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Unlocking Wellness: Applying Ayurvedic Principles to Regulate Gene Expression and Foster Health

Updated: Oct 13, 2023


Sharma and Wallace (2020) highlighted the significance of DNA as the distinctive identifier for living organisms. In cells with a nucleus, DNA is a universal presence, consisting of genes. While humans boast around 20,000 genes, only a fraction actively shapes our traits, collectively referred to as the genotype.


Genotype is the genetic blueprint that an individual inherits from their parents, forming the foundation of potential traits. This is a crucial part of understanding the complexity of life's diversity and how it manifests in individuals. Phenotype, on the other hand, is the observable manifestation of genetic instructions as they interact with the environment, giving rise to unique physical characteristics, behaviors, and biochemical processes. The interplay between genotype and phenotype is fascinating, revealing the language of life encoded within our DNA. It is a testament to the intricate balance between nature and nurture that shapes us into who we are.


Epigenetics plays a crucial role in our lives, governing nearly 90% of our experiences by examining how our actions influence our genes. Ayurveda strongly embraces the concept that our actions carry consequences, a phenomenon unfolding within our cells where DNA responds distinctively to our choices. Ayurveda emphasizes four key factors—lifestyle, diet, stress, and environment—that collectively influence our body-mind equilibrium, termed Deha Prakriti. Positive choices uphold this balance, while negative ones disrupt it (referred to as Vikriti), paving the way for illness. Epigenetics serves as the mediator in this intricate system, capable of reversal. Ayurveda actively addresses factors inducing gene changes, imparting a positive influence on both our physical appearance and genetic functionality. Consequently, epigenetics stands out as a pivotal element in Ayurveda's holistic approach to sustaining our health.


How do our daily behaviors impact our health at a cellular level?


Lifestyle


According to Halusková (2010), Epigenetic abnormalities are believed to be a crucial factor in the development, progression, and emergence of various human diseases like cancer, cardiovascular issues, neurodegenerative conditions, and autoimmune disorders. However, there is promising hope in the form of lifestyle interventions that can significantly help in preventing or managing these diseases:


Prostate Cancer – A study examined the impact of a lifestyle intervention program for men diagnosed with prostate cancer. The intervention program incorporated meditation, breathing exercises, aerobic exercise, and a vegetarian diet. The study results revealed significant expression changes in 500 genes, with a notable downregulation of genes that promote disease and tumorigenesis.


Coronary Artery Disease - Individuals diagnosed with coronary artery disease who implemented lifestyle modifications, including stress management, regular aerobic exercise, and adherence to a vegetarian diet, not only experienced a significant alteration in gene expression but also noticed an improvement in their cardiovascular risk factors.


Impact on DNA Methylation - DNA methylation serves as a fundamental biological process, involving the addition of methyl groups to the DNA molecule, particularly at cytosine bases. This intricate mechanism plays a critical role in regulating gene expression without modifying the underlying genetic code, thereby contributing to normal development and the preservation of cellular identity. Disturbances in DNA methylation patterns have been associated with various diseases, including cancer. However, there's promising evidence that lifestyle interventions, such as regular exercise, can exert a positive influence on DNA methylation patterns. Notably, engaging in regular physical exercise has been shown to impact gene regions linked to immune cell metabolism, tumor suppression, and the overall aging process, emphasizing its potential in promoting health at a molecular level.


Diet


Diet can affect our genes through epigenetic mechanisms. These mechanisms include DNA methylation, histone modifications, chromatin remodeling, and miRNA expression. Substances like curcumin can help fight cancer by inhibiting histone deacetylase enzymes, which are linked to various cancers and proteins related to breast cancer. Bioactive compounds found in food, such as polyphenols, genistein, and sulforaphane, can also help prevent and treat cancer. The concept of an "epigenetics diet" suggests using these compounds to counteract epigenetic changes.


Proper digestion is key to the effectiveness of a nutritious diet, and a balanced Agni (digestive fire) plays a pivotal role in ensuring optimal functioning of the digestive system. When Agni is impaired, incomplete digestion can result in the production of Ama - a toxic byproduct that is associated with various disorders.


Research has shown that herbs have an impact on epigenetics by interacting with enzymes that modify histones, leading to the condensation of chromatin. One promising herb is Ashwagandha, which contains Withaferin A. This compound has been found to be effective in treating breast cancer cells by reducing the activity of DNA methyltransferases and histone deacetylase, thereby promoting apoptosis. This is a significant discovery in the field of natural remedies and epigenetics.

Stress


Negative emotions like anger and fear can turn off certain genes by making our DNA tight and short. Positive emotions like gratitude and love, on the other hand, can relax our DNA and allow our genes to work properly. A study on people with high blood pressure found that reducing stress through things like meditation and lifestyle changes helped the telomerase gene work better. This could have benefits for our health. It's important to manage stress to stay healthy. Ayurveda, which focuses on meditation and being aware of our thoughts, can help with this.


Environment


Epigenetic mechanisms can be affected by environmental factors such as toxic substances like diesel exhaust, cigarette smoke, and arsenate. These toxicants have been linked to the silencing of tumor suppressor genes, which can potentially lead to cancer.

Epigenetic changes from factors like nutrition, toxins, and stress can be inherited, impacting future generations and contributing to disease. Air pollution exposure during pregnancy not only affects the mother and embryo but influences the third generation's phenotype. Traumatic stress effects can pass down through generations, even without direct exposure.


How does Ayurveda serve as a guiding light in the journey to suppress diseases and elevate our well-being?


Ayurveda's wisdom offers us valuable insights into building resilience and managing stress. By focusing on increasing Bala and Ojas, we can develop our physical and mental strength, as well as strengthen our immunity. Ojas, the final product of perfect digestion and metabolism, not only maintains and enhances immunity, but also nourishes and sustains our body's tissues. To reduce mental stress and increase our resilience, we can turn to Vedic meditation. This technique takes us beyond the mind into a place of peace and bliss, enabling us to build strength and resilience. Research has demonstrated the remarkable benefits of this age-old practice.


Ayurveda differs from modern medicine by emphasizing a holistic program, incorporating dietary, lifestyle, and psychological interventions to extend an individual's health span. This comprehensive approach aims to restore balance in the body, mind, and emotions simultaneously, offering customized and individualized treatments for overall well-being. The following are some Ayurvedic principles that can be seamlessly incorporated into our daily lives:


Conscious eating

Conscious eating is about recognizing how our eating habits impact our well-being. According to Ayurvedic principles, what, when, where, and how we eat shape our personality and can affect digestion, disease prevention, and aging. Ayurveda suggests following a diet that suits our individual nature and aligning it with the rhythms of nature for better digestion, metabolism, and a longer, healthier life. Eating is seen as a special connection to nature. The philosophy compares the sun, representing fire, to our body's digestion, recommending the main meal at midday when digestion is strongest, and lighter meals in the morning and evening to keep our metabolism balanced. Here are some tips for Conscious Eating according to Ayurveda:


1. Listen to Your Body:

  • Pay attention to your body's signals of hunger and fullness.

  • Avoid distractions like TV or phones while eating to stay mindful.


2. Know Your Dosha:

  • Discover your Ayurvedic constitution (Dosha: Vata, Pitta, Kapha).

  • Adapt your diet to suit your Dosha for optimal balance.


3. Eat in Harmony with Nature:

  • Embrace seasonal, locally available foods.

  • Align your diet with the natural rhythms for better digestion.


4. Main Meal at Midday:

  • Consume your largest meal around noon when digestion is robust.

  • Choose nutrient-dense foods to fuel your body during the active part of the day.


5. Lighter Morning and Evening Meals:

  • Opt for lighter, easily digestible meals in the morning and evening.

  • Include fresh fruits, whole grains, and cooked vegetables for sustained energy.


6. Mindful Eating Practices:

  • Chew your food thoroughly to aid digestion.

  • Express gratitude for the nourishment your meal provides.


7. Hydration Habits:

  • Sip warm water throughout the day for improved digestion.

  • Limit cold beverages during meals to avoid dampening digestive fire.


8. Balanced Plate Approach:

  • Aim for a balance of all six tastes (sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter, astringent) in your meals.

  • Include a variety of colorful vegetables, healthy fats, and lean proteins.


9. Herbal Support:

  • Explore Ayurvedic herbs and spices for added flavor and health benefits.

  • Consider herbal teas like ginger or fennel for post-meal digestion.


10. Meal Timing:

  • Establish a regular eating schedule to support your body's natural circadian rhythms.

  • Avoid late-night meals to promote better sleep and digestion.


11. Celebrate Food as a Connection to Nature:

  • Understand that eating is a sacred act connecting you to the elements.

  • Appreciate the journey of food from seed to plate.


12. Experiment and Adjust:

  • Be open to adjusting your diet based on how your body responds.

  • Experiment with Ayurvedic principles gradually for sustainable changes.


Sleep

In Ayurveda, sleep (Nidra) is a vital aspect of good health, equivalent to diet for a healthy life. Factors like age, lifestyle, and environment impact sleep. Poor sleep can accelerate aging and lead to health issues. Research shows that insufficient sleep disrupts circadian rhythms, contributing to obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cognitive impairment. A study with 26 participants found that insufficient sleep affected 711 genes related to circadian rhythms, sleep, inflammation, stress response, and metabolism. Consider trying these tips to enhance your sleep quality:


1. Establish a Consistent Sleep Schedule:

  • Set a regular bedtime and wake-up time to regulate your body's internal clock.

  • Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep, aligning with your individual needs.


2. Create a Relaxing Bedtime Routine:

  • Wind down with calming activities like reading or gentle stretching.

  • Minimize exposure to screens at least an hour before bedtime.


3. Optimize Sleep Environment:

  • Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool for optimal sleep conditions.

  • Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows.


4. Mindful Consumption of Food and Drinks:

  • Avoid heavy meals close to bedtime.

  • Limit caffeine and stimulants in the evening to support restful sleep.


5. Stay Active During the Day:

  • Engage in regular physical activity to promote better sleep.

  • Aim for exercise earlier in the day rather than close to bedtime.


6. Manage Stress Through Relaxation Techniques:

  • Practice mindfulness meditation or deep breathing exercises.

  • Create a mental transition from the day's stressors to bedtime tranquility.


7. Consider Ayurvedic Herbs for Sleep Support:

  • Explore Ayurvedic herbs like Ashwagandha or Brahmi for relaxation.

  • Consult with a healthcare professional before trying new supplements.


8. Address Underlying Sleep Issues:

  • Consult with a healthcare provider if you experience persistent sleep problems.

  • Rule out sleeps disorders and seek appropriate treatment.


9. Disconnect from Screens:

  • Reduce exposure to electronic devices before bedtime.

  • Consider blue light filters for screens if device use is unavoidable.


10. Create a Serene Atmosphere:

  • Use aromatherapy with calming scents like lavender or chamomile.

  • Consider gentle background noise, such as white noise or calming music.


11. Listen to Your Body:

  • Pay attention to your body's natural sleep-wake cycle.

  • Adjust your sleep routine based on your individual needs and responses.


Daily self-care Routines

Daily self-care routines are crucial for achieving optimal health and longevity, as per Ayurvedic principles. These routines include specific practices for morning, noon, and night, known as dinacharya, ratricharya, and ritucharya, respectively. By aligning circadian rhythms with the day, night, and seasons, Ayurvedic practices aim to prevent aging-related health issues.

The principles of Ayurveda align with the growing field of chronobiology, which emphasizes the significant impact of routines, biological clocks, and circadian rhythms on overall well-being. Scientific studies have demonstrated that adhering to time-bound routines can enhance longevity and health, while disruptions to circadian rhythms due to travel or shift work can lead to fatigue, insomnia, and increased vulnerability to diseases such as cancer.

Ayurveda's ancient wisdom is supported by modern research, underscoring the vital role of daily routines in promoting overall health and lifespan. Therefore, it is recommended to consider incorporating these practices into your daily routine for optimal health and well-being.



1. Circadian Rhythm:

  • Sun Exposure: Get daylight exposure for circadian balance.

  • Consistent Sleep: Maintain a regular sleep schedule.


2. Mind-Body Connection:

  • Mindful Eating: Eat consciously for better digestion.

  • Gratitude Practice: Enhance mental well-being.


3. Hydration and Nutrition:

  • Adequate Hydration: Drink water throughout the day.

  • Seasonal Eating: Align diet with seasons.


4. Stress Management:

  • Daily Relaxation: Include stress-relief practices.

  • Nature Connection: Spend time outdoors.


5. Ayurvedic Supplements:

  • Consultation: Seek advice for personalized herbal support.

  • Adaptogens: Consider stress-relieving herbs like Ashwagandha.


6. Consistency is Key:

  • Commitment: Embrace routines consistently.

  • Adapt Gradually: Make changes sustainably.


7. Holistic Well-Being:

  • Embrace Holistic Health: Prioritize physical, mental, and emotional balance.


Abhyanga


Abhyanga it is a regular oil massage involving the use of warm oil infused with constitution-specific herbs. This practice is highly beneficial for maintaining good health and delaying age-related changes. Abhyanga can be incorporated into your daily routine, helping to restore Dosha balance and promote well-being and longevity. It is highly recommended for individuals with central nervous system conditions such as brain injuries, dementia, and mental stress. Several studies have shown that Abhyanga can induce significant changes in brain function and increase cerebral blood flow.


It has been found to reduce stress-related hormones, elevate circulating lymphocytes, and may even enhance the permeability of blood vessels in the central nervous system. In a pilot study, participants experienced a clinically significant reduction in subjective stress, along with lowered heart rate and blood pressure.


Have you ever tried practicing Self-Abhyanga?


First, choose an oil that aligns with your Dosha and make sure it's comfortably warm for application. Then, find a cozy and serene space, and set a mindful intention for relaxation and rejuvenation.


Start by applying small amounts of oil on your scalp using circular motions, then massage your joints with circular motions and use long strokes on your limbs and spine. Don't forget to pay attention to areas of tension, and adjust the pressure as needed. For an even more relaxing experience, sync your strokes with deep breaths. Try to devote at least 5-10 minutes daily to this practice, and remember, consistency is key.


After the massage, enjoy a warm bath or shower, and wear old or dark clothing. Allow the oil to absorb for at least 15 minutes. You'll feel fantastic afterwards! Don't be afraid to tailor this practice to your preferences and make it a cherished part of your routine for physical and mental well-being.


Ayurveda teaches us that we have the power to shape our own well-being with the choices we make in our daily lives. By aligning our actions with Ayurvedic principles, we can promote health and prevent illness. It's like having a trusted companion on the journey to a healthier, happier life. With mindful self-care routines and holistic practices, we can cultivate positive habits that benefit our bodies and minds. Ayurveda reminds us that we have the ability to shape our own stories and create a life of well-being and fulfillment.
Your story of well-being begins now. Embrace Ayurveda, your trusted guide to a life well-lived!







References:


Jayasnundar, R. Ayurveda: a distinctive approach to health and disease. Current Science (2010). Ayurveda: a distinctive approach to health and disease on JSTOR


Strachan, T.; Read AP. Human Molecular Genetics. Garland Science (2010), 4th edition.


Gjuvsland. et al. Bridging the genotype-phenotype gap: what does it take? The Journal of Physiology (2013). Doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2012.248864


Alberts, B. et al. Molecular Biology of the Cell. Garland Science (2014), 6th edition.


Nelson DL.; Cox MM. Lehninger Principles of Biochemistry (2017). 7th edition


Sharma, H.; Wallace, R. Ayurveda and Epigenetics. Medicina (Kaunas) (2020). Doi: 10.3390/medicina56120687







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