Ellen Gecker, Orion Wellness
Have you ever wondered how much your genes that you inherited from your parents affect you and your health—and even your mental health? If one of them had a disease, does that mean that you’ll probably get it too?
There was a study done at Emory University that showed that we may be quite affected by the genes we got from our parents–and also from our grandparents. This research project was using male mice, where they taught the mice to be afraid of the smell of cherry blossoms. They did this by giving them mild shocks each time they smelled the blossoms. The mice then showed anxiety and fear every time they smelled cherry blossoms, which is pretty predictable.
After that, they bred the mice to have babies. They let the babies grow up to be adults who had never smelled cherry blossoms. Then they had this second generation of mice smell the cherry blossoms, but gave them no shocks. Guess what? They became anxious and scared when they smelled the scent, even though they weren’t given shocks and had never been exposed to cherry blossoms before. That’s amazing!
But it gets more stunning. They bred those mice to have a third generation of baby mice. When these new babies grew up, guess what happened? Yup, the first time they were exposed to the smell of cherry blossoms, without shocks, they became scared and anxious. So the grandchildren of the mice who were given shocks obviously inherited a gene to fear that smell. So, does this mean that we are doomed to whatever we have inherited from our parents?
Well, think about this. Obviously, the first generation of mice who got the shocks had their genes affected or mutated. So that means that our genes aren’t set in stone, doesn’t it? Therefore, the genes we inherited from our parents don’t necessarily determine our future because they can be changed or turned off or on.
There is a new field called Epigenetics that studies this type of thing. In Epigenetics, they found that your body can change how it reads your genes or that certain genes can turn off and on. Things that can cause these changes are the following: what’s in your environment, your diet, your behavior, what your early childhood was like (good or bad), even your thoughts.
This can explain why identical twins aren’t identical in everything. For example, one is very musical and the other one can’t carry a tune. One is adventurous and the other one is scared of a lot of things. One likes dance and the other one likes sports. One gets a disease and the other one doesn’t. Maybe the switching off and on of genes explains why people with multiple personalities change their bodies when they switch between personalities, things such as right-handed or left-handedness, the need for eyeglasses, appearance and disappearance of rashes or scars. Yes, these changes have actually happened to people who have multiple personalities.
There was a study done at Harvard Medical School on the mind and how it affects the genes. They had a group of people do meditation for 15 minutes a day for eight weeks. Another group didn’t meditate. At the end of the study, they found that the meditators had changes in 172 genes, the ones that control inflammation, sleep, sugar processing in their bodies, and lowering blood pressure. The group who didn’t do meditation didn’t have these positive changes.
Want more proof? Our genes have protective protein caps on the ends called telemeres. As we get older, the telomeres get shorter, which is what ages us. If the telomeres would just stay long, like the length they were when we were young, we wouldn’t age. If that happened, as our body’s cells reproduce, they would reproduce youthful new cells. But if the telomeres shorten, as typically happens, the new cells reproduce even older than themselves. This means that we show signs of aging—gray hair, wrinkles, loss of muscle mass, organs not working well, whatever happens when we grow old. And the study above also showed that those who did the meditation had their telomeres grow longer. Longer telomeres improve our immune system and cardiovascular system and diseases in general.
So, the bottom line is some of the things that can help us stay healthy and live longer are: live a healthy life style, think positively, and do things calming to the mind like daily meditation and deep slow breaths. Thinking positive thoughts and living healthily can make bad genes turn off and have no power. Negative thoughts also affect your genes the other way, bad ones turning on. So, you do have more power than you probably ever thought possible.