Many people are stuck in old ideas about health, believing that genetic inheritance and luck play the major role in determining health. However, two science discoveries can help you change this view and take control of your health.
Epigenetics is the study of changes in gene activity that do not involve alterations to the genetic code – the underlying DNA. While traditional science believed that our genes are fixed and that nothing can change genetic determinism, epigenetics is showing that cells are responsive to their environment. Genes may be expressed or not as a result of epigenetic changes.
Also, although the gene itself is not altered, epigenetic changes can be passed onto the next generation. Some evidence was drawn from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a study in Bristol, England, which recruited 14,024 pregnant mothers and then regularly assessed their children. The boys whose fathers started smoking before age 11, were found to have significantly higher body mass indexes than other boys by age 9. Consequently, these boys will be at higher risk of obesity in adulthood.
In his book The Genie in Your Genes, Dr. Dawson Church PhD cites hundreds of scientific studies that show that beliefs and emotions can trigger the expression of specific DNA strands. In other words, that what you believe or feel can affect your health – positively or negatively.
This does not mean that you should push away the uncomfortable emotions. It is important to acknowledge and feel them, but not to dwell in them. Strangely, when you allow yourself to really feel any emotion, it will move on. It is when you resist it, that it stays around. Unfortunately, it is not only the emotions we feel that affect us negatively, but also the repressed emotions – the ones we don’t know we have. This is likely why those who had trauma in childhood are more likely to develop chronic illness as they age.
When this word is broken down, psycho-neuro-immunology, it is clear it refers to the link between the mind, body and immune system. It is actually the study of the interaction of behavioral, neural, and endocrine factors and the functioning of the immune system, and it has been scientifically proven that thoughts, beliefs, emotions and behaviours can affect the immune response.
In 1979 Norman Cousins published Anatomy of an Illness in which he described his recovery from severe ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis that affects the spine. In the book he tells how he discharged himself from hospital and went to a hotel where he spent the time watching, and laughing at, funny movies, which effectively cured him.
In 1981, the groundbreaking book Psychoneuroimmunology, by Adler, Cohen and Felten, was published. It suggested that the brain and immune system represent a single, integrated system of defence. This was confirmed when Dr. Candace Pert, who discovered the receptor for the neuropeptide serotonin, showed that these receptors are present on cells in both the brain and the immune system.
The finding that the immune system also has receptors for neurotransmitters, showed how emotions and immunology are interdependent. It is clear that the brain and the immune system ‘talk’ to one another through the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (part of the fight and flight response) and the sympathetic nervous system (which responds to stress by mobilizing the body’s resources). Research shows that both short-term and long-term stress consistently reduces immune function in healthy people.
Both Epigenetics and Psychoneuroimmunology explain how we can either inadvertently contribute to ill-health, or can mobilize ourself to create health, or heal from ill-health. While the latter is not easy and requires a clear intention, determination and fortitude, using these scientific discoveries will help.