Born on February 12, 1809, in the small town of Shrewsbury, England, Charles Darwin circumnavigated the globe on the HMS Beagle at the young age of 22 to make keen observations and document findings in unparalleled detail. He spent the next three decades analyzing his data to support a thesis and published his findings inarguably the most controversial book ever written, The Origin of Species.
Darwin’s impact on contemporary medicine is far reaching and is predicted to have an even more powerful impact in the future. The growing field of genetics supports this claim. According to geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution." He purports that if evolutionary biology is the foundation for biology and biology is the foundation of medicine, than the two must coexist if one is to discover the true cause of a disease. More recent studies suggest that, while one’s DNA is not alterable, the process by which genes operate may be influenced.
The New York Times recently published an article about the impact of DNA on our health and wellness. Specifically, the article discussed the results of a new study that discovered the positive effects of outside influences such as exercise, on the behavior of DNA. The study found that exercise can change the shape and function of genes in a healthy way.
The human genome is a complex and comprehensive set of genetic information shared by all members of the human race. DNA sequences are encoded in chromosomes in the cell nuclei, where two copies of each gene, one from each parent is stored.
When it all works well, genes create a normal, health well-balanced organism. However, it has long been know that many diseases are related to genes. In some cases, a gene is broken, missing, and in others an extra gene is present. Genetic mutations can create disease. For example, all humans possess a gene called CFTR. However, only those with a mutation of this gene develop the genetic disease, cystic fibrosis. Some mutations are in only one gene, while other mutations are more complex such as those associated with heart disease and diabetes, especially when combined with environmental and lifestyle factors. But, not all mutations are necessarily bad. For example, some genetic mutations create resistance to disease. For example, according to research published in Nature, one in ten people studied in Burkina Faso in West Africa have a genetic mutation that protects them from malaria.
The good news is that current research supports the idea that not all environmental factors have a negative effect on our genetic health and wellness. Scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm published their findings in “Epigenetics” which support the theory that positive external environmental factors such as exercise, can impact our DNA to make us healthier. In the study, subjects performed moderate endurance exercise on a bike for 45 minutes, 4 times a week, for 3 months using only one leg. Muscle biopsies and DNA testing were performed on both the control (non exercised leg) and the experimental (exercised leg) before and after the study began and assessed for DNA changes. Researchers were pleasantly surprised to find significant changes in methylation, a process in which the DNA receives and responds to biochemical signals. These changes were only found in the experimental leg, the leg that had undergone 4 months of endurance training. Moreover, the changes were most notable in the muscle-cell genes which were responsible for energy metabolism, response to insulin and inflammation in the muscles. In summary, while there were no actual changes in the DNA of the exercised leg, there were significant methylation changes, which are the enhancers which amplify the response of DNA to environmental changes.
William Meller, MD, author of Evolution Rx, reinforces the value of the Stockholm research. He states that in spite of our anxiety about chemicals in foods, toxins in the environment and prolific diseases such as cancer, human beings were designed to heal. He feels that this is supported by a million years of evolution and natural selection that has influenced us to be powerful, healthy and self-healing. In spite of germs, toxins, and pollution we continue to thrive. In 2000 there were 180,000 centenarians in the world and that number is expected to increase by eighteen times as 3.2 million people in the world may reach 100 years of age by 2050.
Therefore, if your gene pool is questionable like most of us, don’t use that as an excuse. There are things you can do to have a positive impact on your DNA to live longer and healthier…one of them is EXERCISE!
Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.
Keep moving, eat healthy foods, exercise regularly, and live long and well!
NEXT MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum” in the Scranton Times-Tribune.
This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at The Commonwealth Medical College