“Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are” – Chinese Proverb
“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another” -William James
Our lifestyle has a direct impact on us as human beings and can either lead to a healthy state or to chronic disease.
Lifestyle includes different factors such as nutrition, behavior, stress, physical activity, sleep, our thoughts, smoking, alcohol consumption, etc. Everything we do has an impact on us and influences our epigenetic mechanisms.
So what is Epigenetics?
Think of the human lifespan as a very long movie. The cells would be the actors and actresses, essential units that make up the movie. DNA, in turn, would be the script — instructions for all the participants of the movie to perform their roles. Subsequently, the DNA sequence would be the words on the script, and certain blocks of these words that instruct key actions or events to take place would be the genes. The concept of genetics would be like screen writing. Follow the analogy so far? Great. The concept of epigenetics, then, would be like directing. The script can be the same, but the director can choose to eliminate or tweak certain scenes or dialogue, altering the movie for better or worse.
Epigenetics, in a bit more detail
Epigenetics, as a simplified definition, is the study of biological mechanisms that will switch genes on and off. Epigenetics, essentially, affects how genes are read by cells, and subsequently how they produce proteins. Here are a few important points about epigenetics:
- Epigenetics Controls Genes. Certain circumstances in life can cause genes to be silenced or expressed over time. In other words, they can be turned off (becoming dormant) or turned on (becoming active).
- Epigenetics Is Everywhere. What you eat, where you live, who you interact with, when you sleep, how you exercise, even aging – all of these can eventually cause chemical modifications around the genes that will turn those genes on or off over time. Additionally, in certain diseases such as cancer or Alzheimer’s, various genes will be switched into the opposite state, away from the normal/healthy state.
- Epigenetics Makes Us Unique. Even though we are all human, why do some of us have blond hair or darker skin? Why do some of us hate the taste of mushrooms or eggplants? Why are some of us more sociable than others? The different combinations of genes that are turned on or off is what makes each one of us unique. Furthermore, there have been indications that some epigenetic changes can be inherited.
- Epigenetics Is Reversible. With 20,000+ genes, what will be the result of the different combinations of genes being turned on or off? The possible arrangements are enormous! But if we could map every single cause and effect of the different combinations, and if we could reverse the gene’s state to keep the good while eliminating the bad… then we could theoretically* cure cancer, slow aging, stop obesity, and so much more.
Impact of Stress on you as a human being.
An excess amount of the stress hormone, cortisol, in the body could impact epigenetic processes and boost one’s risk of experiencing psychological issues in the long run. People with anxiety, post-traumatic stress, depression and other stress-related disorders could be adjusting chemical tags on their DNA as a result of high cortisol exposure, which may even persist throughout the course of their lives or be passed on to their children.
The burden of too much stress directly affects your most recently discovered “organ”: your microbiome.
Research shows that ongoing stress can negatively affect the trillions of healthy bacteria in your gut, and sub par gut health can have a depressing effect on your entire system.
Put simply, when you’re experiencing elevated stress levels, your brain goes into flight-or-fight mode, which can impact the blood flow to your gut. This is why it’s common to experience a lull in digestive and immune health in tandem with episodes of heightened stress. Interestingly, one of the key services your bacteria provide is helping to signal the proper response to the brain to cope with elevated “stressors” so that they don’t affect the rest of the body. But when compounded over time, chronic, long-term stress can erode the good guys put in place to protect you from the effects of…you guessed it, stress.
And, when it comes to gut health, diverse and plentiful are the goal. Otherwise, your whole ecosystem suffers, which can affect the way you look, feel, and even how you act. Recent studies have even suggested that a microbiome influenced by stress can lead to the type of inflammation that is tied to mental health issues such as depression or anxiety. To add insult to injury, the harmful effects of the stress response can weaken your gut’s intestinal lining against invaders — making you more susceptible to illness, exhaustion, and nutritional deficiencies.
The good news
Although we can’t change our DNA, we do have the ability to control our lifestyle, leading to epigenetic changes that can influence us both positively and negatively. We now know that through epigenetics, we can stop and reverse the negative side effects that stress has on us.
What can we do to reduce stress?
De-cluttering your life
Excessive clutter is often a symptom and a cause of stress and can affect every facet of your life: from the time it takes you to do things to your finances and your overall enjoyment of life. Clutter can distract you, weigh you down and in general it invites chaos into your life. The best way to tackle the de-cluttering of your home, your work space and your life is to take things one small step at a time. Combined, small steps will lead to big improvements that will be easier to maintain over the long-run.
Connecting with Nature
Living in a digital world leads to stress and a disconnection with nature. Many people learn the hard way that we don’t have an endless battery life, and we all need to recharge from time to time before our bodies decide to pull the plug for us. Nature is not a luxury, it is essential for our mental and physical health. Who doesn’t feel uplifted after a walk in the woods or on the beach?
It’s actually very simple to connect with nature by simply visiting a natural area and walking in a relaxed way. There is numerous calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits to be achieved, for example, many trees give off organic compounds that support our “NK” (natural killer) cells that are part of our immune system’s way of fighting cancer.
The scientifically-proven benefits of connecting with nature include:
- Boosted immune system functioning, with an increase in the count of the body’s Natural Killer (NK) cells.
- Reduced blood pressure
- Reduced stress
- Improved mood
- Increased ability to focus, even in children with ADHD
- Accelerated recovery from surgery or illness
- Increased energy level
- Improved sleep
For a list of scientific research on the health benefits of nature and forest therapy, please refer to the reference material page of our website https://zenfit.co.za/index.php/reference-material/