Q&A

Q&A with Deepak Chopra, MD, and Rudolph E. Tanzi, PhD

The authors of Super Genes discuss ways to achieve radical well-being and what we can learn from our cells.

By Katherine Lagomarsino

In your book Super Genes, you say that all genes are good. Can you explain?

We wanted to counteract the common saying that one person has good genes while another person has bad genes. In the evolutionary sense, all genes have proven that they are necessary for survival and the maintenance of healthy cells. What’s bad are the mutations and genetic variants associated with increased risk for specific disorders.

How does a gene become a super gene?

By being optimized in its activity and expression to stave off disease and promote health and well-being. Our purpose was to demonstrate that genetic activity and expression are influenced by lifestyle choices. Moreover, we emphasize that lifestyle activities (e.g., diet, exercise, stress level, and sleep) that become routine are more likely to impart epigenetic modifications that program networks of gene expression “routinely.” “Good” versus “bad” habits would be predicted to induce different sets of epigenetic modifications and resulting gene expression patterns that either foster or thwart health.

What does it mean to be “disconnected from your body’s intelligence?”

The most basic meaning is that you don’t pay attention to the signals your body is giving you. In the book we are more concerned with the disconnection that occurs through poor lifestyle choices. They create a serious disconnection by throwing off the body’s natural state of homeostasis. We also describe how the biological activities of a cell, as part of a tissue, provide a great model for attaining balance.

What is the difference between well-being and radical well-being?

The difference comes down to “talking to your genes.” Every thought and action, indeed every experience, has genetic consequences. When you consciously take part in the feedback loop that connects mind and body, you are actually communicating with cells at the genetic level — that’s what makes radical well-being possible.

What is the biggest hurdle to achieving radical well-being?

Neglect of self-care. For over 50 years the wellness movement has been concerned with prevention and the risk factors associated with lifestyle disorders. But people don’t comply as long as they expect a doctor to fix things once symptoms begin to appear. We need to push the agenda of self-care much harder, and the best way to do this is to go beyond risks, which seem very abstract to most people, and give them positive benefits as soon as they make good choices.

You suggest making dietary changes first to achieve radical well-being. Why?

Our chief reason was inflammation. Obesity is a major cause of chronic systemic inflammation. Evidence suggests that long-term development of many disorders like heart disease and diabetes starts with low-level chronic inflammation. People generally don’t realize that this is going on. Chronic inflammation has a way of hiding under the radar. The easiest and best way to counteract it is through diet. An anti-inflammatory diet appears to be the best first step toward radical well-being.

How can meditation affect your gene activity?

In hundreds of ways, as we are showing through the Self-Directed Biological Transformation Initiative (SBTI). This is an exciting research project aimed at showing how meditation, even within the first few days of starting, produces hundreds of improvements in gene activity and expression.

How do you motivate someone to meditate every day?

Some people are motivated by receiving the information about the good they are doing for themselves. That, coupled with a positive experience, often works well. But to be candid, keeping on the program for months and years at a time requires reinforcement. That’s where it helps to have an entire family meditate together or to join a regular meditation group. The biggest change that can occur comes when a person realizes that meditation isn’t just another item on the laundry list but the most essential thing they can do for their own self-care.

Can you explain the notion of cellular intelligence and the wisdom of the body?

The body is amazingly self-sufficient. It renews and heals itself. It regulates dozens of synchronized internal clocks, which in turn keep thousands of cellular processes in sync. On the larger scale, the rhythms of nature are reflected in the body. Cells, acting as “citizens” in tissues and organs, are highly responsive to their surroundings, always emphasizing the needs of other cells as much as their own. Moreover, they never take more than they need to survive and serve the body. Science cannot come close to explaining how the many intricacies and feedback loops of the healing system work. If our bodies are smarter than our best scientists, it seems only fair to acknowledge the miraculous intelligence of every cell and the wisdom of the body.