2016 Shifts in Wellness: Epigenetics – Do we have the power to turn back time?
What if you, by your own hand, held the power to transform your personal health and wellness outcomes? Sounds incredulous, doesn’t it? Well, science is merging with the metaphysical in groundbreaking genetic research centered around the mind-body connection.
Medical science has long been driven by the belief that ultimately, our DNA is hardwired and determines our health outcomes – subsequently we are not in charge of our health journey. That, on the whole, we cannot prevent or reverse serious disease of our own accord. As far back as one can delve into medical history, science has focused on treating illness, not preventing it from occurring in the first place.
A time seasoned theory in the health and wellness community is gaining attention once again – but at much deeper, connected level. One that demonstrates the actual biological power of the mind/body connection – and offers each of us an opportunity to take the reins of our wellness journey. It places control and responsibility of our well-being into our own hands.
At the 2015 Wellness Expo in Mexico City, Deepak Chopra, M.D., FACP, renowned global leader and pioneer in the field of mind-body medicine. and Ken Pelletier, Ph.D., MD, Clinical Professor and Director of Corporate Health Improvement at the University of Arizona School of Medicine and consultant with the World Health Organization, presented their passionate and engaging insight on an emerging science known as Epigenetics.
According to the Center for Epigenetics Research (CER), “Epigenetics refers to chemical
modifications of a cell’s genetic material that lead to changes in gene expression without altering the DNA sequence.” Basically, an epigenome determines what happens in a cell – they are the on/off switch. The key finding is that epigenetic states are often reversible. In essence, an ability – through lifestyle and environmental change – to turn back time and improve health outcomes. Cue the Back To The Future theme song!
Back in 1977, Dr. Pelletier wrote the groundbreaking book, Mind as a Healer, Mind as a Slayer, contending that stress is directly linked to four major chronic illnesses – cardiovascular disease, cancer, arthritis and respiratory illness. The book offered compelling evidence that our state of mind factors heavily into our health outcomes – that we must take responsibility for our own well-being and not wait for medical science to “make things better.” We now know that his theories have a place in the pursuit of total wellness and is part of the five essential elements of well-being.
In Dr. Pelletier’s 1994 book based on a four-year study of positive minded, purpose orientated prominent persons, Sound Mind, Sound Body, Dr. Pelletier stated, “Optimal health requires an integration of physical, mental, spiritual and environmental well-being; health is an attitude comprising our basic beliefs about ourselves and the world around us.” Nearly 40 years on and the message has not lost its potential for enacting revolutionary change in the healthcare industry.
Dr. Chopra has long been extolling the critical importance of the state of mind in healing and its critical connection to health and well-being. He believes that “Human is not a stable noun, but a ceaselessly changing verb.” He further explained that fairly simple changes have the power to prevent expression of 95% of genetic mutations not hardwired into our DNA at birth.
“By the simple act of changing a lifestyle through clean eating, regular exercise, managing sleep, and stress levels, our health can be transformed by the effect this has on our epigenomes. Self directed evolution is the emerging paradigm.” – Deepak Chopra
In his 2013 book, Super Brain, Dr. Chopra shared his view on this connection. “The mind and emotions directly affect gene activity, and since the mind is the source of a person’s lifestyle and behavior, it directs one’s biological transformations. Self-awareness holds the key to this process of self-transformation. Consciousness is invisibly reaching into the biochemistry of every moment of life. In your body, as in every cell, regulation is holistic, self-generated, self-organizing, and self-directed in concert with consciousness.”
As the healthcare industry increases its focus and resources around what it truly means to experience total well-being and the potential for long-lasting impact on healthcare delivery, we should not lose sight that this is not new “science” or fad. It has taken decades, if not longer for active research to connect the benefit of merging science and metaphysical approaches to wellness. Like Dr. Pelletier and Dr. Chopra, many practitioners in the well-being sector believe that our brain is an ever changing and evolving organ – dependent on our thoughts, beliefs, emotions and habits. When we change any of these factors, we effectively alter our brain.
In truth, not all the scientific community is keen on the proposed metaphysical connection to biological science that Dr. Chopra and Dr. Pelletier profess. Stands to reason this is why the two approaches to health – traditional western medicine and alternative or holistic treatments have remained at odds. One such critic, PZ Myers, a biologist and associate professor at the University of Minnesota, Morris, broke down his objections in a blog post. Connecting the science or biology of our bodies, with the metaphysical outcomes of our thoughts and intentions will be an ongoing challenge – and in the end, not all will trust in its potential for innovative changes to healthcare delivery and subsequently healthcare outcomes.
I believe that our key takeaway from this extraordinary topic should be that we as individuals are empowered to transform our personal health and wellness, simply by engaging in lifestyle changes. Living with intention and vision has been proven to increase the overall quality of life experience and engagement in one’s well-being.
As the science of Epigenomes grows and new discoveries come to light, I believe we can look forward to the embracing of a “new science” – one that holds the understanding that the mind and the body must work together in order for the achievement of total and transformative well-being.
Next week, we will take a look at another shift in wellness for 2016 – superfoods and the diet trend hysteria. Until then, be well and be kind to yourself.