The direct connection between a person’s actions and their genes has never been clearer.
Our genes passed down from our ancestors certainly affect our personality, as well as the chances of having illnesses such as diabetes or heart disease, but so do a number of other factors, like stress, diet, lifestyle, and our mental activity. Basically, we have a larger say in what is going to happen to us than we’d like to believe.
Recently, Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, Rudy Tanzi, and Dr. Deepak Chopra collaborated on a book called Super Genes to explain how everyday lifestyle changes can drastically improve a person’s life and overall well-being, regardless of the genes they were born with.
The book, which launched November 10, explains how you can modify your own genes to benefit your health through certain actions and behaviors, which stem from self-awareness and consciousness.
“Just as our lifestyle and our choices are redefining our brain every single day, there’s also a parallel story with our genes,” says Dr. Tanzi. “The genes we got from our parents are not cast in stone. You cannot change your DNA sequence of the genes themselves, but every choice you make and every interaction and experience you have is changing your gene activity. And ultimately, that’s affecting your health and well-being.”
As a geneticist, Dr. Tanzi believes that as we do things repetitively, such as our habits (whether good or bad), we not only change our gene activity, but over time, our genome adapts and those gene activities become automatic. However, that is where both opportunity and risk exist.
“If you are making the right choices every day, your gene activities are automatically serving you because you’ve trained them. Those changes become more permanent, so now your brain is working for you as well as your gene activities. That is what we call Super Genes. Both your genome and your brain are highly vulnerable to repetition,” he explains. “On the other side of the coin, if you engage in bad habits and are doing things that are detrimental to you, your genes will begin to retain the acts the same way, and they won’t serve you.”
This fascinating occurrence, called epigenetics, may still be in its infancy, though it’s been gaining attention with scientists. While not a representative outcome, there have been reports of described modifications being distributed onto following generations, in what is known as transgenerational epigenetic evolution.
For example, this has been documented in other organisms, and it is only a matter of time before it is validated in humans. In a study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, it was reported that mice were capable of inheriting smell memories from their fathers, even if those mice had never encountered their father or that particular smell themselves.
“This information is going to be very frightening to those who believe that mutations are entirely random,” Dr. Chopra states. “Darwin didn’t know anything about DNA — genes hadn’t yet been discovered. He was way ahead of his time, but his theory is entirely mechanistic. These genetic marks that are created by the epigenome influence the activity of genes in the next generation. Rudy was the first person who informed me years ago that only five percent of disease-related gene mutations are fully penetrant. A lot of people do not know that, especially common people. Doctors do not even know that cancer is influenced by epigenetic modulations. Theoretically, epigenetic changes, unlike gene mutations, are reversible.”
Considering this, the ultimate key to healthy change is self-awareness, especially when considering that you must be a conscious being to have any experience whatsoever.
As Dr. Chopra mentions, “One of the problems in science right now that most people don’t talk about is the second most open question. Where is consciousness and how does experience happen? This is called the hard problem of consciousness. It is not known. The answer is not known. Anybody who works in this field will tell you that. But what we do know is that experience happens in consciousness. At the level of providing advice, it is to remind ourselves that at every moment we are always making choices. Every choice we make creates an experience, and every experience we have is translated into changes in our brain at the level of our neural networks, as we described in Super Brain, and changes in our gene activity as we described in Super Genes.”