Benefits: Gain a basic understanding of epigenetics.
So That You Can: Identify the links between your daily habits, gene expression, and personal growth.
Go From Inspiration to Action With the Worksheet Below!
One Surprising Way Daily Habits Can Sabotage Personal Growth
Have you heard of epigenetics? I hadn’t either until a couple of days ago. Apparently, biologists have been studying epigenetics since the ‘70s, but, as far as I can tell, the results haven’t hit the mainstream media yet. And this well-kept secret could be the key to figuring out why your daily habits always seem to sabotage your personal growth.
As we’ve talked about in many of my posts, we want to develop daily life-changing habits so we can live the fulfilling life we were meant to live. And, in order to be fulfilled, we have to meet certain needs, as outlined by my buddy Abraham Maslow. (Yes, I always come back to Maslow or Jordan Peterson ?.)
At the bottom of this hierarchy lie our basic needs — physiological and safety. You may think that you’ve met these needs. After all, you have internet access, so chances are pretty good that you have food, shelter, and clothing. And, even if you don’t feel safe 100% of the time, you probably have some stability and sense of order in your environment.
But . . . what if your physiological needs — the very needs that all of your other needs depend upon — aren’t actually being met at all? To answer this question, let’s focus on three components of this need: food, exercise, and sleep. Sure, you’re eating, moving around a bit, and sleeping, but are you performing each of these functions in a way that supports the positive expression of your genes? What?!?!? Exactly!
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Why Do Your Genes Need to Express Themselves?
We’ll get into the details in a bit here, but the long and the short of it is, your daily habits change the messages your genes receive and the way your genes express themselves. Your habits can even determine whether a gene is turned off or on.
We want our good genes turned on, and we want them to receive the right messages so that we can meet all of our physiological needs. Otherwise, we are sabotaging our personal growth.
Biologists have found that the way our genes express themselves affects our health in a myriad of ways, and they’re learning more and more every day. Based on what’s been discovered so far, gene expression can:
- Determine how quickly we age
- Turn some cancer cells on or off
- Cause inflammation that can lead to several diseases, including heart disease
- Cause insulin resistance that can lead to Type 2 diabetes
- Lead to depression from stress exposure
Basically, we want our good genes to express themselves and our bad genes to keep their mouths shut.
I feel the need to insert a caveat before we go any further. I am not a biologist nor a medical professional. I have very limited knowledge of this subject. My goal is to introduce the concept of epigenetics to you in the hopes that it will be another tool you can use to become your best self. I also hope that you will Stay Curious! and perform some research of your own. I’ve included links to all of my sources at the end of this post.
Buckle in because this part is going to get a bit scientific, but it is so interesting.
Every cell in your body contains the exact same DNA. The cell knows what kind of cell it is — nerve cell, blood cell, brain cell, etc. — based on the messages it receives from tags that attach to it.
These tags are called epigenomes. A good analogy, from Hank Green, is that your epigenomes are like the software that runs your DNA (hardware). The hardware for two computers can be exactly the same, yet the computers can perform completely different functions depending on the software that is running them. It’s the same with our DNA.
Your histones are the proteins that your DNA winds itself around. Your epigenetic tags determine how tightly your DNA wraps around the histone. If it is wrapped loosely, the gene will be expressed and vice versa.
Here’s the crazy thing, environmental factors — diet, exercise, and stress — determine the types of tags you produce, which cells they attach to, and whether that tag is going to tell the DNA to express itself or not.
Here’s another crazy thing, some of these tags are passed onto our children through our DNA. The good news — research has shown that changing the environmental factors of offspring can change the tags (in mice at least ?).
Yet another crazy thing, it’s not just physical environmental factors that determine the types of tags you produce. Social experiences can also cause epigenetic changes to our DNA. Things such as exposure to:
- Financial stress
- Abuse or neglect
- Witnessing violence
- Death of a loved one
- Family instability
Environmental factors can cause the wrong tags to attach to the wrong cells or to the wrong places. Then your cells aren’t going to know what they’re supposed to do, and they’re going to start making mistakes. These mistakes are what lead to disease.
Clear as mud? I know; I’m still learning myself. Hopefully this summary makes some kind of sense and at least proves how important epigenetics is to our overall well-being and personal growth.
Random Epigenetic Facts
The question remains — could understanding epigenetics be the key to figuring out why your daily habits always sabotage your personal growth? Could you pinpoint which daily habits you need to change in order to experience positive gene expression?
I definitely think it’s a possibility, and it’s something worth staying curious about. To that end, let’s discuss a few random facts I’ve picked up in my research to pique your interest a bit more. And, to point you in the direction of some daily habits you could implement.
- Vitamin D has been found to regulate the expression of over 900 genes. This is equivalent to 1/24 of the human genome (DNA). Vitamin D can turn good genes on and bad genes off.
- Vitamin D can turn the genes that lead to serotonin production on. Serotonin regulates a wide variety of behaviors — depression, anxiety, aggression — as well as cognitive function — perceptions and memory.
- Vitamin D has been found to decrease DNA damage.
- Vitamin D increases anti-inflammatory genes. Inflammation can lead to all sorts of diseases from asthma to cancer to heart disease.
- B vitamins and folic acid can create epigenetic tags that turn cancer genes off, thereby preventing the formation of cancer cells. B vitamins and folic acid can be found in green leafy vegetables, broccoli, lentils, and avocado.
- Your genes see trans fat, and other unhealthy foods, as an alien substance and will try to protect themselves from it. As a result, you will experience inflammation and cell damage.
- Meditation has been found to increase the length of telomeres. Telomeres protect our chromosomes, and our chromosomes house our DNA. When telomeres get too short, our cells age and stop functioning properly.
- 4 hours of exercise a week may increase the expression of genes that stimulate the growth of new brain cells.
- 40 tags distributed throughout the genome (DNA) may be influenced by exposure to adverse conditions — abuse, neglect, family instability, financial stress, poverty.
Now, I hope that I’ve at least convinced you that your daily habits change the messages your genes receive. And, that those messages could be sabotaging your personal growth. I hope you’ll take this knowledge and learn more about epigenetics on your own. The more tools we have to help us live the fulfilling life we were meant to live the better!
I wrote a post a while back that discusses good exercise, diet, and sleep habits. You may want to check that out: How to Energize Yourself Before Taking That Leap of Faith
And, I wrote a follow up post to that one outlining my exercise, diet, and sleep habits: How I Energize Myself to Take My Leap of Faith
Of course I put a worksheet together for you that summarizes this post and will help you go from inspiration to action, so be sure to check that out.
Click here for more posts with a “life-changing habits” theme.
If you’re ready to Stop Settling & Start Living! check out our home page to learn more about what The Expectation Gaps has to offer.
And until next time . . . STAY CURIOUS!
Only Have 1 Minute
Epigenetics, posted to YouTube by SciShow on 1.22.12
Hooked, Hacked, Hijacked: Reclaim Your Brain from Addictive Living: Dr. Pam Peeke at TEDxWallStreet, posted to YouTube by TEDx Talks on 11.26.13
What is epigenetics? – Carlos Guerrero-Bosagna, posted to YouTube by TED-Ed on 6.27.16
Epigenetics: You are what you eat | Jennifer Dechaine | TEDxYakimaSalon, posted to YouTube by TEDx Talks on 3.04.15
4.4 Epigenetics: How Food Affects Your Genes, posted to YouTube by theMercyChannel on 1.24.13
Mayo Clinic Metabolism Research Program: Genes and Exercise, posted to YouTube by Mayo Clinic on 12.29.14
How Diet, Exercise, and Hyperthermic Conditioning Can Change the Expression of Your Genes, posted to YouTube by Paleo f(x) on 1.09.16
Stress Exposure, DNA Methylation, and Risk for Depression: Dr. Erin Dunn, posted to YouTube by One Mind on 11.02.18