Continuing my conversation with Rudolph E. Tanzi, PhD (Dr. Rudy Tanzi), I asked him about the process of developing super genes, the importance of practising meditation and if he could elaborate on his work in the prevention and potential cure of Alzheimer's disease. To read "part one" visit this weblink.
Dr. Tanzi's most recent New York Times best seller, "Super Genes", co-authored with Dr. Deepak Chopra has been widely acclaimed. I asked Dr. Tanzi if he could explain the concept of super genes. He answered. "Well it's a similar idea to super brain, which is that you can either have your brain just do what it wants where your subconscious is driving or you can choose to observe your subconscious and what your brain is doing. Your base line brain is your subconscious, which has been developed by all of your experiences, fears and desires and you're being reactively conditioned in everything you do based on a reality map of where you've already been. This reality map is based on all of your fears and desires, which have been developed by memories of pain, which create fear and memories of pleasure, which create desire."
Dr. Tanzi continued. "We say: where do I get things to make me feel good? How do I avoid things that make me feel bad? We're constantly striving for goals that are based on fears and desires based on reality maps that are housed in our subconscious. In the super brain you choose to observe what your brain is doing. You choose to observe your subconscious, you choose to observe your feelings, thoughts, sensations and imagination and by observing all of this you become an active player in guiding your brain to what you want to be. By guiding your brain, you are training your brain to become a super brain."
He then dived into explaining super genes. "In a similar way, you're born with genes from your parents that you can't change and those genes are predisposing you toward certain tendencies, behaviours, disease susceptibilities etc. Again, by being conscious of that by paying attention to certain aspects of your lifestyle (including diet, exercise, sleep, how you deal with stress, how you deal with your brain) you are actively shaping the activity of your genes."
This is quite a revelation seeing that so many of us have been led to believe that we cannot alter how our genes express themselves. Dr. Tanzi, however, disagrees. "So while you're born with certain genes from your parents, the expression of your genes is determined not only by the genes themselves but by how you live your life and how you live your life is also defined in habits and routines. Habits and routines are driven by your subconscious and that gets back to 'super brain'. If you actively observe what's going on and you take charge; now your gene expression is going to be conditioned on how you choose to live your life, your choices now matter, you're in control."
With respect to improving the expression of our genes Dr. Tanzi elaborates. "So you choose to have a better diet, you don't eat junk food, you choose to get eight hours sleep, you choose to get enough exercise, you choose to meditate and deal with stress. By doing all this routinely, new habits programme your genes via a process called epigenetics. So with every habit you make or break, you're programming or reprogramming your gene expression without even knowing it and that can either be beneficial to you or to hurt you." He continued. "So when you take charge, when you decide, 'I'm going to live my life in a way where my habits are going to epigenetically programme my genes for healthier gene expression', then you're on your way to developing what we call super genes."
I asked Dr. Tanzi why he emphasises the importance of incorporating meditation into our habits. "Well meditation is just one way to alleviate stress and if you think about the big killer in the body, it's inflammation. Whether it's heart disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer's; inflammation is what really hurts you the most and takes you out. Inflammation is meant to help you. Your body, when it causes inflammation, is doing this as a way to fight infection, as a way to drive wound healing. So inflammation is a process that's meant to take care of you, but too much inflammation can lead to organ and tissue damage."
Dr. Tanzi continued. "So as we get older the main thing we have to learn to do is to regulate and limit chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is affected by our diet, by our sleep, by our exercise, but also by our levels of stress. Stress plays an important role in driving inflammation not only in the body but in the brain, so learning how to have a 'super brain' is one way to deal with stress and on a daily basis, a great method for stress reduction is meditation. When you meditate you're taking time to actually clear your mind of all of these feelings and thoughts and images and sensations and getting in touch with that part of you that is pure awareness. In spirituality they call it 'the soul'. There are a lot of names for it. When you can finally tap into that pure awareness that is the observer of the brain, this is what meditation does. This alleviates stress which plays a big role in driving gene expression that will help fight chronic inflammation - the main enemy as we get older."
This interview will continue in part three (soon to be published). Dr. Tanzi talks about several factors which can help in the prevention of Alzheimer's disease and the importance of sleep.
Christopher Dines' new book, The Kindness Habit: Transforming our Relationship to Addictive Behaviours, co-authored with Dr Barbara Mariposa is out now.