Have you ever been told that your current health challenge is in your genes? Studies have shown that fibromyalgia and many other overlapping health challenges have a “strong familial aggregation.”(1) So, if the tendency for a fibromyalgia, arthritis, and/or an autoimmune dysfunction diagnosis is in your family, are you simply doomed?
There’s a powerful difference between understanding the genetic structure (genome) of the body and how it behaves in the body. This is actually very exciting news.
In early studies it was thought that the genomic map of the body was like a rigid and permanent blueprint. However, after the map was completed in 2003, scientists were still left with some very puzzling questions. They quickly realized that the genomic map was malleable. It could be manipulated and affected by outside factors, changing the course or outcome of development.
These factors are called the Epigenome(2) (literally meaning, in addition to, or above the genome). The reason why the study of the Epigenome (or Epigenetics) is so fascinating is that it helps us to better understand the influence we have over our own health.
Epigenetic research has defined numerous environmental factors that have control over our genome. These factors have the ability to switch our genes on or off. They influence our health in negative or positive ways creating changes in how our bodies react.
One way that scientists are able to study the Epigenetic factors that influence our health is to look at the genomic structure of twins. By studying humans with identical DNA material, they can look at the differences in their development and then study the environmental factors responsible for those differences.
The science of Epigenetics (meaning control above your genes) studies how the signals from environmental factors change the activity of our genes.
Here are the factors that, literally, have the power to change our health. The first item will likely come as no surprise; however, you may find some of the following factors quite astonishing.
What we eat has everything to do with how we feel, what symptoms we’ll experience, and what health challenges or diseases we have the potential to develop.
Our food choices actually shape our biology. The study of how our nutritional choices affect our genetic expression is called Nutrigenomics.(3) Studying nutritional influence is one of the most commonly studied factors because it’s the most obvious. Scientists can monitor, measure, track, and observe dietary choices and the resulting genetic changes.
Dietary choices can influence more than just weight, of course. Our food choices contribute to acceleration or causation of rapid aging and degenerative diseases.
Over 2,400 years ago, Hippocrates (the world’s most famous doctor in human history) said, “Let food be your medicine.”
In addition, what we drink, breathe, and touch also have an effect on our genetic expression.
2. How We Feel and What We Do
It’s pretty amazing to recognize that our feelings – emotions – actually have an impact on our genetic expression. It makes sense when we consider that emotions are powerful drivers for our actions and behaviors.
We’ve all known people whose personality types lean more toward anger, bitterness, and resentment. Some may explode with violent outbursts; others internalize seething ruminations. Either way, these continuous negative emotions have a damaging effect on the body.
We can well-imagine the effects on the heart, circulatory system, and even the brain from continuous anger. But, what about other emotions? What can result from fear, anxiety, sadness, overwhelm, grief, and more?
Any negative emotion that’s repeated over and over has the potential to detrimentally impact our overall health. It’s important to remember that “Your emotions regulate genetic expression.”(4)
Another important tip to remember is that there are tools and techniques that can help us deal with negative emotions. What we eat and how we move our bodies (fitness routines) both have a significant impact on our mood and our emotions. Additionally, techniques such as EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) can help to support a healthier mindset.
Refer to these ProHealth.com articles for more information on the healing benefits and use of EFT for fibromyalgia:
3. How We Live
In a general sense, our environment encapsulates our immediate surroundings. Our genetic structure is influenced by everything we come in contact with, most notably, infectious bacteria and toxins.
Infections can ultimately strengthen the immune system if we naturally build up antibodies in defense. Conversely, chronic or lingering infections may compromise the immune system.
Exposure to toxins can occur from our water source, the air we breathe, the foods we consume, and even the plastics and chemicals we touch. Many health and beauty products we may deem safe contain toxic ingredients that are absorbed through our body’s largest organ, the skin.
One way to minimize the effects of toxic exposure from everyday foods, products, and more is to check out the abundant information available at the Environmental Working Group.
4. What We Think and Believe
This is where things get very interesting. We could discuss various topics linked to our beliefs from the placebo effect to miracle healings.
The impact of our emotions on our physiology is a budding field of study. According to Konstantin Ericksen, “Our beliefs can change our biology. We have the power to heal ourselves, increase our feelings of self-worth, and improve our emotional state.”(4)
We can also look to resources such as cellular biologist and researcher Bruce Lipton’s ground-breaking book, The Biology of Belief.
In his research, Lipton shares his discoveries using quantum physics. His experiments demonstrate the body’s ability to react to more than just physical stimulus and interactions. The body is also affected by thoughts, feelings, emotions, and perceived emotions. Which brings us to the final environmental factor, below.
5. What We Perceive (Either Real or Imagined)
Have you ever noticed frequent mention of the body’s fight or flight response when researching fibromyalgia and other chronic health challenges? This correlation is common since many of us have corresponding adrenal, thyroid, and hormonal dysfunction.
The heightened fight or flight response provides us with a good example of perceived emotions.
When the fight or flight response occurs, the body’s sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive. It perceives a threat (based on our thoughts), and goes into action pumping out stress hormones. Once the perceived threat has passed, however, the body doesn’t automatically shift into a relaxed state.
Even though we’re not literally running from danger (such as from a hungry tiger), our body reacts to our worries, anxieties, and fears. It responds accordingly. While our worries are sometimes very real, our constant exposure to these thoughts is the problem.
It’s important to understand that the brain cannot tell the difference between a real experience and one that’s vividly imagined.(5)
This is the power of perception.
Epigenetics and Fibromyalgia
So, how did I trip over the field of Epigenetics more than a dozen years ago? It’s a strange connection, but as I researched health topics for my book, FibroWHYalgia, I also enjoyed frequent trips to Oahu for my spouse’s work. I spent days on end studying local Hawaiian history at the Hawaiian National archives in Waikiki. I was fascinated by the natural abundant health of the indigenous native culture prior to contact from the outside world.
In my unrelated studies, I read about an ancient Hawaiian practice called, ‘ana ‘ana.(6) It was believed that a person (especially a royal, ali’i) could literally be “prayed to death.” It meant that once the royals believed that prayers of ‘ana ‘ana were issued by their enemies, they resigned themselves to swiftly leaving this earth.
It really struck a chord with me. The actual cause of death was a non-tangible, non-scientific belief that it would happen. I then wondered, “If it’s possible to believe in something negative that affects our health, isn’t it also possible to believe in something positive? Could we choose practices that create positive physical results?”
I spent time at the local library researching genetics, belief, and autoimmune health. Ultimately, I discovered articles on Epigenetics by Dr. Mark Hyman.(7)
His research provided me with my first exposure to the connection between nutrition, toxins (including mercury), stress, and gut health. I had studied each of these topics extensively on their own, but this was the first time I’d seen them mentioned together.
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To me, it was like opening Pandora’s Box of opportunity. I discovered that through my behaviors and environment, I was the master of my own health destiny!
Takeaway Points to Consider
By now, it should be clear that the study of Epigenetics is one of the most interesting and extraordinary fields of scientific research. We’re not limited to our inherited genes and the fate of our genomic structure.
In fact, we change our genes every day by what we eat, drink, breathe, do, think, live, and perceive. These are the environmental factors that have the power to change our physical and emotional health.
This empowerment puts us in the driver’s seat.
Dr. Frank Lipman, MD puts it this way, “You have a lot more control over your health than you think. Stress, diet, behavior, toxins, and other factors activate chemical switches that turn genes on and off and regulate genetic expression.”(8)
If we have control, or at the very least influence, over these factors, isn’t it exciting to know that the choices we make today can help us to improve how we feel tomorrow?
As I’ve mentioned before, small changes lead to big results over time. Why not take action toward improving your health at your very next meal!
1. Buskila D. “The genetics of fibromalgia syndrome.” Pharmacogenomics, January 2007.
2. “Epigenomics.” National Human Genome Research Institute. June 15, 2015.
3. “Nutrition and the Epigenome.” Genetic Science Learning Center, University of Utah Health Sciences. Retrieved July 30, 2015.
4. Mercola J. “Falling for This Myth Could Give You Cancer.” Mercola.com. April 11, 2012.
5. Paul, Annie Murphy. “Your Brain on Fiction.” The New York Times. March 17, 2012.
6. “A Dictionary of the Hawaiian Language.” Ulukau: The Hawaiian Electronic Library.
Retrieved July 30, 2015.
7. Hyman, Mark. “Why Your Genes Don’t Determine Your Health.” The Huffington Post. May 25, 2011.
8. Lipman, Frank. “FAQs on Epigenetics.” Dr. Frank Lipman. May 3, 2011.
Additional Data Source: TheHealthSciencesAcademy.org.
Sue Ingebretson (www.RebuildingWellness.com) is an author, speaker, certified holistic health care practitioner and the director of program development for the Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Center at California State University, Fullerton. She is also a Patient Advocate/Fibromyalgia Expert for the Alliance Health website and a Fibromyalgia editor for the ProHealth website community.
Her #1 Amazon best-selling chronic illness book, FibroWHYalgia, details her own journey from chronic illness to chronic wellness. She is also the creator of the FibroFrog™– a therapeutic stress-relieving tool which provides powerful healing benefits with fun and whimsy.
Would you like to find out more about the effects of STRESS on your body? Download Sue’s free Is Stress Making You Sick? guide and discover your own Stress Profile by taking the surveys provided in this detailed 23-page report.