In the last few months we’ve been highlighting new research that illustrates the power of individuals to influence their genetic expression through basic lifestyle choices, whether through diet, exercise, or avoidance of pollution. The message, as always, is that we aren’t passive victims to aging or any propensities in our genetic heritage. How we live determines when and to what extent certain genes will be activated or turned off, genes that control our immune function and inflammatory response, genes that influence our aging process as well as our chances of developing or avoiding disease.
This groundbreaking area of research now includes evidence that invoking the body’s natural relaxation response can substantially direct the expression of genes related to physiological stress response. It’s a premise that’s been at the heart of many traditional medicine philosophies for thousands of years, now illuminated by collaborative research at the Genomics Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. As Herbert Benson, M.D. and one of the primary co-authors of the study explains, “For hundreds of years Western medicine has looked at mind and body as totally separate entities, to the point where saying something ‘is all in your head’ implied that it was imaginary. Now we’ve found how changing the activity of the mind can alter the way basic genetic instructions are implemented.”
Results of a dramatic study highlighting (guess what) gene expression were published last week by the National Academy of Sciences, and suddenly the popular media is suddenly paying very close attention. The study, which followed 30 men with low risk, early prostate cancer, demonstrates the dramatic role of lifestyle intervention in gene expression and corresponding disease regression. The study was a collaborative research effort at the Preventive Medicine Research Institute and the University of California, San Francisco.
One of the researchers, Dr. Dean Ornish offered his personal observations on the study in an article for Newsweek magazine. He began his commentary with the phrase: “Here’s some very good news: your genes are not your destiny.” Hmmm… Where have we heard that before? (Couldn’t resist.)
We just can’t help it. This epigenetics stuff really floats our boat. The last few weeks we’ve brought you a Dear Mark primer on gene expression as well as news on recent studies examining the role of lifestyle/environment on genetic expression. Diabetes, heart disease, even lung function are impacted by external factors like nutrition, exercise, and pollution exposure. But mental health is part of the epigenetic picture as well: chronic stress and even early emotional experiences, it turns out, may be significant enough to alter our genes’ expression.
Yes, it’s oh-so-middle-school, but we called it! Following the first ever metabolome-wide association study conducted across four countries, researchers are affirming the promise of metabolic fingerprinting in studying the links diet and other lifestyle factors have with specific disease risk. Once again, the focus is on gene expression, the resulting phenotype rather than our initial genetic “text.” Researchers compared levels of several metabolites (particles produced by the metabolic process) that were present in 4,630 subjects, who hailed from the U.S., the United Kingdom, China and Japan.
For the study, researchers took urine samples from volunteers aged between 40 and 59 and analysed these for over several thousand metabolite signals, using NMR spectroscopy and advanced statistics. The volunteers were participating in the INTERMAP study, an epidemiological study investigating the links between diet and blood pressure.
via Science Daily
I received tons of emails from last week’s Gene Expression: Location, Location, Location post. Thanks to everybody for their feedback and questions. In the comment section of last week’s post, Ed was interested in other concrete examples of gene expression (the ability of a gene to produce a biologically active protein). In personal emails, others asked for more explanation of the difference between genes and gene expression. Still others wanted to hear more about the interaction between their gene expression and lifestyle choices. Given the range of reader questions this week, I thought I’d reframe this week’s Dear Mark to include more of an overview of this recurring MDA theme. There’s a lot to be said on the subject, and I promise this post won’t be the last word on it. Nonetheless, there’s no time like the present to give a proper introduction and dive right in.
Let me just say that gene expression is one of my favorite areas of interest, and it’s truly at the heart of the Primal Blueprint. In fact, it’s the real beauty of it as well. It confirms that the day-to-day choices we make have incredible impact. And we can influence gene expression to a far greater degree than anyone ever thought possible.
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