Can we alter our genes through conscious choice?

In his latest book, Super Genes, neurologist Rudolph Tanzi takes us on a journey of discovery, shattering the long-believed notion that genes determine our biological fate. The book explores the field of epigenetics, suggesting we can alter our genetic activity through conscious choice.

TRANSCRIPT

IN HIS LATEST BOOK, 'SUPER GENES,' NEUROLOGIST RUDOLPH TANZI TAKES US ON A JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY, SHATTERING THE LONG-BELIEVED NOTION THAT GENES DETERMINE OUR BIOLOGICAL FATE.

THE BOOK EXPLORES FINDINGS IN THE FIELD OF EPIGENETICS THAT SUGGEST WE CAN BOOST OUR GENETIC ACTIVITY THROUGH CONSCIOUS CHOICES.

DR. RUDOLPH TANZI, WHO SERVES ON A VARIETY OF SCIENTIFIC ADVISORY BOARDS ACROSS THE COUNTRY AND WHO'S ALSO APPEARED ON A NUMBER OF PUBLIC TELEVISION PROGRAMS, JOINS US NOW.

SO, EXPLAIN THIS IDEA BECAUSE FROM HIGH SCHOOL BIOLOGY ONWARD, I'VE BEEN SAID -- 'OKAY, YOUR GENES, YOUR GENES, THIS IS NATURE, THIS IS NURTURE.

KIND OF THERE'S THIS INTERPLAY, BUT YOU CAN'T CHANGE YOUR GENES.'

RIGHT.

SO, THE GENES YOU INHERIT FROM MOM AND DAD ARE GOING TO PROVIDE YOU WITH VARIATIONS IN THE DNA THAT WE ALL HAVE.

THERE ARE 3 MILLION VARIATIONS BETWEEN YOU AND ME.

AND SOME OF THOSE MEAN NOTHING AND SOME OF THEM MAY PREDISPOSE ME TO ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE OR A CERTAIN TYPE OF CANCER.

SOME VARIANTS MAY AFFECT HOW YOU RESPOND TO CERTAIN DRUGS AND WHETHER DRUGS WILL WORK FOR YOU.

MOST OF MY CAREER I'VE BEEN IN THIS PRECISION MEDICINE, PHARMACOGENOMICS BASE, TRYING TO DEAL WITH THE DNA YOUR MOM AND DAD GAVE YOU.

BUT NOW, WHAT WE'VE LEARNED OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS IS THAT GENE ACTIVITY, HOW YOUR GENES RESPOND TO YOUR LIFESTYLE AUTOMATICALLY AT EVERY MOMENT ARE DETERMINING YOUR HEALTH AND DETERMINING YOUR OVERALL RISK FOR DISEASE.

YOU CAN MITIGATE RISK THAT YOU INHERIT WITH LIFESTYLE CHOICES, CONSCIOUS CHOICES.

MY DOCTOR WILL SAY, 'LAY OFF THE SUGAR, EXERCISE MORE.'

BUT YOU'RE SAYING THAT THIS ACTUALLY HAS -- KIND OF THERE'S A FEEDBACK LOOP, THAT IT'S CHANGING ME.

DIET, EXERCISE, STRESS LEVEL, AND SLEEP.

THEY WILL AFFECT YOUR RISK FOR EVERYTHING THAT IS GOING TO CHALLENGE YOUR HEALTHY AGENT -- ALZHEIMER'S, CANCER, DIABETES, STROKE, HEART DISEASE.

AND THE WAY IT WORKS IS THAT EVERYTHING YOU DO, GENE ACTIVITY'S CHANGING.

YOU HAVE 23,000 GENES, AND THEY CHANGE TOGETHER IN NETWORKS.

BUT IF YOU DO SOMETHING REPETITIVELY, ANYTHING YOU DO REPETITIVELY, NOW, WITH WHAT'S CALLED EPIGENETICS -- 'EPI' MEANS 'ONTO' -- THE DNA GETS CHEMICALLY MODIFIED BY YOUR ACTIVITIES SO THAT IN A MORE OR LESS SEMIPERMANENT WAY THOSE GENES WILL CHANGE THE ACTIVITY FOREVER.

SO NOW YOU AUTOMATICALLY HAVE GENE ACTIVITIES GOING 'CAUSE YOUR GENES HAVE BEEN TRAINED BY YOUR HABITS.

SO THE CRUX IS GOOD HABITS LEAD TO COORDINATED, HEALTHY GENE ACTIVITY.

BAD HABITS DO THE OPPOSITE.

HOW MUCH TIME DOES IT TAKE TO MAKE UP FOR BAD BEHAVIOR OR BAD HABITS?

SO, ANYONE AT ANY TIME CAN UNDO OLD HABITS WITH NEW ONES.

AND THIS IS REFLECTED IN YOUR GENES.

JUST LIKE YOU CAN CHEMICALLY MODIFY GENES THROUGH THE BAD HABITS -- WE TALK ABOUT IN 'SUPER GENES' THAT YOU CAN METHYLATE OR DE-METHYLATE -- YOU CAN ALSO UNDO THE CHEMICAL MODIFICATIONS AND REDO THEM ON NEW GENES BASED ON YOUR HABITS.

AND IF YOU DO IT REPETITIVELY, THEN YOUR GENES WILL EVENTUALLY BECOME PROGRAMMED TO HELP YOU AUTOMATICALLY.

SO, AFTER TWO WEEKS YOU'LL WANT THAT EIGHT HOURS OF SLEEP.

THERE'S BEEN KIND OF A RECENT SURGE ABOUT TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATION AND REALLY, I MEAN, WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE CORE OF GIVING YOURSELF 20 MINUTES A DAY, HOW DOES THAT FACTOR INTO GIVING YOUR GENES TIME TO HEAL -- TO HEAL THE REST OF YOUR BODY?

WE JUST DID THE FIRST CLINICAL TRIAL ON MEDITATION, AND WHAT WE SAW WAS THAT, WITH REPETITIVE MEDITATION AMONG EXPERTS AND AMONG NOVICES WHO ARE LEARNING, DRAMATIC CHANGES IN GENE ACTIVITY OVER A ONE-WEEK PERIOD.

SO, GENES THAT CAUSE INFLAMMATION, GENES THAT ARE INVOLVED WITH YOUR WOUND HEALING OR VIRAL INFECTION, MANY OF THESE GENES, IF THEY'RE AT HIGH LEVELS, EVEN THOUGH THEY'RE MEANT TO HELP YOU, WILL HURT YOU.

AND ALL OF THESE GENES RELAXED.

IT WAS KIND OF LIKE THE BODY, AT THE GENETIC LEVEL, GENE ACTIVITY WAS CHILLING OUT, SAYING, 'WE'RE OKAY.

HOMELAND SECURITY WENT FROM ORANGE DOWN TO GREEN.'

AND THAT'S VERY GOOD FOR YOUR BODY BECAUSE, YOU KNOW, EVEN THOUGH INFLAMMATION IS MEANT TO BE AN IMMUNE RESPONSE AND HELP YOU, TOO MUCH CHRONIC INFLAMMATION IS AT THE VERY CORE OF ALZHEIMER'S, CANCER, HEART DISEASE, MOST OF THE AGE-RELATED ILLNESSES THAT THREATEN US FROM YOUR HAVING A HEALTH SPAN THAT KEEPS UP WITH OUR LIFE-SPAN.

IF YOU HAD TO PUT A PERCENTAGE ON IT, HOW MUCH CONTROL DOES SOMEONE HAVE OVER THEIR GENE ACTIVITY?

WE TRY TO AVOID THE WORD 'CONTROL,' ACTUALLY, BECAUSE IT'S MORE LIKE INFLUENCE.

WE HAVE A VERY STRONG INFLUENCE BECAUSE EPIGENETICS SAYS THAT EVERYTHING WE DO IS CHANGING GENE ACTIVITY.

AND THEN THE REAL CRUX OF THE 'SUPER GENES' BOOK IS THAT, WITH REPETITION NEW HABITS, NEW ROUTINES -- I DON'T WANT TO SAY 'PERMANENTLY' 'CAUSE YOU CAN ALWAYS REVERSE IT -- BUT SEMIPERMANENTLY CHANGED GENE ACTIVITY SO IT'S COORDINATED IN A CERTAIN WAY, NOW FOR GOOD.

THERE ARE EVEN STUDIES THAT SHOW THOSE COORDINATED CHANGES IN GENE ACTIVITY CAN BE INHERITED BY THE NEXT GENERATION.

THIS HAS BEEN SHOWN IN MICE.

SO, MICE THAT ARE TRAINED TO BE AFRAID OF THE SMELL OF CHERRY, THEY'RE CONDITIONED.

AND THEN THE BABY MICE, YOU LET THEM SMELL CHERRIES, AND THEY QUIVER IN THE CORNER, AND THEY ACTUALLY INHERIT THE SAME MODIFICATIONS TO THEIR GENES, WHICH IS CRAZY.

DARWIN WOULD NEVER HAVE DREAMED OF THIS, YOU KNOW.

LAMARCK WOULD HAVE, BUT DARWIN WOULDN'T HAVE.

WHAT WOULD YOU SUGGEST FOR PEOPLE, YOU KNOW, THAT THEY CAN SUSTAINABLY DO?

THE BIG CHOICES COME TO DIET.

ARE YOU MOVING AROUND AND EXERCISING?

ARE YOU LETTING PEOPLE STRESS YOU OUT?

AND ARE YOU GETTING ENOUGH SLEEP?

THOSE FOUR ALONE CAN JUST COMPLETELY CHANGE YOUR LIFE, SO WE REALLY FOCUS ON, AFTER WE TALK ABOUT THE SCIENCE, WE FOCUS ON THOSE IN THE SECOND PART OF THE BOOK, WHICH IS MORE SELF-HELP.

DO YOU EXPECT LONGER LIFE EXPECTANCY IF YOU'VE BEEN ABLE TO STAVE OFF ALZHEIMER'S AND CANCER AND THESE OTHER DISEASES?

WE TALK ABOUT LIFE-SPAN AND HEALTH SPAN.

SO, RIGHT NOW WE'RE LIVING TILL 80 YEARS OLD.

BUT AT 85, IT'S 40% TO 50% OF THE POPULATION HAVE ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE.

AND LIFE-SPAN WILL BE 85 PROBABLY BY -- AT LEAST BY THE END OF THE CENTURY, WHICH MEANS IF WE DON'T DO ANYTHING ABOUT THE DISEASE, EVERYBODY BORN WILL HAVE A 50% CHANCE OF HAVING IT, THE DISEASE, WHICH IS CRAZY.

WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE MEDITATION STUDY, WE LOOKED AT THESE PEOPLE AFTER THE MEDITATION TRIAL 30 DAYS OUT, AND THEY STILL HAD BENEFITS.

NOW, THOSE WILL WEAR OFF.

BUT THERE IS A PRETTY LONG -- IT'S A PRETTY LONG HALF-LIFE OF BENEFIT THAT COMES WITH DE-STRESSING, EATING A GOOD DIET, CHOOSING TO EXERCISE, MEDITATE.

IT'S JUST TELLING YOURSELF EVERY MORNING YOU WAKE UP, 'I'M GONNA MAKE THE CHOICE TO DO IT, AND EVERY MOMENT OF EVERY DAY I'M MAKING CHOICES AND I HAVE TO BE CONSCIOUS OF THAT.'

ALL RIGHT, RUDOLPH TANZI, THANKS SO MUCH.

THANK YOU.