Many of us believe that our genes are similar to a cosmic lottery. Some get lucky and are born with healthy and strong genes—others not so much. If we are fortunate enough to have parents who’ve lived a vibrant and healthy life into their nineties we feel blessed. The rest of us usually cringe when our doctor asks us at our annual checkup, “Who in your family experienced this, this and that?” —often dreadful diseases that we never want to experience. But is it luck or something else? A new book with cutting-edge research challenges that old assumption. Super Genes—Unlock the Astonishing Power of Your DNA for Optimum Health and Well-Being written by Deepak Chopra, M.D. and Rudolph Tanzi, Ph.D. claims that the new study of genetics shows us, “…in the vast majority of cases regarding health and personality, your genetic destiny is not set in stone.”
First some background. As some of us know, during in the last two decades the Human Genome Project completed a map of the 3 billion chemical base pairs of genes that make up the double helix of DNA in every cell of our bodies. According to Chopra and Tanzi, this genome, or super genome, that we all possess is made up of three big components:
1) The approximately 23,000 genes you inherited from your parents, along with 97% of the DNA located between those genes.
2) The epigenetic switching mechanisms that reside in every strand of DNA, which is controlled by your epigenome.
3) Genes contained in the approximately 100 Trillion microbes (comprising between 500 and 2,000 species of bacteria) in our bodies that continually serve us.
What most of us probably don’t know is that all those building blocks within us are “…fluid, dynamic and responsive to everything you think and do.” In fact, the major premise of this book is that “…gene activity is largely under our control.” By learning how our genes operate, and what influences are possible, we can “make our genes help us” and activate an enormous amount of untapped potential for a healthier life—hence, “super genes.”
So how does all this work? Keep in mind that DNA is the brain of each of our cells. According to Chopra and Tanzi, 99.9% of the time they work wonderfully. Only in the tiniest .1% is there trouble. Within our DNA, only 3% of it is made up of genes, but those genes direct and trigger certain actions for each cell. It’s important to realize, “…there is no such thing as a ‘disease gene.’ All genes are ‘good’ and provide a normal function needed by the body. It’s the variants that they harbor that can bring problems.”
Some variants determine our height or hair color. Others determine whether we have a predisposition to a disease. But remember, Chopra and Tanzi assert that, “The bottom line is that what we do, what we experience, and how we view the world, along with what we are exposed to in our environment, strongly influence the actual outcome of the genes we inherit.”
A key to understanding how we can learn to influence our genes is found within the study of epigenetics. Epigenetics are the managers or control switches that either trigger on or off the variants and/or mutations in our genes. This collection of epigenetics, called an epigenome, constantly monitors our daily lives. For example, “…a growing body of evidence indicates that diet, behavior, stress levels and chemical pollutants can all affect gene activity and thus one’s survival and well-being.”
What are some of the most provocative claims reported in the book? Here are important ones that caught my eye:
- “What makes the difference between well-being and radical well-being is learning to guide and influence your genes in a positive manner.”
- “After studying hundreds of pairs of identical twins, researchers determined that the probability for Alzheimer’s disease occurring in both twins is 79% if one of them is afflicted. This means that lifestyle accounts for 21% of the probability of developing Alzheimer’s even with identical genes.”
- “For various cancers—colon, prostate, breast, and lung—the heritability in identical twins ranges from 25% to 40%, which is why the current view holds that the majority of cancers, perhaps a large majority, are preventable.”
- Studies have shown that up to one-third of dementia cases are linked to mineral deficiencies or poor diet.
- The food we eat, our level of stress, our lack of exercise and so much more causes negative epigenetic modifications and alters gene activities.
- Only about 5% of disease mutations guarantee that a particular kind of disease will begin within any of us. The other 95% only increase our susceptibility, along with the environment and other choices in a person’s lifestyle.
- “When it comes to human disease, whether it’s cancer, diabetes, heart disease or Alzheimer’s, to name a few, inflammation is almost always the killer that takes the patient out. If you want to name the epigenetic change that plays the biggest role in modulating a biological process, it would probably be inflammation.”
- “Drastic inactivity (sitting all day with no exercise at all) eventually leads to a 30% higher mortality rate for men and double the mortality rate for women.”
- “Lack of sleep has been associated with triggering Alzheimer’s…”
But make no mistake, this book isn’t just about cutting-edge gene study facts. Entire chapters are devoted to which foods are most beneficial, proven ways to reduce stress, valuable ways to exercise and even how important our thoughts and attitudes are to creating super genes. Also pointed out is, like so much in the study of happiness and positive psychology, super genes respond to the outlook and beliefs we hold in our mind. Having an optimistic growth mindset once again shows that regardless of the genes we have been dealt in life, there are ways we can positively influence them to our benefit.
Chopra and Tanzi repeatedly remind us that our genes are not the enemy, but instead are often only responding to the “cloud of causes” that our every day choices and thoughts bring into existence. They make it clear that our biology is never our unalterable destiny. Ultimately this book reminds us that it is SMART to insure that our actions, choices, habits, and thoughts work in harmony with our bodies and our world in order to experience an ongoing healthy and happy life.
Super Genes will be available in all major outlets on November 10th. It is available on Amazon here. I received a free copy of this book in return for this review. However, all thoughts and impressions are solely my own.