I’m no supermodel.
In fact, obesity, hair loss, anxiety, and Alzheimer’s disease run in my family—not a pretty genetic picture for middle age and later life.
My mother ate sparingly while pregnant with me, as was the fashion in 1967, an era of Twiggy and miniskirts. Mom’s diet turned on my famine genes while my chromosomes were being knit in her womb, meaning that I’ve had a lifelong struggle with blood-sugar problems and rapid weight gain (a lot more on these topics later). I’ve grown up idolizing actresses such as Katharine Hepburn, Sigourney Weaver, Diane Keaton, and Julia Roberts. They were slim and tall, but I was pudgy and short.
Now, when I start to wonder why it’s so freaking hard to stay mentally and physically fit at 50, I remind myself that my genes program me to be a 200-pound anxious diabetic with thinning hair. All things considered, maybe I’m not doing so badly.
Think about Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Lopez, Julianne Moore, Gisele Bündchen, and Helen Mirren. It’s easy to believe they won the genetic lottery. Perhaps they hail from a long line of superwomen with flawless skin, flat bellies, perfectly balanced hormones, and fast metabolisms.
That’s great for those women, but the rest of us flounder. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like I was born to wrestle with my weight, skin, energy, and sex drive. In college, my weight ballooned. In medical school, my skin broke out and my adrenals broke down because of stress. I craved sugar and carbs and rarely ate vegetables. I drank gallons of coffee, hardly slept for a decade, and bought fat jeans. Then I had two kids. Need I go on?
Maybe you’ve been told that your muffin top or memory problems aren’t your fault; they are simply programmed by your genes. It doesn’t seem fair.
But your genetic code—the DNA sequence that is the biochemical basis of heredity in all living organisms—is only a small part of the story. Your DNA is a unique blueprint that is specific to you. Even if you haven’t been dealt platinum genes, you can still look great and age more slowly.
The fact is that scientists have found new ways for us to take control of our genes. For example, the naughty aging genes usually associated with fat and wrinkles can be altered with diet, exercise, and other lifestyle choices. Simply put, even if you have fewer of the good genes and more of the bad genes, you can still lose weight, improve your skin, and change how your DNA controls your body and mind. You don’t even need a large staff of trainers and chefs to hold you to your exercise regimen and diet; you can appear to have lucky genes whether or not you actually have them.
The truth is that around 90 percent of the signs of aging and disease are caused by lifestyle (and the environment created by your lifestyle), not genes. The neighborhood of your body—how you live and the world you create, internally and externally—is more important than your DNA when it comes to how you look and feel now and for the next 25 to 50 years.
I love the axiom that genetics loads the gun, and the environment pulls the trigger. Genetic factors and environmental factors don’t work on their own—they interact. Even if you have lousy genes, you can change your health destiny by managing your exposures. It means that you have the power to get your body to work for you instead of against you.
You can adjust epigenetics up or down by tweaking what’s known as your exposome, a collection of environmental factors that directly or indirectly affect your health. You control your exposome by your daily habits of body and mind, both conscious and unconscious, including how often you move and what form that movement takes, what environmental exposures you have in your home and office, what you eat and drink, and how you manage or mismanage your hormones. When one gene is turned on by a certain exposure, another gene may be turned off.
In this way, the goal of the Younger protocol is to optimize all the bodily systems, while turning off the bad genes and turning on the good ones. The end result is the magic elixir that so many of us have been chasing—the ability to turn back the clock.
Excerpted from YOUNGER: A Breakthrough Program to Reset Your Genes, Reverse Aging, and Turn Back the Clock 10 Years, available now wherever books are sold. Copyright ©2017 by Sara Gottfried, published by HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.