Elphie Coyle ponders the latest research on epigenetics and the power of thought and experience.
“Your experiences today will influence the molecular composition of your body for the next two to three months, or, perhaps, for the rest of your life. Plan your day accordingly.” – Steve Cole
For most of my life I’ve been passionate about discovering ways for the everyday man to transform himself into the Superman. Happily, recent discoveries in science now show that this is possible not only after a lifetime of effort, but through consistent short-term focus.
Here are some highlights from my most recent findings:
1) Our genes don’t determine our fate. Epigenetics — literally meaning “around the gene” — is an area of scientific study that has been quickly gaining in popularity. According to its proponents, we are not predetermined beings, in that our genetics have been found not to dictate our fate. Rather, our environment molds and shapes who we are through the unfolding dynamics of our early years as we interact with culture, language and family.
2) Gene expression is more important than genes themselves. Most cells in our body contain our 22,000 genes, yet at any given moment, only a very limited number are actively giving chemical commands to your body. This activity is known as “gene expression,” which dictates how our bodies and minds operate. This is evidenced by studies in which identical twins who grow up in vastly different environments look and act completely differently than each other.
3) Small changes can lead to drastic long-term outcomes. Whereas it was once thought that only long-term changes could lead to dramatic outcomes, research of gene expression now shows that short-term modifications can also be long lasting. Russell Fernald performed an astounding study that shows a beta male Astatotilapia burtoni (freshwater fish) transform in 12 hours into an incredibly larger alpha male once a former alpha is removed from a school of burtoni.
“If you actually measure stress, using our best available instruments, it can’t hold a candle to social isolation. Social isolation is the best-established, most robust social or psychological risk factor for disease out there. Nothing can compete.” – Steve Cole
4) Social isolation slowly kills us. Cole and social psychologist John Cacioppo ran a number of experiments in which they found that out of the 22,000 genes, 209 showed a different genetic expression in isolated people versus those well socially connected. The genes affected are those responsible for inflammatory immune responses.
When we’re lonely, our genes cause inflammation. The ones that lower it don’t work properly and neither do our antiviral genes. Which means we get sick when we’re not even meant to, and we don’t heal when we should.
5) Social contact reduces risk of depression. Another study by Joan Kaufman shows those people who have regular social contact have an 80% lower chance of depression than if they both have been abused and have a genetic predisposition.
All of these factors lead to a powerful conclusion: that a combination of our environment and “cognitive framing,” or how we see a situation, drastically affects our gene expression.
Positive thinking impacts our health, experience of life, and lifespan. Knowing that our experiences make this much impact — easily, immediately and all encompassingly — I suggest that we should rethink the way we each experience life.
No matter how old we are, how ingrained our behaviors, mental states or physicality, it’s never too late to improve who we as we express ourselves in the world.
“We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.” – Randy Pausch
Based on the above, I’d now add to that the following: whilst we cannot change the cards we are dealt, we’re all born with tens of thousands of cards, so keep playing the ones that best help you and your world.
Starting right now, what is a small but significant change to your thinking or your environment that will forever shift the course of your existence? Share with us below.
Photo credit: Flickr/5oVWXR