Part of our cultural and scientific learning that is ingrained in us from the very beginning of comprehension is that our parents gave to us our genetic make-up and that there is no changing it. We accept, without question, the idea that our genes are “hard-coded” and that the hand we are dealt at the beginning is the one we have to play for the rest of our lives.
To an extent, I suppose this is true… but what we don’t understand well is that there is a greater opportunity for variance; and in respect to our health, a greater opportunity for optimal health than we realize.
Our genes are really more like a Star Trek episode. There are many different possible futures that are in store for us… which future comes to pass depends upon how we bathe our genes in our experiences. What I am talking about is diet, exercise, life-style, and (maybe most importantly) coping mechanisms.
Within the gene concept is the idea that there is “genetic expression.” What this means is that our genes allow for a continuum of expression… a scale that has one extreme on one end and the opposite extreme on the other. There certainly are examples of genetic diseases caused by obvious genetic defects that may not allow for much variation in expression, but by-and-large this does apply to the chronic diseases that we commonly suffer from.
Let’s take breast cancer as an example… you may have a mother who died of breast cancer and an aunt who had breast caner, but survived. You clearly have a genetic link to breast cancer. Now, those genes may express themselves in the worst possible way and you will contract and succumb to breast cancer or they may express themselves in the best possible way and you will never have a problem with breast cancer. What causes the difference in those two extremes? It’s how you bathe your genes in your experiences… diet, exercise, life-style and coping mechanisms – the stresses you expose yourself to and how you deal with them.
Note that I did not say that mammograms are what prevents breast cancer… mammograms merely potentially help in the earlier detection of breast cancer, whether or not that actually saves lives is debatable. But that is not prevention! If you have a family history of breast cancer, then take these words to heart… they may save your life.
Am I only speaking about breast cancer or cancer in general here? Of course not… every chronic disease that concerns us today has a genetic component to it. Whenever a medical evaluation is done on you, a line of questioning around “your family history” is pursued. Diabetes, Heart Disease, High Blood Pressure, High Cholesterol, Depression… the list goes on and on. Medicine has started to admit that some of these diseases may more likely be caused by unhealthy diets and exercise regimens. In fact, a recent study about diabetes concluded that over 90% of people with diabetes have it because of their diets and lack of exercise. But we still get too hung up in our genetic diseases.
I see numerous examples of physicians medicating their patients as a preventative, merely because of a family history. This is true with diseases like elevated cholesterol and osteoporosis and certain cancers. I find it objectionable to put a 45 year old, pre-menopausal woman with no signs of bone loss (verified by dexa-scan) on Fosamax just because her mother had osteoporosis… but I’ve seen it done. How about encouraging that woman to get proper bone minerals and nutrients (from diet and supplements if necessary) and proper weight-bearing exercise? I’m willing to bet that her mother didn’t do those things. I find it equally objectionable for a woman to have a double mastectomy as a preventative for breast cancer.
It seems that these measures are based on two things… fear and a lack of ability to create a different outcome for ourselves. Understanding the “genetic expression” concept allows us to take the reins of our health into our own hands and not rely on some toxic chemical or body-maiming procedure to supposedly extend out lives.
Think of it this way… that what your parents gave you is a tendency or a genetic weakness towards a certain condition. All of us have these weaknesses or tendencies. But the more important thing that your parents taught you is the way in which you bathe those genes in your experiences.
Who was it that taught you (maybe not by formal lessons but by example and exposure) to eat the way you do? Who was it that taught you that when you are tired or angry or frustrated or sad that something sweet would make you feel better? Or is that just numb? Who was it that set the standard for whether or not you get any exercise? Who was it that taught you to be a worrier or a perfectionist?
I think you get the picture by now. And I want to point out that this really isn’t about blame… you should not read this article and then curse your parents for teaching you unhealthy habits. Hopefully, the action encouraged by this information will be to make some changes in your own diets and life-styles, and more importantly, to realize just what it is that you are teaching to your children and begin to make changes now.
And this should be a tremendous breath of fresh air to those of us with parents that suffer ill health… it is not a foregone conclusion that we will suffer the same fate. Making changes now, even if you already suffer from some chronic disease(s), can get your genes to begin to express themselves in a different way!
So where do you start? The answer is easy (at least for the diet and exercise part)… ask yourself one simple question… and then begin to make the changes. Here is the question…
How am I not living in sync with nature? Answer that question and you are on your way.
Let’s look at your activities during the day. Did nature intend any of us to sit behind a desk or the steering wheel of a car for hours without end? Of course, the answer is no… we were intended to be active throughout the day… gathering food, chasing down animals, building things, breathing fresh air, etc. So… evaluate how much time you spend working that desk job or watching television and try to equal that with some sort of physical activity. Which activities? An equal mix of aerobic and weight-bearing exercises would best serve you. And the one rule of thumb that must be followed is that whatever type of exercise you choose should be fun!
How about with our diets… did nature intend for you to get most of your food from cellophane packages, boxes or cans? Of course, the answer is no! Eat foods the way nature provides them. You don’t see a can of peas growing on a vine… you see peas. And ask the same for the animals that you eat… were cows intended to eat corn? Again, the answer is no… cows are supposed to eat grass. When you eat the meat of an animal that is fed differently than if is supposed to, it changes the healthful quality of that meat.
The coping mechanism part is a little more difficult… you’ve been seeing the world in the way that you do for your entire life. It isn’t so easy to just “decide” to see it or interact with it in another way. But, through prayer or meditation or counseling, you can learn new coping skills… ones that will benefit you throughout the rest of your life. I know for sure that the way in which we communicate with the universe is the way that the universe communicates back to us. So, when we see the world as a worrisome place, the world becomes a worrisome place in which to live.
Here’s the bottom line… our parents did give us our genes… but more importantly, they gave us the tools to have those genes express themselves in a multitude of ways. Some of those ways are healthy; many more are unhealthy… all dependent upon how we bathe those genes in our experiences. Begin to experience different things and your genes will begin to express themselves differently!