No matter how you celebrate the approaching New Year, what we all have in common is a desire to be healthy. Without our health, our dreams are impossible to achieve. If you are someone recovering from an illness or injury, you know this to be true - There are no dreams unless you are well and have the strength and clarity to accomplish them. Now, the new field of Epigenetics empowers us to make small changes that will alter the genes we thought we were stuck with.
In 1942, two scientists discovered the link between our environment and our genes. Using fruit flies in their first experiments, they found that by changing their environment, they could also change their genes, proving that our genes are malleable. Almost thirty years ago when I was studying neurology in medical school, we also believed that neurons didn’t change or grow. Because of some long lived nuns who donated their brains to science after they died, we now know that by challenging our brains, getting regular aerobic exercise, eating certain foods and excluding others, our brains can thrive long into old age. This is also true for our DNA; you are not stuck with your grandma’s genes and the field of Epigenetics tells us so.
Since then, another subculture within this new science, Nutriepigenomics was born, looking at the ways that food and Epigenetics work together to influence our genes. These exciting discoveries allow each one of us to be proactive by choosing to eat foods rich in phytonutrients and important fats to keep the brain vibrant. Adding good sleep hygiene, balanced work stress and movement, we can avoid or heal the diseases of our time: Cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, autoimmune disorders and more.
What makes this even more interesting and important is the knowledge that an unborn child can achieve health long into adulthood before she is even born. This is because what the mother eats and drinks, the toxins surrounding her on a regular basis, her stress level and her movement while she is pregnant all affect her offspring; a fetus is influenced by the mother’s behavior from one generation to the next. In some studies, when pregnant women ate a Mediterranean style diet throughout her pregnancy, the babies born were protected against cardiovascular disease and diabetes later in life. In other studies, when pregnant women were exposed to air pollution, her offspring were more prone to developing asthma; if she ate a diet high in sugar, the chance of her children developing ADHD increased, and so on…..
The research now tells us that the diseases of our time, including cancer, conditions of blood sugar control, like diabetes, conditions of the gut, like Irritable Bowel Syndrome and brain syndromes like dementia and Alzheimer's disease are not about our genes - they are about our lifestyles. What all these conditions have in common is their connection to our habits - our stress levels, the toxicity in our environment, what we eat and drink and how socially connected we are. These conditions are not inherited from our parents or grandparents; they are about how we live.
Fortunately - thankfully - the world of medicine is changing. As people become more and more frustrated with doctors who have little time for them, in a system that is outdated and broken, those practicing Functional Medicine are taking their place. Those of us practicing Functional Medicine look at conditions that most allopathic doctors are not skilled at treating or don’t have the time for. Instead of writing prescriptions for medications that can be dangerous and often don’t work, we in the Functional Medicine world look at lifestyle habits to find out who the person is. Then, we design an individual program of wholesome nutrition, recommend supplements and herbs, appropriate movement and tools to manage stress. What a concept! This empowers each one of us to choose the habits that will allow us to live a long life and be as healthy and vibrant as we wish, from one generation to the next.
A Chinese poet wrote:
Ten thousand flowers in Spring
The moon in Autumn
A cool breeze in Summer
Snow in Winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things. This is the best season of your life.
I look forward to supporting you, your family and friends in making the year ahead “the best season of your life”…May you always live in robust health.