Wellness seems to have reached a plateau in America and other wealthy industrialized countries. The information about how to prevent many kinds of lifestyle disorders, including heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, has been widely distributed. Longevity steadily increases. Advanced research on incurable diseases moves forward, if only by small increments.
You might think that the picture of health is clear. All we need are two things to achieve wellness for almost everyone: more compliance and a major leap in genetics.
The first is certainly true. America's obesity epidemic isn't improving because the information about how to reverse it didn't lead to motivation. The same is true for the other standard points of prevention, such as a reduced fat diet, less red meat, more vegetables, lower salt and sugar, and more fiber. The government can jiggle the food pyramid, but that won't matter as long as Americans haven't stepped on to the pyramid in the first place. The same goes for exercise, since only a small minority of adults get even the minimum amount to promote good health.
But this post isn't a scolding about compliance. It's the second part of wellness -- waiting for genetics to deliver amazing cures and new wonder drugs -- that is not a promise likely to be kept. If we want to rise above the plateau where we find ourselves, we actually have to reverse the promise of genetics. Instead of waiting for science, each of us must learn to influence our genes in a new way.
Ten years ago, with the map of the human genome in hand, researchers ran eagerly after magic bullets -- that is, simple treatments for fixing damaged genes or "bad" genes that were causing everything from cancer and Type 1 diabetes to obesity and smoking, not to mention mental disorders like depression and free-floating anxiety, both of which are reaching epidemic proportions.
No one is talking about magic bullets anymore, for the genetic map, combined with imaging techniques like the MRI and CT scans, revealed the opposite of what everyone wanted to find. Instead of simple genetic connections, there are dozens and sometimes hundreds of genes involved in various disorders. Even to find fixed sets of these genes has proved elusive. Each individual seems to possess unique patterns of genetic influence. Now medicine realizes that breast cancer, for example, isn't one disease but dozens. Faced with such unforeseen complications, the hope for genetic cures, while still alive, has become 10 times more complex.
Yet in a different way the human genome has opened the door for the higher health. We now realize that our genes are far more flexible, changeable and easily influenced by lifestyle choices. This post is too short for me to detail how such a revolutionary change occurred in genetic thinking, so I will only point to the findings of Dr. Dean Ornish, the country's most respected advocate for heart prevention, which indicate that improving your diet, exercise and stress levels leads to improved genetic output from 400 to 500 genes.
This indicates that standard prevention has a real physiological basis, which is good news. Compliance is more than ever the wisest choice. But the new view of genetic flexibility points much further. You are in a constant conversation with every cell in your body, meaning that at the molecular level, every thoughts and action has consequences. It has become clear that genes are eavesdropping on every detail of life, including not just diet and exercise but your moods, beliefs and every experience that registers in the mind.
In other words, you can be the controller of your body's trillions of cells, and the control switch lies in consciousness. Higher health depends on taking advantage of this breakthrough idea. Far beyond the placebo effect and psychosomatic illness, beyond faith healing and spontaneous remissions, the mind has unlimited potential for achieving a higher vision of wellness, as we'll discuss in the next post.
(To be cont.)
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