Relaxing with Rob

Change Your Genes

March 01, 2020 Rob Sepich Season 1 Episode 37
Relaxing with Rob
Change Your Genes
Show Notes Transcript

Our genetic structure is fixed, but we can influence how genes express themselves, and thus improve our health.

To slow (and in some cases reverse) cellular aging:

  1. Eat healthfully.
  2. Exercise regularly.
  3. If you drink, do so in moderation.
  4. Quit tobacco products.
  5. Reduce stress.

Here’s the independent nutrition site I mention:

This video summarizes research on the power of a plant-based diet (specifically in reducing saturated fat intake) to slow cellular aging.

This video on stress management research highlights well-designed studies, including one showing that just 12 minutes of daily meditation for eight weeks can lengthen your telomeres—helping reverse cellular aging.  


[ music ] . Hi, this is Rob Sepich, and welcome to Relaxing with Rob. Do you ever wish you could change your genetic structure? And how do you think relaxation might be related to genes? Well, the brain functions that affect anxiety and depression do have a pretty strong genetic component. But the good news is there's lots of room for reducing our risks of developing them or passing them along to our children. In episode 23, "Increase Your Happiness," we talked about Sonja Lyubomirsky's research that shows that about half of our happiness is genetically determined. But a huge amount is within our daily control. Research out of Rutgers University in 2019 found that even if you have no family history of alcoholism, heavy drinking can alter your DNA in ways that make you crave alcohol even more, and potentially pass along those characteristics. I've been fascinated by nature versus nurture questions ever since college, from learning about the Minnesota Twin Family Study to as recently as the 2018 documentary, "Three Identical Strangers." We now know that for most things, it's not "either/or." It's "both/and." A little background: Our DNA sequence is powerful, and it affects our personality and health in big ways. And although our genes give us strong predispositions, we're not talking predetermination. In some ways we can change our genes. And today I'd like to share how. One evening, just before a Zumba class, I was speaking with a doctoral student about her research in cellular and molecular biology and epigenetics. You know, typical pre-workout talk at a university. Epigenetics is the field that looks at how changes in gene expression affect how cells read our genes. We talked about how stressors like Adverse Childhood Experiences can damage our genes and shorten our telomeres (these caps of DNA at the end of our chromosomes). They typically shorten with age. As well as how things like exercise and nutrition, mindfulness practices, can help repair them. She said it's why identical twins don't stay identical forever. When I was twenty six, I got kind of depressed thinking that if I lived as long as my dad, then my life was half over. And facing a midlife crisis is one thing, but having one in my mid-twenties was quite another. Since he died of a heart attack, and since family history is a strong predictor, I had a pessimistic view about my chances for a "long sweet life" in Zorba Paster's words. But I looked at the research and even back then I learned that other factors, things that were within my control, might help. And that's when my behaviors around alcohol and tobacco diverged pretty sharply from those of my father. I started these changes in hopes of outliving him, but what sustained them for me, I think, was quality of life, not quantity. I just became a happier, more optimistic person. And that's what kept me interested in wellbeing. I've had anxious clients from what they described as extremely anxious families who were able to learn to relax and to become more mindful, to recognize fears as just fears, not evidence that they couldn't handle something. They were able to learn that they can have anxious thoughts without being an anxious person. Sometimes therapy helped, sometimes medication, and probably sometimes both. I know it can be difficult to break free from how you were raised, if you want to be different from your parents. But please know that it can be done. So here are some experiments to try in order to change your genes. And this is not an exhaustive list, but each of these five practices are within your control. First, eat healthfully. Meet with a registered dietician to learn how. In the meantime, I'm placing a link to an excellent site in the show notes. Michael Greger, an MD at Cornell University who runs this independent site, accepts no advertising. His team reviews all nutrition studies having to do with major causes of death, and they translate them into a language that we can understand. A consistent finding is that cultures abroad and even individuals here who live primarily on plant-based diets have a fraction of heart disease, diabetes and many types of cancer that we have on our standard American diet. So the foods that we choose to eat truly are the most powerful medications we can take. And as always, these are non-affiliate links. So if you do purchase something like a book through these sites, I don't receive anything. Second, exercise regularly. We talked a lot about that in episode 19, "Exercise for Love." Third, if you drink alcohol, please do so in moderation. Fourth , if you use any tobacco products, quit. Reputable scientists don't even talk about moderation here. And fifth, reduce stress. I guess given the name of my podcast, there's no surprise here. In the show notes, I'm also posting a link to a brief video summarizing research on how meditation can help grow your telomeres--essentially, reverse cellular aging. So what I hope you're hearing today is that in spite of your genetics and your past behaviors, even small changes now can make big improvements later. Thank you for listening, and we'll talk again soon. [ music ] .