Is there anyone left who still believes in genetic determinism?
It is now accepted that DNA is not our destiny. While anyone claiming you can change your DNA would have been laughed out of the room a few years ago, once again science fiction has turned out to be fact, and the science of epigenetics shows that more than anything the environment – inner and outer – determines our health and longevity.
Obviously we are all born with a DNA sequence. Our general appearance is dictated at birth. However, lifestyle, our emotional world and what happens to us greatly affect how we look. These external factors to our DNA switch genes on and off all the time. The science of switching on genes is known as epigenetics.
Since the discovery of genes, a creeping victim mentality has overtaken the world. If we can do nothing about our genetic heritage then why bother trying to live longer and more healthily? Genetic determinism created a culture of irresponsibility and recklessness about our health. When your time’s up, your time’s up went the saying.
Not so fast. Even if a disease runs in a family, and even if we have inherited the gene for it, through lifestyle and mindfulness there is a huge amount we can do to prevent triggering that gene. Research (at the University of Bologna) is beginning to show that DNA can be altered through magnetic fields, positive mental states and – crucially though this is still controversial – intention.
Since all cells contain the same DNA, but differentiate to form skin, organs or bone for example, research is being done to reprogram cells back to a state where they can redifferentiate into any cell in the body.
So far it has been shown we can change our DNA expression in the following ways:
• Meditation. The relaxation response was studied in groups of individuals in the US, France and Spain. After just eight hours of meditation, the individuals showed molecular differences, altered levels of gene-regulation and reduced levels of pro-inflammatory genes, which promotes rapid recovery from stress.
“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first paper that shows rapid alterations in gene expression associated with mindfulness meditation practice,” says study author Richard J. Davidson, founder of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds and the William James and Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“Most interestingly, the changes were observed in genes that are the current targets of anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs,” says Perla Kaliman, a researcher at the Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona, Spain where the molecular analyses were conducted.
• Therapy and changing learned behaviour. Eric Kandel the Austrian-American neuropsychiatrist and Nobel Prize winner has claimed that psychotherapy produces changes in gene expression that alter the anatomical pattern of nerve cells in the brain.
• Stress reduction techniques (leisure activities, changing negative thoughts etc..) These ‘psychosocial’ techniques are thought to change gene expression and alter brain structure.
• Intentionality. At the Institute of HeartMath in Boulder Creek, an experienced meditator was given three DNA samples and was instructed to unwind two through intentional visualisation. By creating a calm state of emotional and physical harmony the meditator succeeded in unwinding two samples and left the third unchanged. If further experiments confirm that this is possible, then DNA visualisation techniques in meditation are a powerful way of controlling our ageing and our health (see meditation blog entries).
• Exercise. Researchers compared activity in muscle-related genes before and after exercise. After a single 20 minute workout the participants’ DNA showed less methylation (a molecular process involved in ageing). Methylation is a process in which chemicals called methyl groups land on the DNA and limit the cells’ ability to access, or switch on, certain genes.
• Beliefs. Eric Kandel concluded that many genetic differences between us are due to conditioning and the society we grew up in, rather than fixed in the raw material we inherited from our parents. However, there is growing evidence that these epigenetic changes can be included in the DNA passed on to the next generation, a theory known as Lamarckism which until recently was discredited as an old wives’ tale.
• Diet. The following foods reduce DNA methylation:
– cruciferous vegetables, e.g. broccoli, cauliflower.
– foods high in folic acid, e.g. liver, egg yolk, dried beans.
– foods high in antioxidants, e.g. berries.
– foods high in vitamin B12, e.g. liver, meat, eggs.
– foods high in amino acids and B complex vitamins, e.g. spinach, eggs.
99.9% of our genes are the same. The differences between us depend on which genes are switched on. This in turn depends on the environment and social conditioning of certain beliefs and behaviours.
So, good news again. We can control our destiny.Share this