Epigenetics: Understanding That We're not Victims of our Genes
There is a major myth in our society that genes control our biology and this is complete nonsense. Sure, genes may predispose us to developing certain conditions or having certain traits, but they don’t control our fate. In fact, the science of genetics is old news and the new science is called epigenetics.
Epigenetics studies how the environment of the cell dictates how the cell behaves, or in other words, which genes are being expressed. Hurray, we’re no longer victims of our genes! Once we understand this simple concept, we become empowered to change our environment if we want to change our biology.
This new science spawned from a famous experiment conducted by Dr. Bruce Lipton–Author of The Biology of Belief and a pioneer in this field–where identical stem cells were divided into 3 different petri dishes. Dr. Lipton changed the culture medium in each dish–meaning the fluid that these cells were floating around in–and the results were incredible. In one dish the cells formed muscle tissue, in another bone cells and in the last fat cells. The destiny of these identical cells–all with identical genes–were controlled by their environment.
This simple experiment very clearly demonstrates that the biological driver of a cell is its environment, not its genes. Humans beings are composed of roughly 10 trillion cells so knowing that our environment dictates the fate of our cells–and thus the whole community of cells called the human body–we become empowered to create an environment for ourselves that will promote our health and wellbeing.
Our environment is constituted by everything that we are exposed to every single day including the food we eat, the water we drink, the products we put on our skin and the air that we breath. These things constitute the physical environment, however our environment expands beyond the physical and includes our emotions and thoughts as well. Every thought and emotion that we experience is communicated to the cells in our body, not it words, but through complex biological signaling.
The physical manifestation of a thought is when a neuron fires in the brain. This causes what are called neurotransmitters to send signals to our nervous system. Our nerves carry these electrical signals to hormone producing glands located throughout our entire body. Hormones are then released into the bloodstream, eventually coming into contact with individual cells. When these hormones reach cells they bind to receptors on the cell's outer membrane, and these receptors can be thought of as the ears of the cell.
When the cell hears the hormone’s message, it takes action. Let say for example that I'm worrying about money. Worrisome thoughts like this initiate the biological stress response, so through the simplified mechanisms I just described, adrenaline–among other hormones–would be released into the bloodstream.
Here’s how it works at the cellular level. When adrenaline binds to receptors on the cell’s outer membrane, the cell takes action. Proteins are required for anything to happen inside a cell, so one major function of cells is to manufacture protein. The thousands of different types of proteins that cells produce are responsible for behavior, both at a cellular and real world level. Proteins can send signals to other cells, repair damaged cells and are like the body's building blocks.
Adrenaline causes a plethora of different actions in different kinds of cells. For example, adrenaline binds to cells in the lungs, causing bronchioles to relax, thus allowing more oxygen to enter the bloodstream. The mechanism inside the cell for this response is dictated by proteins produced by the cell.
The types of proteins a cell produces has everything to do with the signals the cell gets from the environment. DNA contains all of the information for making proteins and it can be thought of as a blueprint for proteins. DNA doesn’t actually do anything in a cell other than hold onto this information. It’s like a library full of codes, but which code is pulled out and put into use is almost entirely determined by environmental signals like hormones.
When a cell wants to make a new protein something called RNA essentially “takes a picture” of the DNA and transports this image to a ribosome in the cell, which is where new proteins are manufactured. The ribosome uses this picture–or blueprint–to construct the new protein. Looking at this is it begins to makes sense that DNA is not in charge of what the cell is doing. That would be like saying the library is in charge of what we think. Obviously that isn’t true because we get to choose which book we want to read.
Stepping away from the biology back into the real world, here’s why this matters. We are not victims of our genes. The science is very clear cut about this. A gene needs an environmental signal in order to turn on or off.
We love to blame our genes for things because what we’re really saying when we blame genes is, “It’s not my fault.” We’re saying that there is nothing we could have done, and there is nothing we can do. It’s easier to think this way. It's so much easier and more convenient to play the victim.
I used to think this way. Since I was 12 years old I suffered from really bad allergies. I took all kinds of medications to find brief relief from constant symptoms of congestion. I thought it was just how I was made, that I was unlucky to be born with allergies and that there was nothing I could do. Only upon discovering the world of alternative health did I realize that I could actually alleviate my symptoms by changing my whole lifestyle.
The victim mentality is a powerless attitude. I want this post to inspire people to adopt a new attitude. It’s time that we turn a new stone and explore the dynamism of a world where we are products of our environment, not our genes. If there’s something we want to change about our health, we have the power to do it by changing our environment. We can change our diet, the thoughts that occupy our mind, where we work, where we sleep, how we sleep and who we choose to spend our time with. We have the power to change our environment, and in turn, change our lives.
For more information on epigenetics I suggest looking into the work of Dr. Bruce Lipton including his free lectures available on Youtube and his book, The Biology of Belief.