your Food and Environment
This category involves dietary and environmental and mold toxins, as well as any other part of your surrounding environment that could be negatively effecting your gene expression. Not all of this we have control over, but a lot of it, we do.
Top priority includes the water we drink (purified and ionized with minerals is ideal), how we cook our food (lightly steamed to ensure maximum nutrient absorption and omitting rancid oils), and how we store our food (being aware of plastics that contain endocrine disruptors). Always opting for organic and non-toxic produce and meats whenever possible is key, along with including plenty of healthy fats and protein sources and avoiding processed and packaged foods.
While you’re at it, omit toxic hygiene, beauty and household cleaning products.
3. Practice Relaxation Techniques
Just like therapy or talking to a good friend is critical to mental and emotional health, relaxation techniques are essential for overall health (psychological and physical). Stress management techniques can be whatever works for you, and might include meditation, yoga, deep breathing or long walks. (Re) teaching yourself how to breathe and relax can make a world of difference in achieving and maintaining a healthy body and brain.
The field of epigenetics continues evolving and adding depth and new science to alternative healing modalities and to mainstream medicine. With that said, conventional, western medicine certainly has its (important) place in the treatment of disease.
If you are interested in learning more and exploring your own gene expression, consider testing with 23andme. This cutting edge lab offers some incredible insight into your DNA, family tree and your personal genetics and gene expression. You can analyze your own methylation process, which is linked to detoxification pathways, immune function, cardiovascular function and cellular repair, along with learning about your personal risk factors for food sensitivities and allergies and much more.
Don’t fall into the trap of believing your genes control your future, and your health. Take matters into your own hands by making the necessary mental, emotional, diet and lifestyle changes, and consider testing to learn more.
Radhika is a former executive turned health and lifestyle coach. She works with busy women to enhance their energy, improve mental performance, and upgrade their lives — mind-body-energy. Her unique lifestyle formula empowers her clients to deeply connect with their cravings, desires, and inner truth so that they achieve the whole self-upgrade they’re after. Click here to read her ebook on “10 ways to master stress and cultivate inner peace.”