I recently read this this quote in an article written by Louisa Williams called "The Five Obstacles to Cure: How to Address the Most Common Health Challenges to Optimal Health" featured in a Weston A Price Foundation journal. And it got me thinking a lot about the interplay between genetics and epigenetics and why our focus really needs to be on the latter on a day to day basis.
Growing up I used to think that the state of our health was determined by our hard coded genes. You were either born lucky with good genes if you had good health, or if you succumbed at any point to illness or disease we blamed it on our inherited genes. That fatalistic approach to life is not only a cop-out, it's also old science. Modern science tells us that the genes we inherent from our parents only account for a very small fraction of our health and our health is largely influenced and determined by a number of different lifestyle or environmental factors. Certainly we are all born with a health "bank account" of varying degrees (some of us - like super models- more ahead of the 8 ball than others). But whether that health bank account increases or decreases over our lifetime is directly proportional to our investment or expenditure of it via various lifestyle factors such as nutrition, hydration, sleep, movement, breath, stress management, time spent in nature and connecting with others (what I call the 8 foundations of health). These epigenetic factors switch our genes on or off, for better or for worse. They determine how tall, robust from illness, intelligent, and beautiful we become. Welcome to the world of epigenetics. Think of your genes as representing your or your child's potential. Your child might be born with the potential to be 6 foot tall, have an IQ of 200, have a wide dental arch with high cheekbones, and strong bone density. Whether or not those things actually eventuate to become a reality depends on consistent exposure to these 8 lifestyle factors. Are they consistently getting enough nutrients in their food, pure water, lots of sleep and movement, feeling loved and connected, breathing fresh air through their noses etc. If so, they will reach their true potential of their genetic make up. If not, they might only make it to 5 foot 5 inches, have a narrow dental arch (necessitating braces), break bones when falling off the monkey bars, succumb from frequent infections and not be as smart and beautiful as they otherwise would be had they had the full spectrum of nutrients, probiotics and other lifestyle factors in the right doses at critical points of their development. As a parent, isn't this such an awesome responsibility?!?! To give another example, your child might be born with the genes for celiac disease, obesity and /or diabetes. Whether or not those genes will actually express themselves (and hence whether your child will actually develop those conditions) depends entirely on environmental factors: were they eating lots of gluten or refined starches which trigger these conditions? If not, then those conditions will never come to fruition! A terrific analogy is one used by functional medicine guru Chris Kresser who says that genes load the gun but epigenetics pull the trigger. A brilliant book that elaborates on epigenetics (and in particular fascial formation) so beautifully is Deep Nutrition: Why our Genes Need Traditional Foods by Dr Catherine Shanahan (a must-read for all parents).
When we consistently invest in these epigenetic/ lifestyle factors that I call the 8 foundations of health, our health bank account soars like a profitable investment. When we make poor investment decisions on a daily basis, the bank account dwindles. I went into the red in my 20s hitting rock bottom with a spectacular crash. I trashed my body with a conventional diet, tap water, alcohol, irregular sleep, a sleuth of environmental toxins in both personal care products and cleaning products, long slow steady state exercise which stresses the body, a stressful job, an unhappy relationship and total nature divorcement. The disconnect between my biology and my lifestyle was so profound, I quickly used up ever steric of my inherited health bank account and unravelled into a mess landing in hospital and needing to rebuild myself from the ground up.
The point is, we are in the drivers seat. We have, to a large degree, control over these environmental factors and hence control over our overall health (which we then pass onto our offspring through their hard coded genes). It's always a choice we make. We can maximise nutrient-density, we can minimise dietary and environmental toxins, we can decide to a large degree how much sleep, movement and exposure to sunshine we get, and we can learn techniques to manage our stress. That, to me, is a truly empowering notion. Which is why it is so rewarding in my health coaching sessions to educate, help and support my clients in minimising the mismatch between our biology and environmental (epigenetics) factors so we can fire on all 6 cylinders to (finally) function properly and perform our best, to reach our true potential. Vibrant health is within your reach. I'm here to help if you're willing to take the first step.