07/20/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Healthy Lifestyle's Impact on Your Genes

When a Western doctor sticks a tongue depressor down your throat and tells you to say; "Ahhh," he's using one of the five senses to observe throat redness-- just one of thousands of signifiers of your health status. When an Ayurvedic physician "reads your pulses," he or she is also using the senses to observe and assess.

To determine health status and assess treatment success, the most common forms of measurement are:

Objective reports

Subjective reports

Tracking outcomes (short and long term)

An objective report tracks a change measurable or observable by an outside party, or technology, be it:

biochemical (lab tests of biochemical markers),
biomechanical, (x-rays, or vertebral positioning as palpated by a chiropractor)
bioenergetic (via technologies which measure radiation, electrical currents, signals, magnetics, sound or frequencies--think MRI, Xray, sonogram, TENS unit, Vega testing, or applied kinesiology)
direct sensory, (How did you get that shiner? Those dental pockets are deep--etc.)

A subjective report is something you yourself observe or report, such as:

When I crank up the Waterpik, my gums bleed
My stomach didn't feel right after I ate that shellfish
My back is out
I feel calmer after taking that walk

Subjective report is so important that scientists have developed a wide range of tests measuring various forms of subjective experience that cannot be observed by an outsider.

So that if a friend to a health care practitioner asks you, "On a scale of 1 - 10, please rate your (pain, mood, fear of heights etc.) they aim to quantify a subjective experience. Why? Because sometimes improvement itself is enough ("I feel better after talking to you.") and sometimes a measurement is needed to guide or confirm the success of treatment ("It's a 9--more novocaine, please!")

Now, what about assessments by outcomes? The bottom line is outcomes track treatment results. Whether a single individual recovers from a deadly form of cancer and lives into his nineties, or 300 hundred women lose forty pounds and keeo it off for three years, we should know about it.

Some might say, a single individual? That's not a big enough group to study! Consider this: If that person were you or a loved one, (or if either of you had the same disease), you'd probably be very interested in that outcome. That's one reason why a group of distinguished scientists have started a new journal to study outcomes at:

Recently, in the realm of objective testing, scientists have probed deeper-- to study the action of genes.

How does gene science relate to the biochemical science we know?

Well, gene science is like finding out that the basement of your house has a sub-basement-- a deeper level of what's going on.

Just like a biochemical imbalance in your body can be worsened by what you take in (like junk foods or toxins), a leaky pipe overhead can create a damp spot in your basement. On the other hand, that dampness could come in via a crack in your sub-foundation letting in water from an underground spring. Gene science helps us look to the deeper level of inherited strengths and weaknesses so that you can address both your innate tendencies and outside influences.

Genes themselves don't change, but how they act does change. Scientists call this "epigenetics" or gene expression, which means that genes can be turned on, to catalyze a certain action, or turned off, to shut down or limit that action. For example, we want to turn on the genes that help grow hair on your head. But the genes that promote tumor growth? Let's keep those off.

A new study, conducted by Dean Ornish, MD and leading genetic scientist Peter Carroll is one of the first of many to come that connects the dots between lifestyle changes, biochemical markers, and gene expression. Focusing on prostate cancer, the authors found that after undertaking a program of dietary and lifestyle changes, men with low-risk prostate cancer, who had voluntarily elected to forgo conventional treatment (for reasons apart from the study), had trackable changes in both their biochemical markers and in genetic expression.

The study authors noted that along with "significant improvements in weight, abdominal obesity, blood pressure, and lipid profile," (reduction of these known contributors to cancer incidence lowers risk), the study participants also experienced a significant change in nearly 500 genes that play a role in tumor development. Ornish a long-time champion of a comprehensive approach featuring a plant-base diet, exercise, stress management, and support groups) now has shown that making these lifestyle changes can actually alter gene expression to help reduce low-risk prostate cancer (and possibly breast cancer as well.)

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