One of the more popular myths in modern medicine is the myth that it is only genes that control your biological expression. We’re infatuated with the genome. Ever since Crick and Watson discovered the double helix structure of DNA in 1953, we have been led to believe that the gene is responsible for all final disease causation and we can absolve all responsibility. There is some humor in becoming infatuated with genetic determinism when we realize that humans have about 25,000 genes, slightly less than sweet corn and slightly more than a fruit fly!
In his book Biology of Belief, Bruce Lipton debunks the myth that the gene is the brain of the cell. He includes research showing that you can remove your genes for three months—take them completely out of the cell—and the cell will continue to live. It’s a well-known fact that these genes don’t know how to turn themselves on and off. But Lipton continues to elaborate on this fact by saying that enucleated cells die not because of their genes being removed, but because they have lost their ability to reproduce. He makes the bold statement that the nucleus (with its DNA) is not the brain of the cell, but its gonad!
Lipton continues to elaborate on the epigenomic influence by quoting much of the research that has emerged in the last fifteen years by a group of epigenome researchers. There is much evidence that it is not only the genetic influence that is influencing outcome, but what is termed the epigenomic effect on the gene. Epigenome refers to the influence on the gene by something “above” the gene. Epigenetic research has established that DNA blueprints passed down through genes are not set in concrete at birth. “Genes are not destiny!” Lipton writes.
Lipton is basically asserting that the genes are not some all-powerful, unalterable code. Your diet, your stresses, your environment, your beliefs, your concepts, your mind, your emotions and even your ancestors experiences are all capable of modifying your unique genetic expression. The gene is turned on by the epigenome, by either an internal signal in the body or external signal from the environment. It’s not the gene itself. In other words, the gene has control over your final physiological expression, but there are multiple signaling pathways determining whether or not the gene is going to be expressed or not. The mind has more to do with your genetic expression; the environment has even more; and nutrition has more than anything else. Every time you eat your genes are washed over by a tide of regulatory signals either pro or anti-inflammatory. These environmental influences turn on regulatory proteins that cover the genetic blueprint, which then allows it to be read and expressed. The control of the regulatory proteins is what is influenced by everything else but the gene itself.
The implication of genetic determinism is that we are powerless to influence outcomes and we might as well relinquish responsibility and resign ourselves to our fate. I recently had a patient in my clinic who had high cholesterol. She said, “I can’t help it; my father’s genes are responsible.” Assuming that that was the end of the discussion, she reasoned, “I need Zocor or Lipitor,” referring to the cholesterol-lowering medications that she mistakenly thought were her only choice.
This patient had fallen into a fatalistic trap that desperately needed to be debunked. What was my reply? “Yes, there may be a specific allele on the genome that is the same as your father’s,” I told her. “But it could just as possibly be the way that you live your life, the food you eat, the way you process emotions, the daily stresses and strains you subject yourself to, or the way you react to them. In fact you may have even learned some of these behaviors and habits from your father, and hence you are literally “your father’s child”…not because of genetics, but from behavioral similarities.”
The evidence is now overwhelming that in many diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, the epigenetic mechanisms are playing a significant role. Newsweek recently ran a front-page cover with the heading “Diet and Genes.” In fact, in research by Willet (220), it has been found that only 5 percent of cancer and cardiovascular patients can attribute their disease to hereditary causes. It has been well established that the majority of cancers are not genetically determined, but have a significant contribution to their expression from environmental toxins.
Lipton, Bruce. Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter and Miracles. (Mountain of Love, 2005), 67.
Lipton, Bruce. Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter and Miracles. (Mountain of Love, 2005), 72.