What Is Your DNA Swimming In? (and why it matters)

Tall, short, blond, brunette, delicate bone structure or rugged, blue-eyed or green. These are some of the familial traits we inherited from our ancestors. They are static and unchangeable, unless of course we pursue some kind of surgical procedure or other drastic measures to alter them. For good or bad, these are the traits we are wedded to for life. They are part of what makes each of us unique individuals, and at the same time serve as the genetic tie that binds us to those that came before we were born.

There are other genetic factors passed from one generation to the next. These are not so much traits as they are predispositions, and they include risk factors for conditions such as heart disease, obesity, depression, alcoholism, cancer, and a variety of other degenerative diseases. Modern research (in the field of functional medicine especially), tells us that these characteristics are not our fixed destiny, despite what we’ve been told and perhaps chosen to believe. Instead, they are like electrical light switches that can be flipped on or off, depending on environmental factors and seemingly insignificant and mundane decisions we make each and every day of our lives.

In a podcast I listened to recently, Dr. Nasha (pronounced Nay-sha) Winters, ND, FABNO, L.Ac, Dipl.OM*, shared that when DNA from a cancerous cell is transplanted into a new, healthy cell, that healthy cell remains in tact and cancer-free, suggesting that cancer is not so much a genetic disease as an environmentally-based disease. Stated another way, it’s not the DNA itself that is damaged, but the cellular soup it’s swimming in that is damaged. This is the essence of epigenetics, the study of how environmental factors affect our gene expression. Dr. Winters and many like her believe that if we can optimize these factors, we can also optimize our cellular environment, which optimizes the expression of our very DNA.  So – how do we cook up the very best kind of cellular soup possible, with the ultimate goal of living long, healthy lives and avoiding degenerative disease? Here are 10 ways to consider:

1 – Choose Your Fuel Source Wisely – You are either supporting your health with the foods you eat, or you are undermining it. This is paramount. You cannot get around this reality.

2 – Diminish Your Toxic Exposure: This refers to reducing your exposure to chemicals and other toxins used in or produced by foods, plastics, skincare products, cookware, antibiotics and other medicine, EMFs (electromagnetic frequencies from microwaves, cell phones, wi-fi, etc), air and water pollution, mold, and… sadly – the list goes on. We’re not in Kansas anymore, folks. Our world is polluted.

3 – Support a Healthy Microbiome: Feed the probiotics (good guys) in your gut with the healthy prebiotics they need to flourish. At the same time, oust the bad bacteria by minimizing sugar intake and following an ancestral diet that is based on lots of vegetables, quality protein, and healthy fats.

4 – Strengthen Your Immune Function: Optimize your body’s ability to fight infection and disease by getting enough rest, soaking up plenty of Vitamin D from the sun (not just supplements), exercising appropriately, and of course – eating real, nutrient-dense food.

5 – Support Your Hormones: Re-read #1-4, rinse and repeat. These factors are all connected!

6 – Mitigate Stress: We’ve all heard this advice. It’s the implementation of it that trips us up. Deep breathing, prayer and meditation, being in nature, soaking up the sun, sensible exercise, meaningful relationships, quality sleep…all of these (and more) help us handle the effects of life’s stressors. But we have to discipline ourselves to take them seriously and actually put them into practice.

7 – Encourage Optimal Angiogenesis and Vasculature: This refers to the healthy formation and differentiation of blood vessels in the body. How do we encourage it? Do everything else on this list! I know – simple to say, but not easy to do. The point is, we must start somewhere and continue moving in the right direction.

8 – Honor Your Circadian Rhythm: Reduce exposure to blue light in the evenings, go to sleep soon after dark and allow yourself to wake with the sun. This is how our bodies are designed to function. If you work night shifts, there are measures you can take to balance out your less-than-optimal situation, but it’s that much more important that you tighten up all of these other areas in which you do have some degree of control.

9 – Clean House with Your Emotional & Mental State: Silence the negativity by choosing your friends wisely. Guard carefully what goes into your eyes, your ears, and your mind…watching an ongoing, repeating loop of that horrific footage on CNN does nothing for you. Engaging with people on Facebook over differences of opinion? Not the best use of your time or energy. Be informed? Yes. Succumb to obsession? No. Pursue professional help to deal with issues and emotions that are repeatedly getting the best of you.

10 – Apply the Inflammatory Process Appropriately and Sparingly:  Inflammation is the body’s way of attacking intruders and healing from injury and disease. It’s a healthy and essential biological response. But – it’s not meant to function all the time. When we eat poorly, exercise chronically, fill our bodies with toxins, skimp on sleep, ignore the danger signs of dysfunctional hormones and systems, we invite and encourage chronic, systemic inflammation. These are the poor choices that work together to provide fertile ground for autoimmune disease to develop. Scary, but very real stuff!

No one expects you (or me) to get all 10 of these factors right all the time. That’s not real life. However, it’s important that we educate ourselves, employ as many mitigating precautions as we can, and simply remain vigilant. I believe that the state of our world requires that we take extreme measures at times, but our goal is progress, not perfection.

*ND = Naturopathic Doctor, FABNO = Fellow of the American Board of Naturopathic Oncology, L.Ac = Licensed Acupuncturist, Dipl.OM = Diplomat of Optimal Terrain wellness