Is it your genetics or is it the environment?

Changes in our body do not happen overnight – not for better not for worse. We ‘work for’ our symptoms reinforcing the same brain circuits, releasing the same neurotransmitters, stress hormones, inhibiting certain enzymes, exposing ourselves repeatedly to human-made substances like plastics, phthalates from shower gels and perfumes, off-gassing our bed mattresses, over and over again. We create our environment. 

Health is a vector of many variables. We like the reductionist approach as it makes us feel safe and knowledgeable and makes things predictable. But health, is it always predictable?

Our environment and genes

The link between cigarettes and lung cancer has been well established. But why do some people who smoke get cancer and some do not? Is it genetics? Is it an attitude towards life? Is it a loving family? Is it a highly effective detoxification system? Will we ever know? We learn these things from research, but also from conversations and careful listening. Do you know people who have terrible lifestyle but seem healthy and enjoying their lives? I am sure you do. And vice versa, people who have a perfect diet and lifestyle and still seem unhappy or even unhealthy? Studies conducted on identical twins (meaning that have the same genetic material) showed that they can have completely different health outcomes.

If you put a weak, diseased animal or plant in the right environment it will likely regenerate. Have you ever seen an abused dog thriving with the new family just months after being physically hurt? I am not saying that it is always the case, I am only saying it is possible. Can we also put ourselves into the ‘right’ environment where we will thrive? 

Healthy balance

If you do not water a plant it will die, if you water it too much it may also die. There is only so much that we can control internally, the rest depends on the environment that surrounds us. Too little and too much may not be good for us.

We need balance and harmony. Balance within our minds and bodies and harmony in our souls. 

We can influence the environment by choosing nourishing food, a long walk in nature, inspiring conversations with our friend, prioritising sleep, laughter, giving an unexpected gift to someone you love. You can change the environment outside but also inside you.

Can we label gens as good or bad?

Genes only give you a predisposition to better or worse health outcomes. The environment does the rest. Even genes cannot be simply labelled as good or bad as the same gene variant may protect from infections but also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, like in case of APOE4. It looks like genes that once protected us, today became a risk factor in the industrialised world.  

The surprising truth

Although researchers did a wonderful job, the results of the Human Genome Project which aimed to map all the human genes, brought a lot of confusion. For example, we share about 60% of the same DNA with bananas, and we are more genetically similar to the C. elegans worm than we would like to be. It just tells us that we are a part of nature, much more than our prefrontal cortex wants us to believe.

So maybe it is our environment?

So what if the answers are not in our genes, but rather in our environment? As we now know, there is no single gene which indicates the risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure or depression.

Does it paradoxically feel uncomfortable? Does it feel like we can no longer blame our genes or family history for our health problems? Does it feel like some responsibility landed on our shoulders and we can no longer point fingers at something or somebody else? Being the victim of our circumstances may seem easier, but the real health transformation requires taking the control back and being in charge of our health and environment around us. 

Uncomfortable, but freeing. 

We were all given a unique genetic blueprint. We cannot change it but we have a choice over what we will do with it. Let’s choose wisely.

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