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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Tag: Gene Expression

Relaxation Response

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.”

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Control Your Lifestyle, Control Your Genes

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.)

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Epigenetics and Depression

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.

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Metabolic Fingerprinting

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

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Dear Mark: Gene Expression

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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Gene Expression: Location, Location, Location

Geneticists at North Carolina State University have revealed an interesting lesson in gene expression: where you live can have significant impact on how your genes are expressed.

The scientists focused on a sample of 46 Moroccan Amazighs, a relatively homogenous group genetically-speaking. The subjects included desert nomads, mountain agrarians and coastal urban residents. The researchers analyzed the white blood cells of the group “to study the impact of the transition from traditional to urbanized lifestyles on the human immune system.” The results surprised even the scientists themselves: gene expression in the group varied by up to one-third based on geographic location and corresponding lifestyle.

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Nature Tops Nurture? Scientists Wrong Again…

They just don’t get it. Maybe they never will.

Reader Karen was outraged enough to send us a link to a news story on MSNBC that states “Nature tops nurture for heavy kids, study says. Research on twins finds that weight is 77 percent attributable to genes.” Thanks, Karen.

Read the abstract here.

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Gotta Love That Genome

Cool news for your Monday – Researchers from Duke University have discovered a way to examine the entire genome and find the “unpackaged” centers that direct gene expression:

A new resource that identifies regions of the human genome that regulate gene expression may help scientists learn about and develop treatments for a number of human diseases, according to researchers at Duke’s Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy (IGSP). … “Scientists have used similar methods to look at tiny portions of the genome in the past, but ours is the first technology to really allow researchers to look at the whole genome, so we can see all of the areas where gene regulation occurs,” said Terrence Furey, Ph.D., a researcher in the IGSP and co-senior investigator on this study. “Identifying these sites may help us understand the biological basis for gene regulation expression patterns in different cell types. We’ll also compare patterns within and across species, in response to external stimuli and in diseased tissues.”

via Science Daily

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23andMe

Picture this. The year is 2051 and the large biotech company, Probiogenic Solutions, has made huge advances in human genetic research. Backed by internet superpower Google, they have decided to bring their technology to the masses. “Genetics just got personal” is their motto.

It has been decades since Watson and Crick discovered that the human blueprint, at its core, lies in the ever-spiraling structure of the double helix. Since that day in 1953, nearly one hundred years prior, the mysteries uncovered in the tiny strands of DNA speak to the nature of life itself.

Now Probiogenic Solutions wants you to have the information locked up within your cells. The information that can shed light on who you are, where you are from, and what you are made of is at your (and in your) fingertips. Probiogenic Solutions is your modern soothsayer.

Just a sample of your saliva is all it takes.

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Grubs, Part 2

Last week I outlined my basic philosophy of nutrition, informed by my evolutionary biology knowledge. Or, as I call it, Primal Health. The lifestyle is simple: peer into the past at how our robust ancestors lived and take some notes from the DNA handbook (well, I’ll do that part).

Before the advent of agriculture, before the industrial revolution, and certainly before the modern era of fast food, long commutes, and sedentary office jobs, humans had evolved into the amazing creatures that they still are. To say we’re amazing isn’t anthropocentric – all creatures are amazing in the sense that they are finely tuned to survive in their niche. We are no different. For the delicacy of our skin, eyes, and bones, the susceptibility to environmental and emotional stress, and the infectious side effects of communal living, we are remarkably resilient. But it’s really our intelligence that has gotten us this far. Are we powerful? Well, not really, compared to apes. Sturdy? Again, nope. Our young take longer than just about any other mammal to mature (and also come with tuition bills). But brains? We have massive, enormously complex brains.

My Primal Health philosophy is really a marriage of ancient and high-tech. I believe we should harness the power of our knowledge, tools and intelligence to maximize human health and longevity. And the place to start is in our ancestral blueprints – our DNA – which haven’t changed in 10,000 or more years.

Great, Sisson. What does this mean for dinner?

Early humans were omnivorous (though in fact, there’s a bit of scavenger in the old DNA as well). I don’t consider my diet the Caveman Diet, as that’s a bit of a misnomer anyway. Rather, my “diet” is simply the very natural lifestyle I adhere to based upon what our genetic composition (that DNA blueprint) tells us about our highly successful evolution and adaptation. I attribute many, if not most, of our health problems – including mental health conditions – to a diet and lifestyle that’s severely out of sync with human physiology. I’ll be discussing the implications of this for exercise and stress in further articles, but today, let’s talk about the tastier aspects of primal health: what’s for dinner?

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