We live in a stress-filled world. We think of stress as negative, and it certainly is when accompanied by worry, lack of proper rest, and fruitless or even harmful activity. But stress can also move us out of our comfort zone as we attempt to better adjust to our world, leading to new success, accomplishment, and a better mental and physical ability to deal with the next stress that comes along.
Exercise is a well-known example of this. When done properly, exercise builds strength and endurance. Initially, exercise tires us and makes us weaker, but the body sees that the strength it has does not meet the demands of the current environment, so it strives to increase muscle to compensate. How does the body figure this out?
Epigenetics and pathways
If you have been reading these newsletters, you’ve read a lot about epigenetics. If you don’t yet understand how epigenetics works, look at it like a big library inside the cells that has tons of information, but most of that information is not being used. Just as you could not read all the books in a library, the cells don’t use all the information stored in their genetic code. That code is massive – it is in fact a huge library. When you want to know more about a certain subject in a library, you go searching through the books that are there to find those that are useful to you at the moment, skipping over the rest. Cell genetics are like that library, and when the cell needs information as to how to handle a certain need or environmental stress, it goes looking through its code to find what works.
Genetic code has been added to the library in times of famine, war, comfort, and plenty. It has been added when new challenges come in the form of viruses or bacteria it hasn’t encountered before. But it goes deeper than that. The code segments in the DNA can be arranged in a sort of “trial and error” mode to come up with responses to challenges never seen before. Not only are dormant segments of code activated, but the cell will keep trying different combinations that may result in new behavior, especially when it is under pressure to change.
Stress kicks epigenetic code rearrangement into high gear. When current conditions are mildly stressful, the body reacts rather mildly. When an emergency hits, the body reacts forcefully and may even push aside valuable but less urgent responses to deal with the emergency. We see this with exercise — it’s those last few repetitions, or the pushing harder when exhausted, that get the strongest reaction from the body. Pushing harder builds more muscle — but too much too fast can lead to damage. We’ve heard of “weekend warriors” who sit at their desks each day, but then try to do all their physical work in one day — often with a strained muscle to show for the effort. In every case, the body will attempt to respond to the conditions it finds at the moment, whether that be building more muscle or repairing damaged muscle from over-exertion.
Numerous studies, such as one published in PLoS One using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to explore tissue development, show that the dominant arm of tennis players has significantly greater muscle and bone mass than the other arm. This improvement appeared throughout the arm and hand, down to the smallest bones. These changes could only be explained by environmental stress and the body’s response to it.
Remember the comic figure “Superman”? What was the premise behind the character? He grew up on a world with much greater gravity, and when he came to Earth he was much stronger than the people who grew up on Earth. While that was merely creative fiction, we accepted the idea that Superman’s environment made him much stronger. We now know that strengthening is an adaptive reaction to environment that begins with epigenetics.
May the force be with you
Force is a direct pull at a moment in time. When a tennis player hits a ball, the muscles and bones experience force at that moment of impact. In a study by researchers at the University of Illinois, published in Nature Communications, tiny instruments and lasers were used to exert force on individual cells by tapping, pushing, or stretching the cell wall. What they found was amazing: the cells reacted to the application of force by rapid epigenetic changes. The mechanical forces, though tiny, were significant to the cell and required a response.
A database review study, where exercise and metabolic data was collected over the course of many previous studies, was published by the National Institutes of Health to consider epigenetic modifications from exercise programs. They found that exercise led to metabolic pathway changes due to epigenetic cell changes. In other words, the cell adapted its programming to respond differently, leading to different signaling, leading to a change in pathways across the body. They found, for instance, that a vigorous exercise program led to changes in insulin and calcium (blood sugar and bone-building) pathways.
Modifying signals and signal pathways is how the cells in your body work together for the common good. Bones that are stressed will call on the body for help, and the calcium pathway is used to build more strength into the bone structure. Cells talk to each other to request what they need. You can take advantage of that with exercise, limited fasting, and other appropriate stresses on the body meant to make it stronger.
The body is in a constant state of attempting to adapt to its current environment. Even though aging hampers the response somewhat over time, the response is still there. Even people in advanced old age can build muscle mass, improve their immune function, and improve their health, energy, and vitality. The old adage, “use it or lose it” always applies. It is never too late to work on health, if you are still drawing a breath!
Dr. Nemec’s Comments:
The most amazing fact about this research is that the genes completely change to adapt to the environment. That means all things are possible. Don’t forget the second part of the phrase: for those who believe. What are you believing today? Are you believing in cancer genes that you inherited? Are you going to cut off both of your breasts preventatively because you have a breast cancer gene? Remember those decisions made in and from fear are not based in Truth. If genes can change depending on the environment you expose the cells to, then don’t you think that good genes can become misguided and cause dysfunction in the cells? But on the flipside if you inherited the cancer gene or the heart disease gene or the Alzheimer’s Disease gene, does that seal your fate? The reason I have stressed mental/emotional and physical environmental changes to patients for the last 36 years is because it does change the cells. It can make the impossible become possible. It not because I say so — it is in the research, some of which I presented to you today. People come from around the world to Total Health Institute because they want to know how to change their conscious, subconscious, and physical environments to change their genes, change their health and change their lives. Remember: no pain, no gain. Stress just opens a door to a whole new world of living life to the full.
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