Faith Factor | Genetics, epigenetics, and the mind-body connection
June 27, 2013
TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — If you think you're destined to play the genetic hand life has dealt you, think again. Literally.
Whether you were aware of it or not, your thoughts, beliefs, and emotions play a major role in how your genes express themselves which, in turn, can have a significant impact on your health.
To be clear, no one is saying we have the power to change our DNA. But there are ways that our environment – including our mental environment – can influence the way our genes behave. It's called epigenetics.
The poster child for this emerging field of study is Dr. Bruce Lipton, author of "Biology of Belief," former scholar at Stanford University Medical Center, and current faculty member at New Zealand College of Chiropractic.
Nearly 50 years ago Lipton conducted a pretty basic experiment that ended up having a profound impact on his understanding of the meaning of life – not so much from a philosophical standpoint as from a physiological one.
He began by placing a single stem cell in a Petri dish. Before long this cell began to divide into multiple yet genetically identical cells. He then split the cells into three separate Petri dishes and exposed them to three different environments. In one dish the cells formed muscle; in another, bone; in another, fat.
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What's the big deal?
Lipton realized that what these cells became had nothing to do with genetics and everything to do with the environment to which they were exposed. Even more impressive was the fact those cells exposed to a "good" environment enjoyed better health than the ones exposed to a "bad" environment.
"If I were an allopathic physician of cells, I'd diagnose the cells in the bad [environment] as sick," said Lipton in an interview with Dr. Lissa Rankin in her book, "Mind Over Medicine." "Surely, they need medicine. But that's not really what they need. If you take the sick cells out of the bad environment and put them back into the good environment, they naturally recover – without medicine."
Neat lab experiment. But what's it got to do with you?
"The human is nothing more than a skin-covered Petri dish with a community of 50 trillion cells," said Lipton. "Whether the cells are in our bodies or in the Petri dish doesn't matter."
The influences on this human Petri dish include everything from nutrition to physical environment to your spiritual beliefs and perceptions of others – all of which can impact your health in positive ways and all of which can be altered without the use of drugs. Some studies even show that an improved set of genes can be passed down to your offspring, allowing them to live healthier lives as well.
I asked Dr. David Agus about this following a talk he gave last year at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco. Agus is co-founder of Navigenics and author of "The End of Illness." He's in the business of providing detailed analyses of an individual's genetic predisposition to various health conditions, as well as an outline of what it will take to stay healthy for as long as possible. Kind of like the 1950s TV show, "This Is Your Life," only in reverse.
Even though he might seem like the last person to offer up a nod to something as "out there" as epigenetics, Agus readily admitted that mental qualities such as hope are actually one of the best weapons we have to fight disease.
"There's no question that the mind-body connection is real," he told me, "even if we can't quantify it."
Although epigenetics is an important and intriguing step forward in our collective quest to assert some level of control over a matter-based existence, it still leaves matter at the center of the equation – basically getting a matter-based brain to manufacture matter-based chemicals that, in turn, can have a positive impact on our matter-based bodies.
But what if what needs reining in doesn't involve matter at all but simply our thoughts? And what if the source of these thoughts didn't come from within but without, even from a singular divine Mind; a Mind that increasing numbers of people are at least willing to consider exists? Could it be that our health is not only not at the mercy of our genes but also not at the mercy of whatever positive energy we feel capable of generating on our own?
Perhaps having answers to all of these questions isn't as important as the willingness to ask them. The thought process involved could lead to even more exciting discoveries in medicine. And who knows? It might even improve your health.
Eric Nelson's columns on the link between consciousness and health appear weekly in a number of local, regional, and national online publications. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California. This article originally appeared on Communities @WashingtonTimes.com and is used with permission.