A brief discussion of our daily (genetic) expression of self

I hope everyone takes some time out each and every day to appreciate and marvel at the wonderful miracle that is your life. Isn’t it fascinating that all of our cells have the DNA which define how the entire system works? It is only through various cell signals that these cells express DNA differently to become specialized into the tissues that make up our bodies.

I think as we gain a greater understanding of epigenetics, and even with what has already been understood, we begin to see genetics as “fluid” not static, i.e. capable of being optimized by the way that we live as humans in the environment, the way in which we manage our physical and psychological stressors, the food and drink that we consume, and how we treat our body (sleep, habits, social) from day to day. Already studies are finding trauma, poor sleep and diet have been tied to increased inflammation and changes in genetic expression. The central dogma is explained by DNA being transcribed to RNA and then translated to protein.  So when we speak of expression, it entails that both of these steps are optimized at the time of these actions.    

The empowering message of all of this is that we are not only a sum-total of the genetic legacy that we inherit but also how we live our lives. We are not fated by our parent’s “bad genes” but how we actively choose to live our lives and the behaviors we foster. As trauma is interwoven with our genetic expression, our lives are not as much about applying blame to the negative experiences that we have had but how we interact with them to create resilience and growth.

As we live this human experience, we blaze a path into the uncertainty that is our future.  Each decision that we make and do not make contribute to the quality of our live at this moment and ultimately factors into our healthspan – the period at which we can stay healthy and are capable of performing all of the activities that give meaning to our lives.  Ideally, if healthspan perfectly coincides with lifespan, we die in our sleep sometime in our nineties – the day before having enjoyed <insert meaningful daily activity>.

So the ball is really in our court, when we think about all our thoughts, behaviors and actions, are we making overall the healthiest choices?

For diet:

Are we consuming the food and drink that is easiest to digest for our body, that contains a surplus of nutrients and that is free of toxins?  Using a car analogy, what would happen if you gave your car the wrong fuel?

For stress and lifestyle:

Do we really need to take issue, have a breakdown, yell and name-call so that our needs can be met or that we can get our points across?  Obviously, this is a complex interaction and cannot be resolved simply by thinking yourself out of it. Or can it?  Are your needs being met?   Would adding just a little time in between received message and expressed response allow our mind to construct the message that has reduced internal bias, preparing our bodies to not be thrown into a flight-or-fight response?  For instance, the cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine released from stress or trauma, real or perceived, have been associated with pro-inflammatory states that may affect genetic expression.

For sleep:

We enjoy the time we have and living in the moment.  Sometimes this may lead us to continue to revel in it.  Do we need to rob ourselves of consistent sleeping habits to watch one more movie or to work the night shift?  This is similarly another challenging question in those whose livelihood depends on the extra money received by working nights.  But, is the financial compensation really worth affecting your health?

Final points to ponder:

1. How can we show gratitude to our bodies in the activities that we choose, the food we eat and through self-care?

2. How do we really spend our time each day? Do we just “wing it” and do the activities that we wish or do we plan a general path of our leisure time?  When we see a musician and think about how someone can be so skilled at an instrument, we often forget that their skill developed through time – short periods spanning years, rather than long periods spanning days.  Patience and discipline can be used toward “I always wanted to do that” goals.

3.  Think about your day being a mosaic of how you would like to direct your life.  In a way, it can then become a step on the path to the future you.

4.  Oh and as for cell phones – I have used the iPhone and have been surprised at how much active time I am spending on it daily.  Can you and I turn our phones off or put them in airplane mode for a larger part of the day?  Can we speak to the loved ones in our lives that our near to us, rather than the near-strangers in our lives that are far from us?

The last words come from from Satire X of the Roman poet Juvenal, credited for the contribution of the Latin phrase, “mens sana in corpore sano“, or “a healthy mind in a healthy body,” which is at the center of Your Health Forum:

You should pray for a healthy mind in a healthy body.
Ask for a stout heart that has no fear of death,
and deems length of days the least of Nature’s gifts
that can endure any kind of toil,
that knows neither wrath nor desire and thinks
the woes and hard labors of Hercules better than
the loves and banquets and downy cushions of Sardanapalus.
What I commend to you, you can give to yourself;
For assuredly, the only road to a life of peace is virtue. (t,r),

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