Epigenetics: The Relationship Between Stress and Emotions with the Human Genome
Correct emotional management is fundamental to modify the genetic tendencies that increase the predisposition to suffer anxiety or depression.
Epigenetics is a relatively modern scientific discipline that studies the mechanisms by which certain factors, such as the environment, stress and emotion management, or diet, interact with the genes with which we are born, activating or deactivating them and regulating their expression. In other words, if a person has a polymorphism in their DNA sequence that influences addiction, anxiety or depression, it means that they will be more prone to suffer from any of these problems, but not that they will inevitably have an addictive or depressive personality. Because, as Vicente Mera, head of the Genomic Medicine and Healthy Ageing Unit at SHA Wellness Clinic, says, ‘through lifestyle habits we can transform our genetic code. For example, we know that coffee increases anxiety, and alcohol abuse can lead to depression. So, by avoiding their consumption, we reduce the risks. Therefore, thanks to psychology, behavioural changes and correct management of stress and emotions, it is possible to modify this genetic tendency. Another example: a person who is born intelligent can become even more so if they devote time to training and education. In this case, learning would be the epigenetics of the brain because, by studying, more and better neuronal connections are achieved that end up transforming the brain cells, which, when they divide, incorporate these epigenetic changes’.
Regularly practising yoga, meditation or pranayama breathing techniques is the perfect solution for learning to manage stress and control emotions. As Vicente explains, ‘with these activities you can gradually master your genetic tendency and transform your genes. Thus, when faced with a specific stimulus, aggressive people respond earlier than those who are not aggressive. This is because their engine accelerates from zero to 100 in just one second. But with regular practice of mindfulness disciplines, we can de-valve that engine to slow it down and have more time to think before reacting. This learning causes epigenetic changes in both neurons and neurotransmitters and there will come a time when, no matter how many external stimuli you face, your response will not be the same. In this way, you will be able to manage any kind of emotional situation without falling into aggressive behaviour’.
Although we still have a lot to learn about epigenetics, Dr Mera is convinced that it is one of the sciences of the future because “it allows us to change harmful lifestyle habits for healthier ones and to modify certain genetic tendencies that directly affect our quality of life in our favour. As well as, of course, increasing longevity, well-being and general health and passing on better genetic material to the next generation’.