In Part 2 about our DNA, I would like to engage in a brief discussion of Epigenetics.
Epigenetics: from the Greek route meaning above, so these are forces that are influencing the genome from above the level of the molecule and the cell. The term “epigenetics” was first used in 1942 by British embryologist Conrad Waddington.
As the spotlight on the human genome project was winding down, studies were beginning to show that influences from outside the genome affected genes. Suddenly, scientists were giving Epigenetics a closer look. Epigenetics is the study of how behaviors and environment can cause changes that affect the way your genes work. Unlike genetic changes, epigenetic changes are reversible and do not change your DNA sequence, however it is important to note they can make a difference in how your body reads a DNA sequence. The late physicist Richard Carlson stated, “all the genome provides is the parts list. …How things interact is what’s more important in biology than just the things that are there. The genome tells us very little, if anything at all, about how things interact.”
This has become a focus to design experiments that ask questions that will give answers on how things interact. And excitedly these answers are starting to reveal the actual pathways by which our body takes a signal from the external environment and turns it into a set of chemical or electromagnetic instructions for our genes. Another scientist, Jirtle also has remarked, “The tip of the iceberg is genomics… The bottom of the iceberg is epigenetics,”—and the larger scientific community is starting to recognize this also.
As I write these words my thoughts go back to when I was in my 20s and a frequent visitor liked to debate. Often the debate focused on what a child was more influenced by… parents or the world around them such as school, teachers, friends, even other parents. I tended to believe it was a little of both, however no conclusion was ever reached. I think I was basing my opinion on seeing the differences between me and my sibling. We both have the same parents but that is where the similarities end. Many years later, learning about epigenetics really seemed to answer this question for me. Research has shown not only twins but identical twins in their journey through life can have very different paths.
Gene expression refers to how often or when proteins are formed from commands within your genes. While genetic changes can alter which protein is made, epigenetic changes affect gene expression to turn genes “on” and “off.” Since environment and behaviors, such as diet and exercise, can result in epigenetic changes, it is easy to see the connection between your genes and your behaviors and environment. According to some scientists, up to ninety percent of all your genes are expressed in response to signals from the environment. This is huge.
Beginning in 1994 the Kaiser Permanente Hospital in San Diego, California, in collaboration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a study known as the ACE study (adverse childhood experiences). This study looked at the relationship between adult health risk behaviors and childhood abuse and household dysfunction. The categories considered were verbal abuse, physical abuse, contact sexual abuse, a battered mother, household substance abuse, household mental illness, incarcerated household members, and parental separation or divorce. Scientific evidence was very apparent that such adverse childhood experiences do have a profound long-term effect on health. Research showed that exposure to abuse and to serious forms of family dysfunction in the childhood family environment are likely to activate the stress response, thus potentially disrupting the developing nervous, immune, and metabolic systems of children. ACEs are associated with lifelong physical and mental health problems that emerge in adolescence and persist into adulthood. I’m sure we’ve all heard these words… “get over it”, or “time heals.” But this study proved those words are incorrect. The average age of the participants was fifty-seven, so often it had been fifty years since the events occurred.
Biological changes in the participants noted that due to many of the early life stressors caused by exposure to ACEs there are observed changes in the body, compared to those who had little or no exposure to early childhood stressors. This is most evident in structural changes in the brain with the hippocampus, the amygdala, and the corpus callosum being important targets of study. These areas of the brain are more vulnerable than others. This is due to the higher density of glucocorticoid receptors that are in these regions of the brain.
An interesting parallel the ACE study’s authors made, was they compared our society’s current medical orientation to a fire crew working diligently to disperse the smoke over a burning building, while ignoring the fire below.
Another interesting study was done at Harvard in 2007. It considered the difference between physical exertion and physical exertion plus belief. The psychologist recruited maids who cleaned rooms in nearby hotels. Half of the group heard a brief presentation that their daily jobs involved serious exercise and educated them on how their daily tasks contributed to their physical fitness. The other group were not informed of these facts.
Over the next thirty days, the researchers reported there were significant changes in the bodies of the women who had heard the presentation. Those women lost weight, lowered their blood pressure, and developed a healthier body composition—despite no changes to their diet or daily routine. None of these benefits were seen in the 44 women who had not heard the presentation.
This amazing physiological change occurred in just thirty days, and followed one brief session in which the psychologist exposed the women to new beliefs about their level of physical activity. Making even small changes in the way we think can lead to significant changes in our health.
The conclusion of this study: How Mindset Determines Results… in other words, what we believe about ourselves alters the facts.
Other studies considered the effects of such things as social support, meditation, visualization, and spiritual practices.
Larry Dossey, in Prayer Is Good Medicine, says that there are over 1,200 scientific studies demonstrating the link between prayer and intention, and health and longevity. Meta-analyses in the Annals of Internal Medicine and the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine have compiled the results of many studies and found that prayer, distant healing, and intentionality have significant effects on healing. Dr. Dawson Church, Genie in Your Genes
Similarly, a study by the HeartMath Institute found that feelings of care and compassion increase the production of immune factors. With better immune responses, those who perform altruistic acts live longer too, reducing their odds of an early death by nearly 60%.
The bottom line of these and other studies is that doing good is not just morally satisfying, it also improves your overall health, affecting the production of hormones that are markers to produce hundreds of beneficial proteins in your cells. Cultivating an attitude of compassion, and acting according to the Golden Rule, is an act of service to your own body. Jesus’s words “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” are literally and physically true. Dr. Dawson Church, Genie in Your Genes
From a very young age I was fascinated with this scenario: you put two different people in the same situation, and one seems to come out ahead, even excel, while the other person was destroyed. Today putting together this article, I ask myself is this the effects of epigenetics.
I recently was at a luncheon where there was a picture presentation of various people living in long-term care. One woman on meeting the photographer told her she was dying of cancer… a few months later she informed her she was getting married. No mention of cancer!
As we consider what is beneficial to our bodies let us sum it up by saying what you are thinking, feeling, and believing is changing the genetic expression and chemical composition of your body on a moment-by-moment basis.
So, alternatively negative thoughts stress our bodies. Let us consider what Masaru Emoto shows in his book, The True Power of Water. He visually captured the structure of water as it was freezing. Placing words of love, gratitude, kindness etcetera produced beautiful formations in the water crystals. Alternatively, negative words produced grotesque formations. Dr. Emoto showed this also worked with music – soft music, classical music produced beautiful formations; likewise hard rock produced the grotesque formations.
A profound statement is to say, when you understand that with every feeling and thought, in every instant, you are performing epigenetic engineering on your own cells, you suddenly understand you have a degree of control over your health and happiness that can make a major difference. In an epigenetic health cycle, you can succeed with positive emotions, thoughts, and prayers. Besides making every day pleasant, your body will benefit by modulating your gene expression toward peak health.
In this article hopefully we have looked at the good and the bad – that which is positive and helpful versus that which is negative and produces negative results. And in the end, it is good to note all is not lost. Tapping with EFT can help remove those negative thoughts from your mind by tapping (dissolving) them away. This is true regardless of the length of time you have been living your life with them.