The field of epigenetics is the study of how the environment, both internal and external, changes the expression of your genes. Genes are strands of DNA sequences, which are the fundamental building blocks of life. So genes are like sets of instructions that determine what a living thing is like, it’s appearance, it’s traits, how it behaves and survives in its environment. And genes can be altered by the environment, in many ways.
For example, the amount of sunlight a person gets could affect their genes for skin pigmentation. This would represent an external environmental factor. But the external environments are not the only factors that can and do affect gene expression. Perhaps more significant factors, with respect to health and well-being, are our internal environments, that affect gene expression. That being our thoughts, our emotions, our food, and other things we put into our bodies.
Dr. Bruce Lipton, a cell biologist and author of numerous books including Biology of Belief, describes epigenetics and is a pioneer in the field. He was one of the first scientists to really highlight the fact that our thinking can quite literally change our body through altering gene expression.
Remarkable Stem Cell Experiment
In one of his most profound experiments, he took 3 sets of genetically identical stem cells and put them in 3 different petri dishes. Within each dish is a culture medium, a fluid like substance that is essentially like laboratory blood. Now each of the 3 dishes had slightly different culture mediums, but again, the same genetic cells. Over the course of time, the cells in dish 1 became muscle. The cells in dish 2 became bone. And the cells in dish 3 became fat. Again, all genetically identical cells to start. But the different environment in each dish caused the production of 3 different kinds of cells.
This means that whatever is floating around in your blood can and will affect your cells and your genes. And guess what? Our thoughts and emotions can affect what’s floating around in our blood. A simple example of this is the stress response. The body releases stress hormones and chemical compounds into the blood when we are stressed. And these wreak havoc on our bodies if we don’t properly manage and mitigate that stress and negative thinking.
This is just one of the many reasons why stress can lead to sickness, disease, weight gain, and physical changes in the human body. Our genes are not fixed. They are quite malleable and susceptible to our environments. But this is a good thing! It means that even though we are born with certain traits and characteristics, we can take control of genes. We can shape our lives however we want, in many situations. Yes, there are some genetic situations that are out of our control, but for the vast majority of people who want to change and improve their bodies and their health, the field of epigenetics says we certainly can.
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