Lowering Your Stress Could Help Control Your Genes

April 7, 2010

By Dr. Carolyn Anderson

Outdated Thoughts on Genetics
We have more control over our health and well being than was previously thought. Conventional medicine in the past has led us to believe that our genetic makeup determined our susceptibility to many diseases. We were supposed to play the cards we were dealt.

If you had a strong family history of heart disease you would likely have heart disease. If you had a strong family history of cancer then maybe you had “the cancer gene” and would also get cancer. If you had a family history of depression or anxiety then there was a good chance you would suffer from these problems.

New Research on Genetics
The latest research is finding this to be false. Instead of our genetic makeup being completely fixed it is actually fluid. Based on the habits and the lifestyle you follow, you can control which genes are turned on or off and therefore significantly impact your health and well being.

Certainly it is a good idea to be aware of your family history so you can follow preventative medicine and be screened for disorders you may be more susceptible to. But I think the important thing to remember is that you MIGHT be more susceptible to them. This does not mean you will suffer from them.

I have read that our genetic makeup accounts for 1/3 of what occurs and the lifestyle we follow accounts for 2/3. I have not been able to find a study to confirm this percentage but what I do believe is that new and fascinating research is indicating that we can control the expression of our genes by what we do.

There has been a realization that genes only affect you if they are switched on, they have no effect if they are switched off. The status of your health is determined by a lifelong process that turns off and on different genes. Some genes turn on and off on a fixed schedule but many of them are turned on or off dependent on a person’s behavior and lifestyle.

When the human genome was mapped out 10 years ago, it was felt we could attribute a specific gene to every specific disorder. It was quickly discovered that the story was not that simple. Over the last number of years, the genome of thousands of individuals has been mapped and it turns out there are at least 3 million differences in the genetic makeup of two individuals. This is a huge number considering we have only about 30,000 genes. Having the gene attributed to a particular disorder does not guarantee you will suffer from this disorder. It will only impact your health if the gene is turned on. So what determines whether these genes are turned on or off and which ones are turned on or off?

Epigenes Control the Behavior of Genes
The answer may lie in what is termed the epigenes, a complex of proteins that wraps around each strand of DNA. Somehow this protein seems to trigger a gene to turn off and on. When an epigene is affected by your diet, lifestyle, or stress level it won’t change the DNA that you inherited at birth but it will drastically change the behavior of that gene. If an epigene can tell your DNA to prevent a tumor from growing, or stop it from growing once it starts, then cancer could be defeated by asking a cell to behave differently. If the epigene controls what switches genes off and on, how then can we impact the function of the epigenes?

Although much more scientific work needs to be done it seems that lifestyle changes and decreasing levels of stress can favorably impact the expression of your genetic makeup. Try the following to decrease stress and help you to live in the moment. Tuning into your body will help it to function better at all levels, possibly even down to the level of your epigenes.

Suggestions to Reduce Stress

  • Keep regular hours. Eating and sleeping on a regular schedule is healthy for your body
  • Sleep 7-8 hours per night
  • Take yourself out of stressful situations and practice deep breathing
  • Free up stuck energy by practicing positive visualization
  • Take your time. Don’t rush
  • Make decisions when they arise. Don’t procrastinate.
  • Release any repressed anger in a healthy and controlled fashion
  • Avoid multi-tasking. Do one thing at a time with focus.
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