Most people chalk up heart disease, cancer, type II diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and almost every other serious illness and disease to genetics. We were born that way and there’s nothing we can do about it.
While the genes passed from parents to children do impact health, recent research points more and more to the fact that there is much less of a genetic component to our health, and much more of an environmental component.
In other words, our health – good or bad – has less to do with luck and more to do with the choices we make. This is epigenetics.
What is Epigenetics?
Epigenetics, one of the foundational pieces of the Pyramid of Health, is the study of how individual genes can be turned on or off by our environment and life experiences.
Think of each gene as a light switch. Research in epigenetics says the choices we make – not just as young children, but throughout adulthood – can flip that switch on or off.
The food we eat, the toxins we’re exposed to, the way we take care of our bodies, the amount of stress we endure – all of these factors can affect our own genes and the genetic legacy we pass down from generation to generation.
Suppose two identical twin boys were separated at birth. One grows up in a loving home with nutritious meals every day, a big backyard and pool where he could exercise all day, and a top-flight education in the finest schools.
The other twin grows up in a traveling circus. He has no real parental figures, parties all the time, doesn’t get much exercise, doesn’t go to school, eats fast food at least once per day and starts smoking as a teenager.
Will these two boys be equally healthy – or unhealthy – just because they’re identical twins and share the same genes? Of course not!
Epigenetics tells us that genes may help to define who we are, but they don’t control our fate. Changes to the environment surrounding our DNA – not the DNA itself – can turn genes on or off.
Focus on What You Can Control
If I could have gotten into my DNA code in 1965 when my parents had some fun, I would have dialed in 6-foot-2 and not 5-foot-8. But I’m not concerned with things I cannot control. I focus on things I can control – my nutrition, my physical health and my psychological health.
Obviously, an eight-year-old boy diagnosed with brain cancer didn’t have a way to turn on or off this gene. There are tragedies in life that we just can’t prevent, no matter what we do.
But epigenetics tells us we have more control of our health than we ever realized. I always talk about how we need to take back our health, and I’m sure some people roll their eyes and say, “Sure, Doc – as if that’s possible.”
Not only is it possible, but science proves it. We are empowered to impact our genes. The question is, will we make decisions that can turn an unhealthy gene on, or will we do everything in our power to keep it turned off?
If you’re my age (47) or older, think back to grade school. Do you remember how many of your classmates had peanut allergies like today’s kids do? What about the number of adults with autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis, or the type II diabetes epidemic? In the span of a couple of generations, we have altered our epigenetics, and the diseases are now “expressing” themselves in record numbers.
This is the year of the family. Let’s make smart decisions – for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren – that enable us to feel better, function better and live as many quality years as possible.
If you feel a disease has “expressed” itself because of the genes your parents gave you and the lifestyle you live, share your story here!
Dr. James Proodian is an accomplished chiropractic physician and health educator who founded Proodian Healthcare Family of Companies to help people feel better, function better, and live longer. His expertise for the past two decades has been in physical rehabilitation, and he has successfully established himself as a spinal specialist. In his practice, he advocates the science of functional medicine, which takes an integrative approach to treating patients by addressing their physical, nutritional, and psychological needs. Alarmed by the escalation of complex, chronic illness in our country, Dr. Proodian has been speaking to companies and organizations through his “Wellness at Work” program since 1994, motivating thousands of people to make positive lifestyle choices and lead healthier, more productive lives. He can be heard weekly on his radio program, “Proodian Healthcare By Design,” on Tandem Radio.