unbroken, resilience

Healing: nature or nurture?

We’ve long argued, is it nature or nurture?

What we mean is this. Is our book of life fixed within our genetic code?  Or is the environment bathing those genes directing our life’s outcomes?

Will I land in the same hurt and early death as my ancestors? Or do I have a fighting chance to thrive and live to be a centurion?

The science of epigenetics has answered this question. While no one can tell you how long you’ll live or precisely what your life’s outcomes will be, we know something huge and powerful. Environment is everything. The answer to the question is both, nature and nurture.


Technically, the environment, as experienced by your genes, is everything that influences them as they are tucked away in the nuclei and mitochondria of your cells. Which means that the genetic environment is, well, everything.

And absolutely everything that touches your genes is fair game to shift their expression and alter your life’s outcomes.

We now know that everything is connected. Therefore, everything that happens to you and around you—everything you feel, think, sense, ingest, get close to, and do—will in some way touch your genes. Because it all has a biology. Your TGO.

For our purposes while exploring the healing terrain, we’ll limit “environment” to what’s in our external environment—the external factors that surround us and are taken into us in some way to affect our genetic expression.

The environments we live in contain countless inputs, don’t they? We don’t need to get bogged down right now in an exhaustive list of what all these are. My intention is not to overwhelm you, just the opposite. I want to show you just how many inroads there are to shifting gene expression in your favor. I want you to see just how much control you have.

What’s in your environment that your genes will be exposed to or affected by?

  • Pollutants, toxins, and irritants.
  • Natural phenomenon like sunlight, the phase of the moon, weather patterns, and temperatures.
  • All the elements of Earth’s biome—the microorganisms, plants, insects, and animals.
  • Everything that engages with your senses—people and their energy, sounds, smells, visual stimuli, what you taste and touch.
  • Everything you take into your body—food, drink, air, what touches your skin.
  • Anything from your environment that invokes stress and survival responses within you.

Why do such a wide range of environmental exposures and experiences effect our genes?

They all have a biological effect on us as they interface with our bodies. This biology communicates something very specific to our genes, which shifts their expression in an adaptive way, changing your personal life outcomes. Now, such adaptation may not be desirable. It might not be an equilibrium that will sustain you. That’s why it’s important for you to understand what aspects of the environment support you and what doesn’t.

We’ll get back to these environmental factors to explore how you can optimize yours as we dive into the nine foundational steppingstones for creating Core Resilience a bit later. You’ll learn what you can do right now to shift your genetic expression in a direction that supports your healing.

Next up: life experiences.



Karyn Shanks MD


Karyn Shanks, MD, is a physician who lives and practices in Iowa City. Her work is inspired by the revolutionary science of Functional Medicine, body-mind wisdom, and the transformational journeys of thousands of clients over her twenty-eight year career. She believes that the bones of healing are in what we do for ourselves.

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