‘You are not simply the sum total of the genes you were born with,’ writes Deepak Chopra, world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine who has co-authored his new book Super Genes with Rudy Tanzi, a neuroscientist at Harvard’s Massachusetts General Hospital. ‘You are the user and controller of your genes, the author of your biological story. No prospect in self-care is more exciting.’
Learning how to shape your gene activity is the focus of the book from the bestselling duo behind bestselling Super Brain (Rider, £8.99). For decades, medical science has believed that genes determined our biological destiny, says Chopra. Now new research on genetics has changed that assumption forever. You will always have the genes you were born with, but genes are dynamic, responding to everything we think, say, and do, he says.
‘Suddenly they've become our strongest allies for personal transformation. When you make lifestyle choices that optimize how your genes behave, you can reach for a state of health and fulfilment undreamed of even a decade ago. The impact on prevention, immunity, diet, ageing, and chronic disorders is unparalleled,’ says Chopra.
I was delighted to grab some time with Deepak Chopra to get his best advice on how to start to influence my own genes for health versus disease.
Q: I lost both my parents and grandparents to cancer so I’m delighted to learn that I am not doomed.
DC: Less than 5% of cancers are related to genes. 95% are influenced by your lifestyle. You are the author of your biological story.
Q: What lifestyle do I have to lead to be the ‘author’ of my own biological story?
DC: The mind/body connection is like a telephone line – many telephone lines, in fact, teeming with information. Small things like drinking an orange juice with pulp or eating an apple is being received like a telephone call to your genes. Every thought, every thing you eat, every single little thing can tweak your genes activity towards healing.
Q: What are the best practices I can adopt to improve my health?
DC: Sleep and meditation are key. Natural sleep for 8 hours will help remove toxins from the body, help consolidate memory, create order from chaos. Sleep activates good hormones that are associated with rejuvenation and slowing down the ageing process. If you want to avoid Alzheimer’s disease, sleep 8 hours a night.
Q: And meditation?
DC: We’ve just done a five-day retreat at the Chopra centre and people who went to the meditation retreat saw their anti-ageing enzyme increase by 40 per cent. We looked at their 23,000 genes and the self-healing genes were up regulated and all the genes related to heart disease, cancer and inflammatory diseases, diabetes, they all went down within five days. We took blood samples and we can predict if someone is doing meditation or not. There is actually a genetic signature associated with meditation.
Q: What about going to the gym – is that important?
DC: You don’t have to go the gym – just walk 10,000 steps a day and you are activating your good genes. But do practise yoga. Yoga stimulates different nerves in your body, especially the Vagus nerve that carries information from the brain to most of the body’s major organs, slows everything down and allows self-regulation. It’s the nerve that is associated with the parasympathetic system and emotions like love, joy and compassion.
Q: What are the best foods to eat?
DC: Don’t eat processed food, refined food but rather organic food from the earth– nothing with genetically–modified ingredients. Eat a plant-based diet – which act like prebiotic and probiotics in the gut.
Q: In the book you talk about our genes listening to our thoughts. Should we only be thinking positive thoughts?
DC: I’m not recommending that you think positive thoughts. It’s more about experiencing more emotions and feelings that make you feel more connected with the world. Emotions like guilt and shame cut you off from web of existence and that causes inflammation in the body. I would recommend that you go to a level of awareness where you can be an observer of your thoughts and emotions and use mindfulness.
Q: What is your daily practice?
DC: I do an early morning meditation from 4am to 6am, a yoga class from 6am to 7am and then set an intention to feel joyful and energetic in my body and loving and compassionate in my heart. For the rest of the day, I just go with the flow.
Q: If you’ve been living an unhealthy life, what is the easiest way to start changing your lifestyle habits and teaching your genes new tricks?
DC: The easiest way to start is take 5-10 minutes every morning and ask yourself: who am I? What do I want? What’s my purpose? What am I grateful for? And then get quiet and listen for the answers.
Deepak Chopra is in London on May 15th at 10.30 at Alternatives at St James, Piccadilly. You can buy tickets here: alternatives.org.uk/event/super-genes-key-health-and-fulfillment