(Or “How Your Life Can Affect Your Genetics”)
I love to figure out how things work. I have always been like this… I remember getting into big trouble on my 11th Christmas when I completely dismantled the transistor radio that was my “special present” to figure out how it worked. (Unfortunately, I could not figure out how to put it back together again.) My love of understanding the nuts and bolts of how something works is one of the most appealing things for me about being a clinical nutritionist.
This Christmas I gave myself a “special present”… a five and a half hour webinar by Dr. Ben Lynch on the complete genetic pathways of the Methylation Cycle. “What in the heck is the methylation cycle”, you may ask… I like to define it as the “cellular engine”. Without the biochemical activities of the methylation cycle in each one of our ten trillion cells, we would not be alive. Understanding the genetic underpinnings of the methylation cycle is the ultimate in “dismantling” metabolic function in the body.
For me, the five hours of learning about this complex subject was like savoring a piece of Christmas fudge (you know my love of chocolate… if not, see one of my first blogs), but when I was finished with the class, I realized that there was one big takeaway: the hardwiring of your DNA does not matter very much. What does matter is what we do to the DNA hardwiring that we are given.
From the moment we are conceived, we are installing software on to our brand new DNA ‘computer’. It starts as soon as our little egg begins to transform into a multi-celled zygote. The lifestyle habits of your parents (Did they smoke? Drink? Eat their veggies?) are the first bit of information used to influence your DNA potential. Did you grow up in the middle of L.A. or on a farm in Iowa? Did you have a stressful childhood? Party too much in college? Avoid the expense of organic food once you had a family? The list of things that affect your DNA negatively goes on and on. But so does the list of things that can positively affect it.
I am a good example of this…I did not have healthy parents; they both smoked and drank way too much. My mom thought TV dinners were haute cuisine. I grew up in southern California near an Air Force base. I was on the birth control pill for most of my adult life. I lived under the burden of extreme stress for most of my middle age. The list of assaults to my rather poor DNA profile is long. But so is the list of beneficial lifestyle factors. I have always been very athletic and exercise has been a priority in my life. I am also a good sleeper and have enjoyed quality and restful sleep since I was a kid. I would prefer a bowl of broccoli to a bowl of ice cream any day. I have multiple ways to modulate the stressors in my life. After tallying up the good and the bad influences to my DNA, the good have won out. I am a very healthy 63-year-old with great energy and zest for life.
So back to the main takeaway from my Lynch webinar… a healthy lifestyle matters.
- Eat good, clean, real food.
- Hang out with people who love and support you.
- Make sleep a priority.
- Move around a lot.
- Find ways to become stress resilient.
If you didn’t do these things in the past, make the switch and work on doing them now. By the way, there is a fancy word for this concept: epigenetics. You may have heard this term before, but were confused by what it meant. In the next few posts, I will continue to explain how healthy lifestyle habits can positively affect your DNA and tell you more about what I have learned from the good Dr. Lynch.