Article – Genes: An Expression of YOU
As I was finishing up a session recently, I was talking with a client who is really set on getting her fitness back to a previously realized level she knows she can attain. As I asked her about what she was doing to compliment her sessions at BodyBasics she beamed confidently telling me about her added walks and even some at home exercise. I was thrilled for her. Knowing that she also needs to improve her body composition I asked her what dietary changes she was making to which she said she knew she needed to get to that. Acknowledging that she needed to improve in that area was great. But then I was startled when she asked me if her genetics influenced her ability to change her body composition also. I assured her that she is in no way held captive from achieving a healthy body because of genetics. And then I went right to writing this article for all of you to hear as well. My hope in writing this is to both educate and empower. I want to explore at some length how our genetic code is influenced by so much more that what we were born with.
For starters, let’s visit what genes are. Simply, they are tiny strings of chemicals that are the microscopic building blocks of life.1 They essentially contain complete instruction manuals for every living thing. Genes consist of four different chemicals called nucleotide bases. The four nucleotides are called adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G), and thymine (T). The different characteristics we have that are hardwired such as our natural hair color, the color of our eyes, our bone structure, these are all a part of our genetic code. But, contrary to early thinking about our gene makeup, other things such as incidence for heart disease, our likelihood for getting cancer, obesity, insulin resistance are not completely out of our control. Granted certain people based on ethnic backgrounds, family history, and other longer developing histories are more susceptible to certain gene expressions than others. However, a bright spot is that what’s also become clear in recent years is that genetics is only half of the discussion. Our lifestyles are equally important in increasing or reducing our risk of various diseases. Research in the new field of epigenetics is finding that our lifestyle choices – the foods we put in our bodies, the chemicals we are exposed to, how active we opt to be, even our social environments – can actually alter our health at the level of the gene. These choices can have big effects on our risk for disease, even if our genes seem to be working against us. So before throwing your hands up and saying, “What can I do? It’s all up to my genes,” read on.
Looking at the differences between two identical twins is a good way to understand the field of epigenetics. So, let’s say you are one of two identical twins. You’re identical twin was adopted at birth and contrary to your wonderful upbringing, was brought up on the road as a circus performer. Your twin was malnourished, exposed to nasty fumes (have you ever smelled elephant dung?), and started smoking at the age of 10. You on the other hand grew up well taken care of, solid nutrition and no exposure to smoke or any other toxic fumes. You can imagine that the two of you would probably come out different despite having the exact same genetic code. Despite you and your pretend twin coming from the same gene pool your individual influences turn on or turn off genes (methyls and histones, worth looking up if you like this stuff) causing you each to have different levels of risk for disease, mental conditions such as anxiety or depression, and so on.
Another great way to visualize the differences between your epigenetics and your genetics is to think of your genetics as a pen and your epigenetics as a pencil. The pen does not erase and therefore cannot be changed. That would be something like your eye color. But your epigenetics are your pencil and you have all authority to use your pencil’s eraser and alter elements of your genetic makeup based on your choices. A great example of this is a study2 I came across where people with a predisposition for heart disease were tracked. All of the participants had been determined to be carriers of a specific gene, 9p21, that was well recognized for its association with cardiovascular disease. The investigators involved in the study sought to find a causal relationship between 9p21 carriers and heart attack risk in individuals of different ethnic backgrounds. Interestingly they included any interactions from environment in their studies. What they found was that despite having such a strongly correlating gene to heart disease, those individuals who followed a prudent diet high in raw vegetables and fruits significantly reduced their risk of ever having a cardiovascular event.
Hopefully you have found this information as empowering as I intended it to be. As we head into the next month let this additional reminder of how much control you have over change in your life, down to the level of your genes, guide your decision making. Also, in replace of an exercise video this month I’ve included one of several videos I enjoyed watching when I was assembling this article. I encourage you to check it out!
1-Mork, Rachel. “Explanation of Genes and Chromosomes for Kids.” – Life123. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.
2-The Effect of Chromosome 9p21 Variants on Cardiovascular Disease May Be Modified by Dietary Intake: Evidence from a Case/Control and a Prospective Study
Do R, Xie C, Zhang X, Männistö S, Harald K, et al. (2011) The Effect of Chromosome 9p21 Variants on Cardiovascular Disease May Be Modified by Dietary Intake: Evidence from a Case/Control and a Prospective Study. PLoS Med 8(10): e1001106. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001106
This month’s client spotlight, Fred Page, understands the value of having a strong work ethic. He’s applied it all of his life, both professionally as a very successful business man as well as athletically in pursuits like pickle ball, golf, and bodysurfing. It is this same personal discipline dialed in for decades that supports him now in his recovery from a very significant trauma to his brain.
A “bleeder” as he describes it left him with impairments to his balance, agility, coordination and speech in 2016. Fortunately regular physical therapy appointments with his physical therapists at Oro Valley Outpatient PT helped him to regain a good amount of his function back. At the suggestion of one of his physical therapists, Diana Wingfield, Fred contacted us to continue his progress toward returning to his physical level attained before his injury.
That was four months ago. Under the watchful eye of his primary coach Rachel, Fred has made some solid progress toward improving his balance, agility and strength. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday you’ll see the two of them using the ladder for foot work and doing various balance and mobility drills together. Excitedly the effort is again paying off for Fred as he’s been able to return with some success to his beloved sports.
In His Words: In response to what his current goals are: “Strength, balance, agility and endurance, continue to improve to add other sports like sailing etc.”
Welcome New and Returning Clients
The greatest compliment we can receive is a referral from one of our clients or allied health network!
Kit Donley – referred by past client Don Vallee and his son Cale Donley
Chella Colson – referred by Veronica at Oro Valley Outpatient PT
Marie Hansen – referred by Mike Lee at ProActive PT
Barry Bursey – referred by Mike Lee at ProActive PT
Hapi Kendall – referred by Dr. Tait at Rejuv Medical Southwest
Dawn Yellott – referred by fellow client Sandy Donaldson
Shout outs are about us voicing victories we witness you all having at BodyBasics. We’ll keep it to our top 5 each month.
Rick Jessen – for continuing to show more ability to maintain his posture longer upon leaving each workout!
Amanda Ritchie – for further developing her own body awareness and for demonstrating with both mind and body a growing investment in her overall health!
Gregg Sinner – for applying his confidence and physical improvement realized with his workouts into more activities at home!
Denise Roepke and Pat Schumann – for including walks together in addition to their group workouts!
Don Pomeroy – for absolutely rocking his band assist pushups recently!
Recipe – Wicked Healthy Slaw
This recipe is from Wicked Healthy Food and I encourage you to check it out! So many options to try, I was not sure where to start. Given grilling season is almost upon us I thought this yummy side dish would be perfect. Try this along side burgers, steaks, grilled chicken, ribs….
This recipe uses avocado for the creaminess instead of artery-clogging mayonaise and creamy dressings.
1 small savory cabbage head
1/4 bunch of cilantro chopped
Corn and Black bean mix (frozen bag from Whole Foods used here) use half the bag
1 lime juiced
4 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp celery salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp hot sauce
1 Tbsp agave
Blend well and toss with cabbages, let sit for about 30 minutes before serving.
Video – The Epigenetics of Identical Twins
Chris, Kris, Myrya, Kristian, Lance, Rachel, Mike, and Ben