How to Unlock and Control the Power of Your Genes
By DR. DEEPAK CHOPRA and DR. RUDOLPH E. TANZI
What would your genes like you to do today? This question isn't one many people ask, but they soon will. The wellness movement is on the verge of a revolution based on each person's genetic activity. Some lifestyle choices lead to more beneficial genetic activity than others, so when you eat, sleep, exercise or even experience changes of emotion and in how you relate to others, this affects hundreds and sometimes thousands of molecules produced at the genetic level.
"Activity" isn't a term we associated very much with genes 20 years ago. DNA was seen as the mastermind of every cell, but at the same time, a fixed presence whose structure was set at birth. It's still true that your unique genes inherited from both parents -- approximately 23,000 of them -- constitute your genome for a lifetime. But now we realize that the activities of our genes are as dynamic as our lives, which opens the door for a unique partnership.
What changed to create such a shift?
1. Research into the epigenome, the complex proteins, enzymes and other molecules that interact with your DNA to govern gene activity. It turned out that this was how specific genes can be turned on and off, up and down.
2. Intense focus on the microbes that inhabit various parts of the body, including skin, mouth and, most importantly, the intestinal tract. These microorganisms were known to be necessary -- digestion would be impossible without them. But now we know that their genomes are vital in countless other ways. The entire collection of microbes is called the microbiome.
3. The DNA sequencing of individual genomes, which has become increasingly faster and less expensive. By examining the precise structure of each person's genome, it's possible to detect variations in the DNA and other characteristics that can have a long-term effect on health and longevity.
Each of these components has its own dynamic contribution to make. When you consider that there are between 500 and 2,000 different species of bacteria in our intestines alone, each with its own genome, suddenly the genetic picture of who you are vastly expands. The same is true for the epigenome and its ability to act as DNA's switching station. Imagine your genes being controlled by thousands of rheostats. They not only regulate gene activity, but also respond -- sometimes permanently, sometimes temporarily -- to any changes you make in your lifestyle, along with the unknown experiences of a lifetime, including various traumas.
Despite the complexity that has dawned in genetics, one overriding fact is clear: The mind-body connection needs to be re-envisioned as a mind-gene connection, because every aspect of what you think, feel, wish, fear and aspire to gets communicated to every cell in your body. As each cell gets a new message, its genetic activity mirrors what's happening throughout the system.
We explain this in detail in our new book Super Genes, but for a quick glimpse into how the new genetic revolution will affect your life, take the following quiz:
Quiz Part 1: The Life Your Genes Want
Put a check beside each item that is almost always (90% of the time) true about you.
___ I allow my life to unfold naturally, without a hectic schedule and constant demands on others or myself.
___ I get sufficient sleep every night (at least 8 hours) and wake up feeling refreshed.
___ I follow a regular, but not rigid, daily routine.
___ I pay attention to staying in balance with my diet, eating from all the healthy food groups.
___ I avoid toxic food, air and water, including food loaded with artificial ingredients.
___ I don't skip meals.
___ I don't snack.
___ I take steps to minimize my stress and manage the stresses that are unavoidable.
___ I give myself some time out of every day to let my body reset itself.
___ I meditate.
___ I do yoga.
___ I eat moderately and maintain a healthy weight.
___ I avoid long periods of sitting, moving my body at least once an hour.
___ I don't smoke.
___ I drink alcohol sparingly or not at all.
___ I avoid red meat and processed meats, and if I do eat them, I do so sparingly.
___ I do my best to eat only organic foods.
___ I am physically active.
___ I understand the danger of chronic inflammation and take steps to avoid it.
___ I place a high value on my own well-being and practice self-care every day.
Score: __________ (0 to 20)
Now assess the negative side, the lifestyle habits that send the wrong messages to your genome.
Quiz Part 2: The Life Your Genes Don't Want
Put a check beside each item that is fairly often (50% of the time) true about you.
___ I approach my day as an endless round of things I have to get done.
___ I feel exhausted by the end of the day.
___ I habitually drink to unwind.
___ I am driven to be a success, even though it has personal costs.
___ I get poor or erratic sleep. I wake up still feeling tired.
___ I go the bed with my mind full of thoughts, often worrisome.
___ I smoke.
___ I allow my body to get pretty far out of balance before I tend to it.
___ I don't bother about food labels and the ingredients on the package.
___ I complain about stress, but do little to manage it.
___ I am constantly busy and on the run, leaving no time to be quiet and calm.
___ My diet is careless.
___ I snack, particularly late at night.
___ My weight isn't where it should be.
___ I don't pay attention to whether food is organic or not.
___ I prefer red meat over chicken, fish and vegetarian sources of protein.
___ I sit for long periods of time (2 hours or more) without moving, either at work, on the computer or watching TV.
___ I am considerably less active than I was 10 years ago.
___ I worry about aging, but don't follow any antiaging regimen.
___ I don't think much about caring for my physical or emotional states.
Score: __________ (0 to 20)
Looking at your two scores, here's a rough evaluation.
Part 1: A score less than 10 implies that you are running considerable risk for problems down the line. On the positive side, if you checked around 10 items, you're living like the average American. Prevention has made an impression on you, but the results are hit-and-miss. A score over 15 is very good news -- the super genome is already saying yes to your lifestyle.
Part 2: The scoring here is about sending negative messages to your genome more than half the time. If you score a 10, which is probably close to average for how Americans live today, you probably enjoy good health but run the risk of future problems. Even one bad habit has the potential to modify one or more genes in undesirable ways. A score of less than 10 puts you in good shape for moving forward. A score of 12 or more implies that you should urgently consider how to improve your well-being.
As you can see, there actually is something -- many things, actually -- that your genes want you to do today. How you respond will determine for years to come the level of well-being you have chosen for yourself.
Deepak Chopra, M.D., co-author of Super Genes: Unlock the Astonishing Power of Your DNA for Optimum Health and Well-Being, is a pioneer of integrative medicine and the author of more than 80 books published in 43 languages. Many have been New York Times best-sellers in both the fiction and nonfiction categories.
Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., co-author of Super Genes: Unlock the Astonishing Power of Your DNA for Optimum Health and Well-Being, is the Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital. Dr. Tanzi is an internationally acclaimed expert on Alzheimer's disease and was included in TIME magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the World.