We have a new term in biology called epigenetics. It is Greek for above genetics. Most of us are born healthy. There is only one case in 2500 that has inborn error due to problematic genes. The remaining 2499 of us are born healthy so we must ask what do we do after our birth that makes us sick? This is the study of epigenetics, what influences and changes our health. This is the most important factor. Our genes are only part of the picture. How we change and express them is what makes the difference. Identical twins are good to study because they have the exact genetic makeup at birth. Over time they become very different people because of their environments , lifestyle, the jobs they do, the people they associate with, etc.. You can see a dramatic difference in twins if one is a smoker and one is not. In this day and age if someone is smoking it could be an emotional issue and that could be what is aging them so it is never 100% clear in science.
There are many layers of complexity to human life so it is hard to say if it is just one particular thing. It is clear though that twins start out with the same identical genetics and life altered them over the years. Different factors accumulate and create damage at the cellular or biological level and these cause our cells to multiply, which replace older or damaged cells. They have to multiply to repair, but each time they multiply, a part of the outer part of the chromosome, the last part which in Greek is called telos, last. In cell biology we call this part of the DNA chromosomes, telomeres. They become shorter because the last part is not copied. Picture telomeres as the plastic over the end of your shoelaces that help you thread them through the holes. As our shoes get older those plastic tips begin to break down and it gets harder for the shoelace to stay tightly wound. When the telomeres get shorter, the DNA and the genome, keep in mind the genome is the information contained within the DNA and the chromosomes, and they become unstable.
When we have unstable DNA we are open to diseases or even death, because the DNA doesn’t function well. The shorter our telomeres become the older we are biologically. Reactive oxygen species damage telomeres. Originally it was the length of the telomeres that was considered of primary importance. What is more important is what damages the telomeres. Medicine right now is concerned with all the downstream factors involved with disease, but mitochondrial communication systems, our microbiome, and DNA is about upstream as we can get right now. Another way to look at this is instead of just being concerned about how many mutations that are occurring in our DNA, we should be focusing on how much energy are we providing for the continued maintenance and function of the enzyme systems in our mitochondria. The length of our telomeres was very interesting about 10 years ago. We now understand it’s far more than just that. They now suspect that it is the oxygen reactive species that is decreasing energy supplies which causes the telomeres to shorten.
Our lifestyle influences the degree of damage and the degree of how fast or how slow our telomeres shorten. We can change our lifestyle at any point in time. We can change what we put in our mouth and we can change how we think. We can change the people around us that help us to think incorrectly. (Negativity) Health is a skill set. Personal responsibility has not really sunk in for the average person. For most people the only time they become active in their health is when something is wrong with them. For many people they have to get to the end of their rope before they’ll make changes.
Deep down inside we all know that it makes more sense to make these changes before we develop a disease process. On average the human brain when faced with adversity will look around to see what everyone else is doing and decide to do that as well. Because of this, we blindly follow the rules that have been passed down for generations. The problem is the world is changing faster than these old rules. Things are now changing so fast that the rules from our parents or society no longer apply. Our medical system is based on 300 years of history that no longer really applies to us. It tells us that problems can be fixed by applying force. If it is not working then apply more force. This is how we have almost half of America on psychiatric medication. We are conditioned to think that the doctor has an answer for us. The doctor also has a solution for us in a bottle. This is very misleading.
If you Google the terms sick/healthy you’ll see images of medical propaganda that gives us the idea that we can somehow be sick and healthy at the same time. You might find literature titled how to be well with a chronic disease. The most profitable place to be in healthcare is to keep people in a state of chronic disease. Being dead is not profitable nor is being healthy, but being chronically ill is a gold mine. The majority of the costs in the medical system, $3.3 trillion is generated after the referral from the primary care physician. Now you are with a specialist, for example an endocrinologist. The procedures from a specialist, the tests, the drugs are very expensive. The best way to contain these costs is to go upstream and prevent these things from happening. We have gone wrong by letting modern medicine take over conditions that they are not good at. They are great for saving lives in acute emergency states. They are failing miserably with the chronic diseases that are afflicting modern man. There are indigenous populations that achieve longevity without modern medicine or pharmaceuticals.
Around the world there are pockets of people that obtain longevity through natural living. A common denominator for these people is a strong social bond. Their social network is not on the Internet. They have real people in their lives that they are very interconnected with. Sometimes their whole village are making decisions together. Their community is close and the members collaborate and work together to get along. People in these communities don’t go over the edge, they have compassion and solidarity and it is these things that connect the people to each other in order to avoid fights between themselves. These people are living the way we evolved to live on this planet. Some of these people came from villages that do not have electricity so when the sun set they went to bed. Keep in mind that I am typing this right now at 4 AM and I’m feeling a little bad about that. Another trait was that these people had present time consciousness, their minds did not wander.
We are all going to where everyone else is going to go, but it would be desirable to maximize what we do until we get there. I don’t see this as running from death, but chasing health. We are biological organisms and need to follow the laws of nature. We don’t feed our dog things that we feed our kids and selves. We tend to ignore our biology and the things that would create health. Quality of life should be a core value. What good is racking up a high score on your age if your years are empty? Our primary focus should be happiness which will help us obtain longevity. Living longer will not make you happy in of itself, but being happy will allow you to live longer. There is no sense in extending the length of your telomeres if you are not enjoying your life.