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
There is a theory in biology known as the “sexy son” hypothesis. It postulates that females choose partners irrespective of their value as a husband because of their physical attractiveness. Desirable traits such as fidelity and sensitivity may be subconsciously disregarded since these males will be more likely to produce sons with greater reproductive success, which will ensure that the female’s genes survive and spread further in the gene pool through having more grandchildren.
However, having good genes is not just a matter of success in attracting a mate. Physical attractiveness is not a predictor of long life or good health. Are there some individuals who win first prize in the gene lottery from the longevity point of view, and what is it that might make a gene ‘good’?
Genes are not just passive strands of DNA, but are part of an elaborate inner factory which makes up nature’s nanotechnology. They can be turned on or off by chemical messages sent by prompts in the inner and outer environments. A mutation can occur in a gene when the environment causes a change in the DNA’s amino acids. If the change is “bad” and these proteins can no longer do their job properly, the gene may become “bad” in the individual’s environment. Whether a mutation is beneficial or harmful depends on what the external circumstances demand – if you get a gene that burns energy faster you can run faster, but if there is not enough food available you may starve. Until now we have tended to think that diseases and disabilities are caused by the genes we inherit from our parents, but it appears that the environment – our diet, lifestyle, stress and emotions – can alter how a specific gene behaves throughout life. In this way a good gene inherited from a healthy, attractive or intelligent father can turn bad and the opposite is also true.
The DNA sequence does not change in response to environmental signals, but the gene function does. Epigenetics studies the signals which turn genes on and off, and these signals can be chemical or electromagnetic. Studies have shown that telomeres can even get longer in response to a healthy electromagnetic environment. However, children who have been raised in a household where a parent suffers from a mental disorder are more prone to stress-related disease. Exposing ourselves to violent scenes and images can cause further epigenetic modulation. Studies of the differing life-spans and diseases encountered by identical twins are clear evidence that having good genes is not enough. When we understand that with every feeling and thought we have we are engineering our DNA, it gives us an enormous degree of control over how and when we age.
Stress changes the chemical composition of our bodies. The science of epigenetics suggests it may therefore be possible to consciously engineer our cells by sending them signals created by thoughts and emotions. Beliefs can trigger or de-activate genes. As aging is caused by DNA damage, here is a visualisation exercise to help the body to repair the strands of DNA that have been imperfectly reproduced. Select a piece of inspiring music and close your eyes.
Visualise a dark forest, at the end of which is an expanse of ocean, glistening in the moonlight. Walk to the edge of the forest. There are orbs of light entering and exiting the forest.
This is the outer cell wall. The orbs are oxygen and carbon dioxide.
There are two tall trees either side of the path – one with a silver bark on the right and one with a dark bark on the left. We ask permission – of God, “Source”, our higher self – to get into a boat moored on the shore. Acknowledge the right silver tree as Jakin, greet the left-hand darker tree as Boaz, and then get into the boat and row out onto the water.
The water is choppy. The sky is stormy, full of white and dark clouds of different shapes and sizes and birds swirl above your head.
The cell is a place of frenzied activity. The water is the cytoplasm, the white clouds are chains of amino acids, changing their shape like contortionists, the dark clouds are the mitochondria, full of energy waiting to be spent, the birds are the proteins, the workers in the cell.
Eventually in the storm we see a light. It is coming from a lighthouse; our boat is washed against the wall of the lighthouse. We alight onto a step. Knock three times on the door and it will open.
This is the cell nucleus. Inside it is the stuff of life, our DNA.
Inside we see a magnificent tower of spiral steps, the double helix, stretching up as far as the eye can see. Climb those steps and stop at a rung marked with the body part we wish to regenerate – skin, heart, liver etc. Repeat three times, “Regeneration is more natural than degeneration”.
In our mind’s eye, feel the wind enter the lighthouse. It swirls and howls around the spiral steps. It has a fresh, pleasant smell, it is refreshing, not cold, and it is carrying glistening strands of algae, which slot into place where there is damage, restoring the DNA to its original form. Repeat three times, “DNA damage is being reversed”.
When the algae have restored all the damaged strands we picture ourselves descending the stairs, taking the boat back over the sea, now calm, to the shore. We re-enter the forest, and open our eyes.
 Jakin and Boaz were the 2 columns at the entrance of Solomon’s temple. In the Kabbal Jakin and Boaz are the 2 pillars of the tree of life.