Super Genes by Deepak Chopra, M.D., and Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D.
Published by Harmony Books, 336 pages, $26
“It’s in my genes,” people say, to herald their talents or declare that their shortcomings are set in stone. These famous scientists, Chopra, a pioneer in integrative medicine, and Tanzi, a Harvard neurology professor who conducts research on Alzheimer’s at Mass. General, boldly declare otherwise, viewing genes as more fluidly responsive to experience—a concept called “epigenetics.”
Some events may affect genes negatively; those of some Holocaust survivors with PTSD were also “traumatized” and seemingly passed on to children who hadn’t lived through the experience. Ditto with some mice made fearful of a certain chemical whose offspring shuddered at that smell. Positive effects may be possible too; the authors propose that epigenetics could partly explain how Dutch men went from the shortest in Europe to the tallest in only two centuries. Gene mutations are not solely random, they suggest, and scientists are pursuing the significant twistings that may explain the link, say, between sleep and Alzheimer’s.
Loaded with scientific information, research data and, yes, eager speculation, this book is also full of optimism about our ability to actually change gene expression through improved habits. The authors’ program proposes a three-step pyramid of positive lifestyle changes, starting with the easiest choices and working up to harder and experimental ones. Covering the realms of diet, stress, exercise, meditation, sleep and emotions, they serve up menus of suggested interventions that span the mystical and the practical, allowing readers to pick and choose how to polish their actions and attitudes.
From page 71: Beyond the amazing implications for the influence of thought directly on gene activities, this approach could someday be applied to help patients with epilepsy by instantaneously delivering drugs or switching certain genes on or off in sufferers via a brain implant at the very onset of a seizure.