The Magical World of Epigenetics

Viewpoint — Dr. Greg Quinn

The secret to health and vitality lies in the food you eat, your level of activity and your thoughts and perceptions. 

My thoughts can affect my health, as well? Let’s take a closer look…

Aladdin rubbed his magical lamp and his personal Genie appeared offering him three wishes. Our relationship with our genes is like Aladdin and his Genie, except we have more than three wishes. Let’s take a closer look at that relationship.

We are not controlled by our genes

In typical fashion, man has placed humans at the top of the evolved species on this planet. In the 1990s, to better understand what makes us so “special” as a species, the mammoth human genome project was undertaken. They hypothesized our special status must be due to our inheritance of very special genes. Well…after 15 years and $3 billion dollars, scientists were left scratching their heads. If we are indeed the self-proclaimed “top dog” of all species, that status cannot be attributed to our genes.

Quantity or quality?

Initially, it was hypothesized we must have more genes than “lesser species.” Not true. Humans have 23,000 genes. Rice has 160,000 genes. OK, so if it’s not the quantity of genetic information, it must be the quality of those genes. Again, not true. We share 99% of our genes with chimpanzees, 90% with a mouse and 60% with a banana. Really?! More than half of our genes are the same as those of a banana! 

A new field of study

Clearly, scientist needed to go back to the drawing board. Welcome to the world of Epigenetics. We now know we are the architect of our own genetic expression. Let the magnitude of that statement sink in for a moment. How we perceive the world, our thoughts, our visions change our genetic expression accordingly. For example, if you are deathly afraid of snakes and I love snakes, merely seeing one results in entirely different genetic expression for the two of us. I will produce proteins associated with love and compassion such as oxytocin and endorphins. You will have a different genetic expression; one that favors stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. Same observation but two very different biologic responses due to different genetic expression.

If you perceive the world through a lens of fear, the biology reflects greater inflammation, cardiovascular stress and stickier platelets (blood more prone to clot). Conversely, if you perceive the world through a lens of compassion, the result is less inflammation and strain on the cardiovascular system.

The science of Epigenetics is fairly advanced. Mechanisms explaining how the DNA is manipulated to change, what genes are expressed and which ones aren’t, is now quite detailed. What remains a mystery is how our perceptions trigger those structural changes in our DNA. 

Once again, it comes down to choice. Our body is a process and not a thing.  It should be empowering to know that, like Aladdin’s Lamp, our wishes are our command. How we perceive the world may effect the biochemistry of ourselves, our children and generations to come.