[Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Blogging For Books for reviewing purposes. I actually had already read it prior to receiving the copy, and all thoughts below represent my own sincere thoughts about the book based on my unbiased reading of it.]
I first heard of Deepak Chopra, MD, when he led a meditation at my workplace, Facebook. Sadly, I missed the session, but heard countless rave reviews from co-workers. At the time, he and Rudolph Tanzi, PhD, had just come out with a new book called “Super Genes: Unlock the Astonishing Power of your DNA for Optimum Health and Well-Being.” Based on what I heard about him and my love of self-knowledge and mindfulness, I knew his book would be of interest to me.
It was not just of great interest, but also with perfect timing, as I read it just as I was starting to incubate my future daughter (literally, the day after she was implanted via IVF). I learned things that then helped inform how I lived my life during her incubation, and that will continue throughout both of our lives.
Part 1: The Science of Transformation sets the foundation: one’s physical, emotional, and psychological health is determined at the DNA level of our 50-100 trillion cells, of which approximately 90% is bacterial DNA within the microbiome. Next is the introduction of the concept that a person’s DNA is not a static blueprint determined from birth, defining who that person is and will always be, but rather, a dynamic, malleable entity that is a combination of inherited DNA and additional genetic code whose composition and activity is responsive to your actions, and can then be passed down to future generations.
This is called the epigenome, in which “genes to react to experience… offering the possibility that how you react to your daily life, physically and psychologically, can be passed on [to future generations].” Two referenced studies: 1) women witnesses of 9/11 who were pregnant at the time, went on to have babies with higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol and 2) female mice given nutritional supplements gave birth to healthier offspring, while mice “whose mothers received fewer vitamins were more predisposed to obesity and other diseases. Thus a mother’s nutritional state may have a more profound impact on her baby than was previously believed.”
Then, let’s consider the microbiome: three pounds of bacterial DNA that is roughly equal to the brain in weight, whose well-being is sensitive to 1) what we eat (bacteria need prebiotics, e.g. fiber, to flourish), 2) personal stress levels. The microbiome helps regulate our immunity and reduces inflammation, which can promote a whole host of disease and cancerous disorders. Essentially, the argument is that there is a key relationship between the well-being of our gut bacteria and the brain.
Part 2: Lifestyle Choices for Radical Well-Being details six main areas on which one can focus on, in order to optimize your DNA’s well-being, and ultimately, your overall health. These are: diet, stress, exercise, meditation, sleep and emotions. Chopra and Tanzi give great, detailed guidelines of how to optimize each category, and reinforce the benefits with scientific explanations. In a nutshell:
- Diet: By eating prebiotics, organic, and anti-inflammatory foods and cutting out sugar, gluten, alcohol, and processed foods, you can drastically cut down on inflammation, which is linked to a scarily-large range of chronic diseases. (I discovered that I had essentially been following the strictest version of these dietary guidelines, to help improve my chances of fertility.)
- Stress: By decreasing sources of personal stress (putting yourself in stressful situations, being around people who are sources of pressure and conflict) and actively finding ways to unwind, doing personally-meaningful things, addressing negative emotions and psychological issues, and working towards higher self-esteem, you can stave off chronic stress that is proven to have a physically damaging effect on the body.
- Exercise: Take as many opportunities as possible to perform regular physical activities (ranging from just getting outside, to doing exercise in social contexts, to training for a competitive sport). This leads to shifts in gene activity that actually enhances fat cell metabolism and ‘switches on’ anti-inflammatory genes.
- Meditation: Performing a range of meditation exercises/practices was shown to have incredible benefits including anti-aging (telemeres, the end caps of DNA, were found to increase in length, protecting chromosome longevity), reduced chance for viral infection, and increased positive brain activity.
- Sleep: Make your nighttime environment conducive to sleeping, perform relaxing activities in transition to sleep, and create a regular sleep routine, as epigenetics “regulate our circadian rhythms and may in fact be closely linked to sleep disorders. … Disruptions of sleep rhythms have been linked to numerous disorders, such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cancers, and autoimmune diseases.”
- Emotions: Perform acts that allow you to express gratitude and appreciation, to focus on positive things, and do things that bring both you or others a moment of happiness. Seek sympathy and compassion, and look for ways to improve your emotional intelligence. A person with a high EQ (emotional quotient) is good at controlling their emotions and impulses, is empathetic to others, understands how emotions work, and addresses needs via feelings, allowing them to process experiences in a happier way. Both positive emotions (love) and negative emotions (fear, stress) can change gene activity, for better or worse.
Part 3: Guiding Your Own Evolution brings it all together with nine essential philosophies that help to promote your optimal mind-body connection, and lay the long-term foundation for a fulfilled life. Based on the potential for genetic change within an individual as described in the previous sections, Chopra argues that you, the individual, can evolve in real-time. You can have full control over your own well-being; you just have to take it, using the guidance that Chopra and Tanzi have provided.
I found all of the research and philosophies to be compelling and in strong defense of their recommendations, and the tactical suggestions to be logical and easy to be convinced of. This book has been fantastic in helping me increase self-awareness of how my every action and choice could affect the life within me, and will continue to be relevant guidance for how I live my life going forward. I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to make positive changes in their life, and wants to understand why and how they will benefit from them.
I certainly can’t wait to guide my little girl’s self-awareness along these same lines. She’s just a few days into this world as her own independent entity!! Hopefully she, my husband, and I will all enjoy practicing experiencing positive emotions together, and share an appreciation for good sleep. *fingers crossed*!
Cheers and aloha,