Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
20 Feb

What I Mean by “Reprogram Your Genes”

From time to time I’ll get a comment from a skeptical reader that says something like, “I don’t think it’s possible to reprogram your genes through diet/lifestyle. Of course our genes are set at birth and our DNA, or program, is copied into every cell of our bodies. You cannot modify or reprogram your genetic code.” I’d like to address this misunderstanding.

One of the best ways to illustrate what I mean by “reprogram your genes” is to use the analogy that Duke University’s Randy Jirtle, Ph.D., uses in the following videos. Think of your genome as being like computer hardware. If you were to program your computer you wouldn’t be changing the hardware, rather, you would be changing the software that tells the computer what to do. So just as we talk about reprogramming or programming a computer and don’t suggest that the hardware itself has changed we likewise can talk about reprogramming our genes without suggesting that the genes have changed. In the case of genes what we are really changing is the epigenome. To quote Dr. Jirtle, “the epigenome would be like the software that tells the computer when to work, how to work and how much.”

Luckily for us our genes are not our destiny. We have immense control through lifestyle behaviors to turn some genes on and other genes off for desired physical results. Watch these videos for it to all come together if it hasn’t already.

There are multiple future possible versions of you. It’s up to you to decide which version you will become. It’s up to you to make lifestyle choices that direct genes toward fat burning, muscle building, longevity and wellness, and away from fat storing, muscle wasting, disease and illness.

This is what The Primal Blueprint is all about. It’s why the sub-title of my book is “Reprogram Your Genes for Effortless Weight Loss, Vibrant Health and Boundless Energy”. And it’s what we talk about (either directly or indirectly) day-in and day-out here at Mark’s Daily Apple. We tend to focus on the practical, but epigenetics is at the heart of why we do what we do. Living like Grok just happens to be the best starting point for directing gene expression.

So my tip to you today comes straight from the lips of Madonna: Express Yourself.

Hat tip to MDA reader Sam for the videos.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Good post! It seems like a lot of people get confused about this, but that’s understandable, as epigenetics isn’t necessarily widely-understood even by lots of biologists–it tends to be more of a niche specialization. We do indeed have tremendous control over which genes, or variants of genes (through alternate splicing and the like) are expressed, and a lot can be done with this to improve our health and fitness. Keep up the good fight!

    Nick L wrote on February 20th, 2010
  2. This is truly fascinating stuff!

    Christian wrote on February 20th, 2010
  3. Wonderful videos! I am so excited by this concept – what control we have over our lives. Thanks, Mark!

    Jeanie wrote on February 20th, 2010
  4. I love NOVA :)

    hannahc wrote on February 20th, 2010
  5. Great Post Mark. Outside of Body By Science (chapter 8’s Genetic factor), I have yet to hear anyone else discuss Epigenetics in training circles. I’ts an amazing area that, upon researching, most people will find encouraging and hopefully will have them cursing there parents genes a little less.

    Craig wrote on February 20th, 2010
  6. That’s a great video. People are starting to realize more and more that what they eat, and their habits and lifestyles really do affect their health and all aspects of their lives. You are what you eat!

    Squatchy wrote on February 20th, 2010
  7. By adopting a paleo/primal lifestyle, I have lost weight, gained confidence and strength, banished depression, discovered I had smooth and clear skin. Is this reprogramming my genes? It doesn’t matter! It just feels great!

    I feel that I am becoming the absolute BEST I can be!

    Lucky wrote on February 20th, 2010
  8. wow.. really powerful stuff. Almost makes me want to put down this caffeine filled Central Nervous System Stimulator… almost…

    I’m always amazed be the quality of the content and research that you post on your blog Mark. It is truly amazing to see the dedication and thought you put into every one of your posts.

    Randy wrote on February 20th, 2010
  9. As always, thanks for the post. I am constantly amazed by how much great information I get from this site and that it is all free! I did by the book this week, so I don’t feel too bad.

    PBJ wrote on February 20th, 2010
  10. This subject has fascinated me since I learned about it. I have recently learned that I have a mild, at least at this point, elevated platelet count that is probably caused by something in my environment switching on the accelerator that regulates my platelet count.

    Apparetly, a pill that will switch off the accelerator is in the works but meanwhile I am experimenting with using my mind to switch it off. I am curious if this is possible and will find out when I take my next blood test next month. It will be a nice surprise if it does, both for me and my doctor.

    Does anyone know if there is any evidence that one can control the switching on or off of these epigenes with one’s mind?

    Sharon wrote on February 20th, 2010
    • Okay Sharon this is very weird. I have the same platelet disorder as you and my name is Sharon as well. Could it be that we look exactly alike?….

      I have the JAK2 mutation so I too have been wondering since something switched this on, is there something that can switch it off? No one seems to know. At least I have not found anyone who thinks so. I did try the mind thing to no avail but that doesn’t mean it might not work for you.

      So far nothing that I do makes any difference in my count except the drug I am taking. Even though it is a serious chemo drug, with a serious amount of possible side effects, so far, no side effects for me.

      Last time at the Hematologist the PA said some people’s platelet count goes back to normal even though they have the JAK2 mutation but she had no idea why. I wanna know why!

      Since we now have two Sharons on this site I am changing my moniker to SunshineSharon. Always wanted to be a hippie but never got the outfit right.

      SunshineSharon wrote on August 15th, 2013
      • Ha! I see what is going on. I clicked over to a past article rather than staying on the current article. I was talking to myself.

        Staff….can you cancel this and the previous reply that you are moderating? I will go back to Sharon….sorry, I am an idiot

        Sharon wrote on August 15th, 2013
  11. Fascinating.

    As a father of identical twins I thought this post was very interesting.

    Fills me with a rather ominous sense of responsbility however!

    rg wrote on February 20th, 2010
  12. Cool, thanks for sharing that Mark.

    freeagent wrote on February 20th, 2010
  13. The Primal Blueprint: Putting your best epigenetic foot forward.

    Aaron Blaisdell wrote on February 20th, 2010
  14. This is amazing info Mark! Thanks for sharing. I never would have been aware of this, if I hadn’t read about it here.

    Crazy Diamond wrote on February 20th, 2010
  15. Speaking of your book, I just got it on Tuesday, and it’s really inspirational. I went out to fetch some antioxidant rich fruits you suggested, like blueberry and raspberry, along with some spinach and tomatoes for salads.

    Brett wrote on February 20th, 2010
  16. Thanks Mark for the post and Samson for the videos. Can’t wait to show my family since they think I’m a food Nazi. Your book is great and love the responsibly slim.

    I look forward to coming here everday.

    Pamela wrote on February 20th, 2010
  17. I know that a primal-like approach to health and fitness reprogrammed my genes and completely changed me inside and out.

    Sterling wrote on February 20th, 2010
  18. Thanks for sharing — epigenetic research needs more coverage. Diet and exercise have a huge influence on gene expression, but so do other environmental factors like artificial light, population density, air quality, and other realities of modern life. Given the 30% success rate of placebos, maybe our thinking influences genetic expression as well.

    JD Moyer wrote on February 20th, 2010
  19. For those interested, Bruce Lipton’s The Biology of Belief is a good primer on epigenetics.

    Dave wrote on February 20th, 2010
    • I agree. Dr. Lipton’s book is one of my all time favorites.

      Chris wrote on February 21st, 2010
  20. Mark, Great post! Lots of information. I was wondering if anyone can give me advice on living w/ non primal eaters (my parents) i love them dearly but they like to order pizza a lot and have me do runs to pick up ice cream. they also eat a lot of grains. i am doing ok but would love some tips on how to avoid “the bad stuff” :)
    Thanks for your time.

    Angie wrote on February 20th, 2010
    • I live with one. I have it easier since I am allergic to wheat which is mostly what she eats. I just make sure I have plenty of Primal snacks around and eat good Primal meals so I am not hungry when she brings it in. She eats potato chips I eat an apple or grapefruit or some carrot sticks or even a couple of pork rinds.

      Amy wrote on February 21st, 2010
      • are pork rinds ok to eat?

        Angie wrote on February 21st, 2010
        • I eat them a couple times a week as a crunchy snack. I only buy the plain which are just pork skins and salt no added junk. The flavored often have msg so be careful. The brand I buy has 9 grams of protein in a 1/2 oz and no carbs at all. Much better than potato chips if you need a crunchy fix with fat and protein.

          Amy wrote on February 22nd, 2010
  21. Nice one…

    Lazar wrote on February 21st, 2010
  22. “There are multiple future possible versions of you. It’s up to you to decide which version you will become.”

    This is a great quote. Thanks Mark.

    allie wrote on February 21st, 2010
  23. Fascinating stuff! The scientists are giving us more all the time but sadly many jump on the chance to have an excuse for being unhealthy or overweight.

    I’ve been an overweight youngster and defeated that with exercise and nutrition. Primal living has taken me one step further. Others may find some inspiration in my story at

    I honestly believe in the power of nutrition!

    luke mdavies wrote on February 21st, 2010
  24. @Sharon: my father used to “think away” his psoriasis.

    Marie wrote on February 21st, 2010
    • Come to think of it, my mom used to get rid of her migrains by giving them the ‘dingbats’ as she called it.

      Sharon wrote on February 21st, 2010
  25. Awesome stuff and timely! My friend and I were just having this discussion after learning a mututal friend of ours was diagnosed with cancer (41 years old!). She didn’t understand where I was coming from with my ideas of “reprogramming”. I sent this to her. :-)

    Julie wrote on February 21st, 2010
  26. This gives me more of an arsenal against my own mind when I start to think my genetics can defeat me. Thanks!

    Amy wrote on February 21st, 2010
  27. Awesome videos! Goes to show you that living a healthy lifestyle significantly reduces your chances of developing any type of deadly disease! Better start as early as possible… lucky for me I am only 21 :)

    Todd wrote on February 22nd, 2010
  28. Thank you for posting this. As someone with a biology degree, this is all elementary stuff to us. But the general public doesn’t really understand genetics.

    Yes, twins may have the same “blue print”, but that doesn’t mean that “blue print” has to be followed in the same way. Gene expression (i.e., what genes are turned on or off, and how much of it) plays a much greater role in our resulting make up than the actual code itself. Gene expression is affected by environment, lifestyle and diet.

    jinushaun wrote on February 22nd, 2010
  29. That is a really interesting video!

    tildenm wrote on February 22nd, 2010
  30. Very insightful!!!
    Thanks for posting the videos as well…

    Chris wrote on February 22nd, 2010
  31. Sisson you rock. Glad you pulled these from my site. :)

    Samson wrote on February 22nd, 2010
  32. As an identical twin that was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s, I found this terribly interesting and it should be a comfort to my twin. I wonder if there is anything one can do to change the epigenes in a mature person? And is there a therapy where I could use his epigenes to correct mine?

    RoyBoy wrote on February 23rd, 2010
  33. I was talking to a friend on mine about the choices we make and how they affect our families and future generations. He was telling me how the Native American cultures when weighing decisions and choices, would consider how the choices they were about to make would affect there families 7 generations from today. Not necessarily that they always did a good job with their choices, but it’s amazing to me how this post ties right into that. Depending on whether you choose to eat that corporate raised steroid beef, get that flu vaccine, smoke those cigarettes, or go binge drinking, will dictate how soon your family will have any number of diseases appear, and how quickly in future generations. Amazing stuff. So next time you are having a craving for something bad, think of your kids, or great great great grand kids you don’t have yet! Choose well!

    Tanktop wrote on February 25th, 2010
  34. Here is a picture of two mice…Same mother and father…The difference is the mother of the mouse on the left was fed extra folic acid while pregnant.
    (Couldn’t upload the pic Mark …If you would like to see it ..tell me where to email the picture…you will want to post this)

    Steven Shuel DC wrote on February 28th, 2010
  35. awesome post here Mark! I wish more research would be focused in these areas to truly show the ADA and Big Pharma they have it all wrong. Its so clear to us but so many people still chalk up being fat to their genes.

    alan wrote on March 5th, 2010
  36. wow! those 2 videos were really great. i love nova too! so interesting…

    cyberaly wrote on March 12th, 2010
  37. Okay, so they fed the mice extra methyl groups to turn off the fat gene. So, natural question, what foods have methyl groups in them?


    Richard wrote on March 15th, 2010
    • Those mice had a genetic disposition to particular disease in which one symptom is weight gain. Eating what they ate isn’t going to do anything except turn off that expression of their genome.(it won’t make you skinny)

      Willow_NyteEyes wrote on March 21st, 2010
  38. Really intriguing and provocative. Thanks for the information. Feels good to be a caveman.

    Flying Burrito wrote on March 17th, 2010

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