Nature vs. Nurture: The Science of Epigenetics

Maybe 20 to 30 years ago, we believed that our genes had more of an influence than our environment, as I have watched that number go from 50/50 to 70/30, and now 95/5 according to doctors like Bruce Lipton and Deepak Chopra and our latest scientific research. Roughly translated, this means 95% of our health is determined by our environment, most of which is a choice, and 5% is our genetics.  According to Dr. Bruce Lipton, “Epigenetics is the study of cellular and physiological traits, or the external and environmental factors, that turn our genes on and off, and in turn, define how our cells actually read those genes.  It works to see the true potential of the human mind, and the cells in our body.”

Those numbers are very empowering, so let’s talk about environment, so you can understand and empower yourself, family, and friends to be more healthy. Stress, as you learned last week, is probably one of the biggest factors and can feel very “out of control” for most people, but what you can control is your reaction.  If you have not read last week’s blog, it explains the whole physiological stress response, which basically ends up being toxic for your body. 

The next major environmental factors are food and activity. You are what you eat, so don’t be cheap, fake, or unhealthy! Hot Cheetos and many processed foods are not actually food but chemicals mixed with some food that are designed to stay on a shelf indefinitely and get you hooked through the bliss point (a magical combination of sweet, salt, and spice that causes addictive behavior with processed foods). Any time you see a numbered dye in a food, it is made from petroleum by products, which is not digestible and can cause many adverse reactions in the body. Rather than “dieting,” try eating whole, unprocessed foods and avoid anything in a box, can or package.  If you want a sweet, make something from scratch, which will cut down on the amount you consume. 

Activity has become more of an issue because of modern technology and lifestyles that require minimal physical activity. You do not need to run a marathon to be healthy, but you should be shooting for 10,000 steps a day to maintain a normal activity level (that equals 5 miles/day).  However, things you can do to work up to 10,000 steps could include walking to run errands, taking the long way, or parking at the back of a parking lot.Other things to try include doing quick 20-minute walks after lunch and dinner and taking the stairs whenever possible. 

Chemical exposure is another very complicated subject, but it is why I am so passionate about eating organic, since so many of the chemicals that are affecting our health are from our food system. Approximately 75% of all antibiotics used in the US come from the food system mostly in factory farming methods for animals.  In addition, chemicals like Round Up are everywhere in our environment including our drinking water, rain water, and as a desiccant on non-organic wheat, oats, corn, and soy. Household cleaning products, plastics, and cosmetics/personal care products are significant sources of chemicals like phytates and plasticizers that often have properties that disrupt hormone actions in the body.  If you are interested in decreasing your exposure to some of these chemicals, I recommend looking at the Environmental Working Group’s website! 

Lastly, and possibly one of the most important factors in your health, is how you think, which is often known as the placebo effect.  While the placebo effect is often thought of as a “fake” treatment, it demonstrates the power of the mind to create your own reality.  Some studies show that the placebo outperforms the drug in clinical trials anywhere from 5 to 100% for an average of 70%!! In addition, studies also show that people who think they are getting a placebo but are actually getting the real medication have up to a 4-fold decrease in effectiveness of the medication.  While ideas like the Law of Attraction have been around for a long time, the latest science in quantum physics and healing supports that our thoughts do create our physical reality in both a positive and negative way, making us much more powerful in controlling our health than most Western models acknowledge.