Keys to health: Epigenetics, Nutrigenomics and Sociogenomics
In my work, I am continually reminded of the keys to health. Everything around us influences our health, and the expression of disease. A young woman struggling with persistent tummy trouble, foggy thinking and wild mood swings recently asked me if her genetic predisposition towards digestive distress was a life sentence. Fortunately, I had some good news for her.
Science, medicine and the emerging field of epigenetics concur that our genes are like light switches. They can turn on or off based on a variety of inputs. Consider hair or eye color, which we tend to think of as static and unchangeable. Even eye colors can change. Hair color and texture are affected by hormonal balance. Hormones are greatly influenced by diet and lifestyle changes over time. And other genes flip much more easily than hair and eye color!
Our environment plays an enormous role in supporting health, or progression to disease. Consider that the great majority of chronic, degenerative diseases, including low-grade symptoms, are caused by environmental and lifestyle triggers, including: the way we eat, heavy metal and chemical poisons in the air we breath, the soil our food is grown in and water we drink, other physiological and psychological stressors, and inadequate physical movement and circulation.
Nutrigenomics is the scientific study of foods, and the molecules in them, that affect gene expression. You may have noticed that the same foods often have different effects on different people. Because of biochemical individuality, it can be difficult to identify which foods are best for you. For this reason, be sure to work with someone who is trained and can guide you in the right direction. Look for a Holistic Nutritionist who specializes in personalized nutrition.
Another subset of epigenetics, sociogenomics, explains how our social networks contribute to the expression of health and disease. One person says, “I want to make healthier choices, but when everyone around me is doing other things, it’s hard to do what is best for me.” Our social circles have great impact on us, and our comforts and stress relievers are often centered around certain types of consumption behavior within the family or group of friends, work environment, etc.
Take for example, the family that includes alcohol at every gathering, and sits around the television after dinner conversing about the commercials during the breaks. How does the family that circles up around a fire to share stories and sing songs shape the group health? We are tribal creatures and have a strong need for authentic connection, which when unmet, causes distress. Stress, widely agreed to be the major underlying cause of most of today’s chronic degenerative diseases, can be offset to an immense degree, by providing a safe and supportive group environment.
One of the keys to Dr. Dean Ornish’s successful heart health program is the support group. I call this component the Community Health Matrix. Like popular recovery programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, which draw on the group support for sobriety, patients go through the program together, building community and connection, and an environment supportive of healthy lifestyles.
For years, my clients struggled with lack of support for the changes they were committing to for their health. These days we create a support structure together, as an integral part of their Personal Health Plan, so they don’t have to go it alone.
Do you feel overwhelmed in considering the necessary steps to improve your health? You don’t have to. We can do it together.
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