By Dawson Church, PhD
Dr. Dawson is featured in the Winter of Wellness
Do you know that you’re turning genes on and off in your body every second? Each thought you think, and each feeling you have, is sending signals to your body. These signals tell your body to turn certain kinds of genes on and others off. You are in charge of which signals you send. Here’s how this works.
There are certain types of genes you don’t want turned on. Examples of these are genes associated with inflammation, reduced life span, and the formation of cancer cells. We’ll simplify things by calling these “bad” genes, even though nothing about our wonderful bodies is really bad; our bodies are doing the best job they can in a challenging environment.
There are other types of genes that benefit you greatly if they’re turned on. These genes are linked to increased longevity, higher energy levels, the destruction of cancer cells, and heightened immunity. We’ll call these “good” genes for short.
In scientific jargon, turning genes on is called “upregulation” and turning them off is called “downregulation.” In an ideal state, you’re upregulating your good genes and downregulating your bad ones.
Here’s an example of how you do this. You’re feeling stressed as you drive to work for an important meeting that could shape your whole career. Out of the blue, you’re side swiped by another car. It’s just a low-speed fender-bender, nothing serious. No-one’s hurt, and your car is still drivable. But as you leave the accident scene, you feel shaken, angry and tearful. You’ve now missed the meeting, adding to your stress.
What’s happening inside your body? From the moment the accident happened, you began to produce lots of adrenaline and cortisol, your two main stress hormones. The shock of the collision sent signals to genes in your endocrine glands that caused them to upregulate their production of cortisol. Once those genes turned on, they grabbed the molecules required to construct cortisol, and you felt the surge of stress throughout your body as it was flooded with these biochemical signals.
Unfortunately, the molecules your genes required to produce that big cortisol squirt were the same molecules required to construct your main anti-aging, anti-cancer, and immunity hormone, DHEA. To free them up, your body downregulated the genes that code for DHEA, and your production of DHEA plummeted, suppressing your immune system and accelerating aging. The shock of the car accident turned on “bad” genes and turned off “good” genes.
Think of this like a dimmer switch for your lights. You can turn the knob to maximum brightness, complete darkness, or any point in between. In the same way, in each moment, your genetic switches for these hormones can be set to:
- maximum cortisol and minimum DHEA (all dark)
- maximum DHEA and minimal cortisol (all light), or
- any point in between.
The car accident temporarily tripped all your genetic switches to all dark to deal with the emergency, but your body then quickly adapts, and returns you to a light state as soon as the emergency has passed. Unless…
Do you know people who always think of the worst possible outcome? Who catastrophize? Who ruminate on all the bad things that have happened to them in the past, or that might happen to them in the future? Who worry constantly even when there’s nothing to actually worry about? Are you one of those people?
When your mind generates images of disaster, when you worry, when you remember bad past incidents, you make yourself stressed. For instance, you might replay the car accident in your head every time you drive, becoming fearful and anxious daily.
Your body has no way of determining that your fretting is not a real emergency. It can’t distinguish between the paper tigers in your mind and a real tiger in the room. So every time you think that stressful thought, it responds by turning those bad genes on and those good genes off.
You have your hand on the dimmer switch of your own gene expression. Thoughts and feelings send signals to your body. With every thought you think, with every feeling you feel, you are turning the knob toward the light or the dark side. You’re telling your body either to produce lots of healthful hormones like DHEA, or lots of stress hormones like cortisol.
In this way, you’re your own genetic engineer. Every moment in which you choose to maintain a negative thought or miserable feeling, you’re turning bad genes on and good ones off. Every moment in which you make the opposite choice, you’re sending a health-promoting signal to your body. It’s up to you.
My life’s work is all about training people in the skills required to trip their genetic switches toward the light side. There are scientifically proven ways to do this. Among my favorites are EFT (also called “tapping” or Emotional Freedom Techniques), mindfulness meditation, and biofeedback. I’ve conducted research showing that EFT tapping significantly lowers cortisol even as it improves mental health.
Through my books, online courses, and live training workshops, I strip away the myths and explain the hard science that underlines radical transformation. When you apply that science in practice, you learn to evoke mental and emotional states that promote peak health, inner peace, and a long and happy life. I am inspired every day by the breakthroughs I see people make when they apply these skills in practice.
I urge you to recognize the importance of your thoughts and feelings, and embrace their potential to send signals to your body. You’re the master of your genes rather than their servant. Claim that power, and you become your own genetic engineer, consciously making the choices that unlock your full potential.
Dawson Church, PhD, is an award-winning author whose best-selling book, The Genie in Your Genes, has been hailed by reviewers as a breakthrough in our understanding of the link between emotions and genetics. He founded the National Institute for Integrative Healthcare to study and implement promising evidence-based psychological and medical techniques. His groundbreaking research has been published in prestigious scientific journals. He is the editor of Energy Psychology: Theory, Research, & Treatment, a peer-reviewed professional journal. He shares how to apply these breakthroughs to health and athletic performance through EFT Universe, one of the largest alternative medicine sites on the web. To learn more about Dawson Church, click here.
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This article appears in:
2014 Catalyst, Issue 2: Winter of Wellness