How the Mind Influences Gene Expression
I think everybody is aware that their traits are at least somewhat determined by genetics. The nature vs nurture debate goes way back, and it’s become obvious that the answer is clearly both. We’re born with a vast amount of genetic information in our cells. Who we are, is indeed, constrained by this information. But because of gene expression, the possibilities are basically endless.
A certain gene does not guarantee a certain trait. Some genetic traits are more set in stone, such as eye or hair color, while others are always changing, and largely dependent on the environment, which include genes that guide personality, immune function, inflammation, stress, and so on. The various ways a genetic trait can manifest a physical trait in bodily cells is referred to as gene expression.
What this means, is that hypothetical Jim and Bob could have the same exact gene sequence for, say, immune systems. But Jim could have been from a broken home, and is constantly depressed and/or angry. The difference in environment (external, mental, and internal chemically) would cause his genes to express themselves differently than Bob’s. It is very possible that Jim could have a poor immune system and/or auto-immune disorders, while the always happy Bob has neither.
What has come to the forefront of medicine within the last 5-10 years is that mental states, not just external factors, influence gene expression. In many ways, mental state can be considered part of the “environment” in which we live.
I find this insight to be both helpful and enlightening. Research has shown that the quality of mind cultivated by a meditation practice, and other good habits, such as working out, learning, and having fun, can have positive influence on gene expression, and thereby improving physical traits. One such study is linked below.
Genetics and the brain are fascinating – particularly an understanding of how the mind affects physical change in the body. Hopefully this information can help us to make the most of those we’ve been given.
One such study: http://www.news.wisc.edu/22370