Meet Mark

Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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January 10, 2009

Forging Your Own Genetic Destiny

By Worker Bee
31 Comments

As you may know, at the core of the Primal Blueprint is gene expression – the idea that our genes can be “switched” on or off, or influenced into producing varying amounts of proteins based on environmental factors (like diet, exercise, and exposure to toxins). In fact, the Primal Blueprint is designed around maximizing positive expression and minimizing deleterious gene expression, the idea being that the best way to express our genes is by living like our Primal ancestors. Eating clean, whole foods, getting plenty of exercise, mental stimulation, and sleep – these are the ways Grok lived (if he was lucky), and these are the methods by which our genes are best influenced. And it’s not just conjecture. Time and time again, science (read: unbiased, unaffiliated observations on the human condition) has suggested precisely the same thing about environmental effects on the way our genes work.

You probably also know by now that we relish beating a dead horse – especially if CW is still trying to throw a saddle on the damn thing and ride it. Though that may not be the case with gene expression (rather, almost no one has really caught on yet), we’re not taking any chances. Mounting an effective case against centuries-ingrained ideas about nutrition and lifestyle requires mountains of evidence. With that said, here’s another bit to throw on the pile.

A team of international researchers, observing the effects of cigarette smoking on lung cancer, discovered an interesting new mechanism that further reinforces the link between cancer and smoking. Tobacco smoking was shown to cause hypermethylation (complete or partial deactivation) of a single gene, MTHFR. The silencing of MTHFR in turn seemed to trigger hypomethylation (or systemic dysfunction) in many genes, setting the stage for further cancer development. According to the study’s head researcher, they “found that tobacco-mediated… silencing of the gene, may trigger global hypomethylation and deregulation of DNA synthesis both of which may contribute to cancer development.” All this is to say that researchers have found another, previously unkown mechanism by which smoking tobacco can lead to cancer via altering the ways genes express themselves.

This is simply confirmation that the day-to-day choices we make – whether it’s what to pack for lunch, or hitting the snooze button and missing the gym, or even sneaking a cigarette break – don’t just impact us in the short-term (or even in ways that are immediately clear to us). Rather, they can have long-term consequences (for good or for bad) with genetic implications. And, as we’ve seen with MTHFR, the silencing of even a single gene can wreak havoc on our entire being.

These sound like grave pronouncements to be sure, but they don’t have to be. Knowing truly is half the battle, and the fact that we now know about genetic expression and our ability to affect it simply gives us more options. We like options around here; we don’t like the idea that we are beholden to our genetic destiny, or that a genetic destiny even exists. I guess it all depends on whether your glass is half-full or half-empty – we tend to welcome the news that a few seemingly inconsequential lifestyle choices or environmental factors can have resounding effects on our genetic expression. Because if it can go one way – towards negative gene expression (and, for much of humanity, it seems to be heading there) – it can certainly go the other way. We don’t know about you, but the Primal Blueprint seems to be our best bet for ensuring things go our way.

Further Reading:

Dear Mark: Go Primal in 2009

Loathe Handles: Belly Fat Increases Early Death Risk

Dear Mark: Healthy Body Weight?

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31 Comments on "Forging Your Own Genetic Destiny"

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Zen Fritta
Zen Fritta
7 years 8 months ago

Easiest thing to do – follow our genetic (i.e. Primal) blueprint!

David at Animal-Kingdom-Workouts.com

Hi Mark,

I think I’ve come to a lot of the same conclusions you have with regards to health and fitness. However, I was not fully aware of the idea of how our actions can actually turn on and turn off our genes. This is a very powerful idea, and one I’m going to have to give some thought to.

– Dave

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[…] Today he has a bit on shaping your own genetic destiny.  This is a big new part of the medicine to come, and for those for whom this is news, Mark has a great place to start. […]

Son of Grok
7 years 8 months ago

Hopefully I didn’t do too much long term damage to myself in my youth. I will be the first to admit I didn’t always respect the gene expression.

The SoG

Zen Fritta
Zen Fritta
7 years 8 months ago

SoG – I believe it is possible in most cases to reverse any of the bad effects you may have caused. Because if not, then the drinking I did in college aught to catch up to me pretty soon as I was a pretty bad binge drinker.

Chris - Zen to Fitness
7 years 8 months ago
Its amazing how quick our bodies will adapt back to years of evolution. In spite of following a bad diet and training regime or even a bad diet and NO training regime….. The human body is amazing and will adapt back to how its supposed to function so long as we are nourished correctly and follow primal (short intense) exercise patterns. Making smart choices day to day can be hard but the rewards are superb, the other great thing about genes is that once you start signaling them correctly they will help you out by telling you what your body… Read more »
Anna
7 years 8 months ago
Oh yeah! Gotta agree, MDA hits a home run, once again. “Knowing truly is half the battle, and the fact that we now know about genetic expression and our ability to affect it simply gives us more options. ” Recently I was looking into some gluten issues for a friend of mine, and as a result of a hunch from what I learned (plus my husband has a Scandinavian cousin who has was diagnosed with celiac-sprue in infancy), I had myself and my 4th grade son tested for gluten sensitivity, using a newer fecal tests for IgA antibodies, anti-tissue transglutaminase,… Read more »
Lauren B
7 years 8 months ago

The fact that what we are doing now might only manifest itself 40 years from now can make it difficult to make healthy choices! Fortunately, my body can tell immediately when it is not receiving optimal fuel. Great post, Mark!

Methuselah - Pay Now Live Later
It’s interesting that you mention the glass half full vs. glass half empty philosophies – not sure which way around you meant it, but I have always felt that it is an excess of glass-half-full mentality in relation to diet that leads to the terrible diets many people have. They consider that eating a piece of fruit or some vegetables in the course of a day is cause for celebration and in some way renders less significant the garbage they are inflicting on themselves the rest of the time. The ‘Five-a-day’ campaign in the UK, well intended though it may… Read more »
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[…] Don’t Forget To Change Your Genes… Before You GO! […]

Richard Nikoley
7 years 8 months ago
This is an interesting topic, one I’m intrigued with because I keep reading bits and pieces about HGs with high rates of smoking (e.g., Kitavans – 70%+ and Massai around the same), yet none of the common associations. Of course, organic home grown tobacco is probably a lot different that the heavily processed kind with all the additives. Then, just the other day, I realized that in terms of association, one can reduce cancer risk by about 30% if they smoke now and quit. However, by just getting vitamin D levels about 50, associative risk is reduced 50%, and getting… Read more »
Jonny
Jonny
7 years 8 months ago

Dr Gundry has an interesting take on gene expression in his book Dr Gundry’s Diet Evolution. Same theory/idea as Mark with an explanation of why they work this way.

Jen
7 years 8 months ago
Hi Mark, you’re most welcome for the link to your walnut oil article! I’ve been exploring your site a little in the past few days and the idea of “old” ways of eating intrigues me. It’s definitely tempting, with all your talk of higher energy and lower body fat and such. However, I am a committed long-distance runner and triathlete. Nothing anyone can say could change my mind, it’s a passion of mine. That said, do you think this eating plan can fit into an lifestyle of intense training? 100 g carbs a day just doesn’t seem like enough to… Read more »
Mark Sisson
7 years 8 months ago
Richard Nikoley
7 years 8 months ago

Jen:

Though this is trekking and not your form of athletics, you might note the mathematical smarts that went into these guys betting the 700-mile across Antarctica by over 6 days. They did it on bacon, butter, and cheese.

http://www.freetheanimal.com/root/2009/01/theory.html

Do the math.

Bonnie
Bonnie
7 years 8 months ago
Dear Mark, I have great respect for your dietary advice and the outstanding results that you and others have when following the primal blue print. I also suspect that you are correct in thinking that good diet may influence gene expression in a good way. As a scientist, I would ask that you please refrain from discussing ‘good’ and ‘bad’ gene expression, as science has yet to establish what these mean. There is no such thing as negative gene expression, and there are only a few well established examples of ‘bad’ genes or ‘bad’ gene expression. And even for those… Read more »
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[…] Read the rest […]

Mark Sisson
7 years 7 months ago
Bonnie – I just replied to a similar question/comment in another board, but wanted you to be included in on this discussion so I’ve copied it here as well: Alex, sorry you feel the references were a “waste of time” and understanding gene expression is “useless”. The book will explain all this in detail. I guess I missed Bonnie’s comments earlier as well. She suggests that there is no “good” or “bad” gene expression; and she is correct. Genes don’t know or care when they switch on or off. They simply respond to the signals they are given by other… Read more »
Bonnie
Bonnie
7 years 7 months ago
Practitioners sometimes have a more useful intuitive understanding of nature than science does. If your experience and observations lead you to believe that exercise has a profound influence on the human body, then you may not be interested in the slow development of rigorous scientific explanations for your observations. Indeed, it is difficult to have patience with science when the rigor of collecting and analyzing data limit the scope of questions can be answered. This narrow view limits the progress we can make. When scientists are skeptical of practitioners’ wisdom, and when practitioners ask scientists to speculate, we all loose.… Read more »
Mark Sisson
7 years 7 months ago

Bonnie, well put!

Dan Lange
6 years 9 months ago

All I know is I’ve been primal for about six weeks now and every time I go by the mirror, I say to myself who is that young thin faced goodlooking bastard. Wife loves it too. The sex is much better too. primal love, nothing better, except of course more primal love. Grok on primal brothers and sisters.

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[…] I’ve made pretty clear, our ultimate goal is to achieve positive gene expression, functional strength, optimum health, and extended longevity. In other words: To make the most out […]

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[…] I’ve made pretty clear, our ultimate goal is to achieve positive gene expression, functional strength, optimum health, and extended longevity. In other words: To make the most out […]

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[…] I’ve made pretty clear, our ultimate goal is to achieve positive gene expression, functional strength, optimum health, and extended longevity. In other words: To make the most out […]

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[…] annoyingly so at first, but it pays off. You learn to cook your own food (control your own dietary destiny), make smart decisions when out (mustard instead of ketchup; oil and vinegar instead of dressing; […]

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[…] the same token, restricting food appears to increase dopamine receptor levels (through gene expression, of course). Mice whose food intake was limited showed higher dopamine D2 receptor levels than mice […]

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[…] dearth of gustatory delights if I wanted to keep my boyish figure. Never happened. Primal eating reprograms the genes in a way that takes the edge off hunger, while assuring more-than-adequate energy and stable blood […]

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[…] annoyingly so at first, but it pays off. You learn to cook your own food (control your own dietary destiny), make smart decisions when out (mustard instead of ketchup; oil and vinegar instead of dressing; […]

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[…] I’m the type who responds best when I eat 5-6 times a day, I just figured that out by trying it and comparing results. This point is similar to the point about considering the ‘Time of Day’ you should consider when figuring out your eating schedule. This is best executed when you do a little trial and error on your part and figure out what works for your body. Read your blueprint! […]

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[…] I’ve made pretty clear, our ultimate goal is to achieve positive gene expression, functional strength, optimum health, and extended longevity. In other words: To make the most out […]

trackback

[…] I’ve made pretty clear, our ultimate goal is to achieve positive gene expression, functional strength, optimum health, and extended longevity. In other words: To make the most out […]

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