Disease and your Genes

lifestyle medicine Nov 08, 2022

Did you know that the way you live your life can actually affect the expression of your genes and, in turn, prevent or heal chronic illnesses? Applying this knowledge to our lives shifts the focus from the things that are out of control, and empowers us to improve the factors we can control for our well-being. The field of study that summarizes this phenomenon, known as epigenetics, has revolutionized the way we approach health and medicine.


Impactful studies conducted by Dr. Dean Ornish, found that men with prostate cancer who participated in a program including a plant-based diet, stress management techniques, and exercise actually had decreased activity of genes associated with prostate cancer growth and increased activity of genes associated with suppressing tumor growth.


These findings expose the importance of addressing not just physical factors, but also emotional and social aspects in treating chronic diseases. For example, chronic stress and isolation has been shown to play a role in gene expression and can worsen conditions such as heart disease. Our bodies are wired in such a way that they operate best when in the rest and digest state, known as the parasympathetic state of the nervous system. Community support is a wonderful way to encourage a balanced nervous system. We are also designed to tolerate moments of short- lived stress, known as the "fight or flight" response in order to promote survival.


However, when stress becomes chronic and poorly managed, our bodies struggle to return to a relaxed state, leading to a plethora of issues. When we are bombarded with chronic stressors daily. Without the knowledge or tools to better manage these stressors, our bodies respond in such a way that promotes consistent, low grade inflammation. To the body, the increased stress from the toxic work environment, challenging relational issues, family drama, grief, etc. is similar to stress it would experience from a famine or being chased by a tiger. While it is unrealistic to say we can remove all stress from our lives (we can't deport the family member who knows exactly which buttons to push), we can develop skills that promote resilience to better manage these stressors.


For example, studies have shown that 20 minutes of meditation, two times per day, has led to increased protection of DNA from damage, leading to longevity and disease prevention. While meditation is a powerful tool to manage stress, there are so many other activities we can rely on to ground ourselves in the midst of challenging times.


Spiritual wellness often plays a major role in people's resiliency, which may look like spending time in nature, prayer, meditation, seeking guidance and community support in a place of worship, etc. Many also enjoy expressive writing as an emotional outlet, movement of all types, spending time with loved ones, journaling, reading, support groups, and of course attending our Mind Body Medicine group sessions!


By incorporating epigenetics into our understanding of health and illness, we can take an empowered approach to preventing and healing chronic diseases through positive changes.


For more information regarding Mind Body Medicine group sessions, contact our office! These sessions are specifically designed to give you the tools you need to combat stress, embrace resiliency, and overcome trauma.




Ornish, Dean. "Can Lifestyle Changes Reverse Chronic Disease?." TEDMED, 2011, www.ted.com/talks/dean_ornish_can_lifestyle_changes_reverse_chronic_disease.

Epel, Elissa S., et al. "Can meditation slow rate of cellular aging? Cognitive stress, mindfulness, and telomeres." Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, vol. 1172, no. 1, 2009, pp. 34–53., doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.04414.x.


Black DS, O’Reilly GA, Olmstead R, Breen EC, Irwin MR. Mindfulness meditation and improvement in sleepquality and daytime impairment among older adults with sleep disturbances. JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(4):494 doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8081.



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