An Intelligence Gene? High IQ May Be in Our DNA


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Always been the smarty pants in your group?  Awww, SNAP!  Chances are, it’s in your DNA.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

A study of Dutch families (Gosso MF et al., 2006) found that Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) rs363050, located on the SNAP-25 gene is associated with “performance IQ” (i.e. non-verbal IQ).

Each copy of “A” at rs363050 in a person’s genotype increased the subjects’ performance IQ by an average of three points compared to those with no copies of “A”.The authors estimated that rs363050 accounts for 3.4% of the variation in performance IQ between people.

I learned this little tidbit while exploring my Health Traits on the 23andMe website.  A single user-posted question, “Is There Anyone Else with 2 Copies of the Gene for Intelligence?” sparked over 260 replies from users sharing their genotypes, those of their family members, as well as IQ scores, SAT/GRE scores, levels of degrees obtained, and much more to both support AND oppose the findings of this research.

When you get down to brass tacks, no one who fancies him/herself as intelligent wants to look at their own genotype & have it read otherwise … anymore than someone wants their Kindness Gene genotype to tell them they can’t be empathetic.

Of course for this and other similar discussions, there is the nature vs. nurture debate … it can be challenging to study heritability or genetic differences in intelligence due to the fact that it is difficult to rule out other factors such as environment and opportunities (Rowe et al., 1999; Turkheimer et al., 2003).

What are your thoughts re: intelligence and heritability vs. outside influences such as environment?

Have you been tested on 23andMe?  If yes, was your genotype what you expected?





The Ultimate Anti-Aging Fix

Why is it that when we talk about aging we tend to focus mainly on our skin?  Is it because that is what is visible to us or the only thing we perceive we can control?

When I talk about prevention as the key to healthy aging, I’m not just talking about wearing sunscreen or having the best anti-aging lotions & potions.

In my post, The Science of Prevention, I talked about the basic preventive measures that are important for a healthy lifestyle:

  •   Not smoking
  •   Getting to and maintaining a healthy weight
  •   Being physically active
  •   Consuming a healthy diet
  •   Not drinking excessively

If you are a regular reader of my blog or newsletter, you will have heard me say this before… genetics only accounts for about 50% of the state of your health.
The other 50% depends on your lifestyle and environmental factors.

What are YOU doing to influence the 50% that you can control?

Even if every woman in your family struggles with being overweight or all of your siblings have high cholesterol, it doesn’t mean that YOU have to!

If you take one thing away from this post, let it be this:

Prevention is the key to good health.

Sometimes the only difference in success and failure is getting the help you need.  To read more about working 1:1 with me and your very own one-of-a-kind Personalized Wellness Plan, click here.

Is Your Morning Coffee Making You Sleepier?


Have you ever given up coffee for a week or longer?  I did it… once… for fourteen days.  The first day wasn’t so bad, but on days 2-5, I had a KILLER headache.  On the morning of day 6, I woke up feeling great and from then on the headaches were gone.Wait!  Don’t stop reading yet… I want to tell you WHY I did it!  First, I was intrigued at the promise of feeling “more rested that research suggested would happen”.  I couldn’t remember the last time that I didn’t feel exhausted by three in the afternoon.  Even an afternoon caffeine “boost” didn’t seem to help.The research was right!  For years, I’d woken up tired & angry to an annoying alarm clock.  Once I kicked the caffeine habit, I felt like I was getting more sleep at night and waking up before my alarm went off feeling rested.  I didn’t feel like I was dragging in the afternoon, and I had far more energy in the evenings to exercise & prepare meals.

I recently stumbled upon another benefit… You know how when you have a a cold or flu (I mean really bad… like you can’t even get out of bed for a drink of water).  I was recently battling a cold.  I didn’t feel feverish or stuffy any longer, but my head was THROBBING… so much that I couldn’t get out of bed to take an ibuprofen for my headache.  At about 2pm, I forced myself out of bed and made myself a cup of coffee.  After about an hour, my headache went away.  It dawned on me that I hadn’t had a cup of coffee in about 36 hours, hence, the headache!  So I thought I was still suffering from my cold symptoms when I really had a caffeine hangover!  Hardly worth the extra day I lost in bed thinking that I was still sick!

We can blame our caffeine consumption partly on genetics.  Research shows that people with a certain genotype near the AHR gene consumed about 20 milligrams more caffeine in a day than those with with another genotype and 40 milligrams more than people with a third genotype.  The rest is behavioral and can be controlled with a little trickery.

Cut back.  If you are drinking more than one cup of coffee in the morning, cut back to just one for a few days.  Avoid drinking caffeinated beverages the rest of the day.  Try hot herbal teas or hot water with lemon as a replacement.

Switch it up.  Swap your cup of coffee for a cup of green tea.  Many green teas still contain caffeine, but at least you’ll benefit from the antioxidants in the tea.

Challenge yourself.  For me, my morning cup of coffee is more about the ritual.  I always liked stopping off at Peet’s in the morning, and saying hello to my favorite employee.  It kind’ve lifted my spirits to treat myself in the morning before jumping on the freeway for a less than pleasant commute.  SO, I didn’t give up my ritual!  I ordered peppermint tea instead of my usual coffee, and I didn’t feel like I was sacrificing anything.

So challenge yourself… even if only for the sake of curiousity!  Try giving up caffeine for two weeks and see how you feel.  In my wellness plan questionnaire, I ask clients how many caffeinated beverages they consume on a daily basis. Someone answered “mainline IV!” Even SHE took a break from caffeine for two weeks and noted that by the sixth day, she felt more rested, less sluggish AND woke up before her annoying alarm told her she had to. I consider that a huge benefit!

What do you think?  Ever taken time off from caffeine?  What was it like?  Did you stick with it?  Share your stories below!

Don’t Let Your Genes Define You


I have a personal triumph story to share, and I hope it inspires you when you think that your genes define you.The first time I had my cholesterol levels tested, it was shockingly on the high side.  At that point, I was twenty-one years old, relatively thin and fairly active.  I was actually working in a Nutrition and Heart Disease laboratory at the time as a Research Associate, and I was learning quite a bit about genetic predisposition for a number of cardiovascular diseases and if changes to diet could in fact help a person avoid these diseases.I kept an eye on my cholesterol for the next several years and even though I knew more on the topic than the average person my age (e.g., the difference between “good” and “bad” cholesterol) I stupidly did not make any modifications to my diet to keep the numbers in check.  I’m sure laziness was a key factor in addition to the fact that I was coming off of the starving student years and thrilled to be able to afford more than bagels and bananas at the grocery store!About three years ago, I made a huge leap and became a pescetarian.  I figured that by giving up meat, I was not only saving animals lives but potentially my own by the huge amounts of fat and cholesterol that I’d be avoiding.  A year into this semi-vegetarian lifestyle, I couldn’t wait to go for my annual cholesterol check.  I was shocked and seriously disappointed when the numbers had in fact not gone down… but up by about 30 points!!!  After a little thinking, I realized it must be all of the cheese I was eating to compensate for the lack of meat in my diet.  I had also started to get much more regular cardiovascular exercise & strength training during this time.  Something else had to be done, and I needed to get smart about it if I wanted to avoid starting statin therapy in my thirties.I began to do research and planned to start a sort of “food detox,” where I avoided several foods for about two weeks to encourage myself to make new food choices rather than those upon which I have forever relied (I had still been lazy up until this point, often choosing foods that were quick & easy versus good for me).  For a week, I ditched foods such as dairy, soy, wheat, and anything processed.  Instead of cold cereal or non-fat flavored yogurts for breakfast, I tried apple slices with almond butter and fruit smoothies.  I felt really good after the “detox” period was over, and have continued to avoid most processed foods.  I also discovered Pu erh tea, which is known to have cholesterol-reducing properties.  Instead of having an afternoon cappuccino, I substituted a cup of tea.


Just a couple of weeks ago, I went in for my yearly cholesterol screening.  I was actually really nervous!  I was still exercising regularly, and my cheese consumption had dropped dramatically after being introduced to more protein-containing whole foods.  But the truth was, in all of the years I had been getting my cholesterol checked it had NEVER once gone down and had ALWAYS gone up.

The next day, I got a ping on my iPhone when a new test result from my doctor’s office was posted.  I was shocked and THRILLED to see that for the first time ever, my total cholesterol had gone down!  I still have some work to do on my LDL (bad cholesterol), but my trigylcerides had gone down by over 30 points!  I considered that a huge success and know that saying goodbye to sugar and artificial sweeteners had a lot to do with this accomplishment.

If this isn’t proof that lifestyle changes DO make a difference, then I don’t know what is!  I continue to drink my Pu erh tea every day, as well as include fiber-rich foods and vegetables into my diet.  You can see this isn’t something that I was able to change overnight, but your strength lies in perseverance.

I challenge you to set a life-changing goal today!  You CAN achieve it if you set your mind to it and get a little encouragement along the way.


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The Science of Confidence

Research in the field of neuroscience is revealing how the chemistry and design of the brain make decisions for us, and how the brain’s reaction to decision-making is based on confidence.

This really got me thinking…

I always dread that part of yoga class when the instructor invites the class to try Crow Pose, known in Sanskrit as Bakasana.  It is almost always one of the last poses of the class.  I watch as many of the incredibly flexible and experienced yogis in class get into the pose seamlessly on their first try.  They often take it two steps further into a full-on headstand, making even THAT look easy.  I try and psych myself up to do it EVERY class.  Then, there is that final second when both feet have to come up and your head is so close to the floor that a crash seems inevitable.  I immediately start to think that my arms aren’t strong enough, I remember the wrist that I broke in four places in the third grade — all of the thoughts start to flood in during that final second and BOOM… I give up before trying.  Any of this sounding familiar?

When I thought about this new research hypothesis, I see a huge opportunity for a confidence boost by way of shifting my thought process.  I started to think about things that I’m really good at — areas where I am totally confident.  With that, I came up with 4 Tips to Build Confidence that I want to share.  I hope these have you tackling new challenges in no time!

1)  Relax.
Just the idea of doing something challenging and different can bring about more than a few butterflies.  Close your eyes and think about things you do well or have excelled at in the past.  Remember what that feels like?  Scientists at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine and the Genomics Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) found that relaxation techniques can actually alter the expression of genes related to stress.  Channel feelings of relaxation and imagine doing the new thing you are considering just as well.  This enables the brain to take on the task at hand to the best of our abilities.

2)  Stop the All-or-Nothing Thinking.
To my fellow Type A personalities… just because we can’t do everything perfect the first time is no reason to let it ruin your day!  Trust me, getting over this is very tough to master, but consider this… people who are confident do not let one obstacle stand in the way of their goals & stop them from enjoying their lives.  Enough said!

3)  Embrace Your Inner Optimist
I’ve talked about the fact that having a positive or negative outlook on life is an inherited trait in an earlier post, The Science of Happiness.  For those of you (like me!) who have to work a little harder to see the bright side, just thinking about the rewards from inner confidence should give you that extra push.  No risk, no reward!

4)  Just Do It.
Stop overthinking and take action!  For me, I think back to solving math problems (nerdy, yes — but I was good at it!)  I NEVER reworked a problem because I was confident in my technique, confident in the fact that I knew my formulas.  Trust yourself.  If you get up to give a speech on a subject matter you know, the entire room full of people is not going to laugh at you.  Don’t spend the hours before you talk working yourself into a anxious state thinking of everything that could possibly go wrong.  Get up, be confident, and do it!

My goal is to get into Crow Pose by the end of this year!  If I have to call the instructor over to help me the first time, that’s what I’m going to do.  In what areas do you lack confidence?  Based on these tips, can you set a goal to achieve before the end of the year?  Leave a comment below and tell me about it!

Controlling Stress May Be the Key to Fewer Age-Related Diseases

I’ve written about stress before, but I was compelled to write on this topic again after some of the interactions I’ve had this week.

Psychological stress and anxiety can’t be completely avoided, they are a part of life. Did you know that there is a 50% increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) for people who deal with chronic work stress? That’s a 50 percent greater chance than the average person has of developing CVD if you are stressed at work and don’t change your environment.

Stress can further increase the diseases associated with aging, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Before running to the doctor for a prescription to make the symptoms disappear, it is important to identify your stressors. It may be work-related, family-related, or a combination of things. Stress is a reaction. The brain is involved in a person’s stress response (e.g., interprets what is threatening) and then regulates both how your body responds both physiologically and behaviorally.

Studies have found that the following can help decrease your body’s response to stress:

1) Exercise. Exercise increases the level of telomerase produced. Telomerase is an enzyme that protects loss of DNA from important end region of our chromosomes called telomeres. Think of a telomere like the protective piece at the end of a shoestring. Studies have found that elite athletes have very long telomeres.

2) Your Social Network. I’m not just taking about how many Facebook or Twitter followers you have! People with a strong partner relationship and close friendships have been found to be at lower risk for diseases associated with aging and to have less of a stress response to situations such as public speaking (which can evoke fear in many).

3) Better quality of sleep. The average person needs between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. People who got a better quality of sleep and woke up feeling rested have, on average, longer telomeres than those who suffered from poor quality sleep.

4) Nutrition. Individuals diagnosed with obesity and insulin resistance had shorter telomeres than others, whereas those who consumed a diet containing antioxidants and added supplements such as omega 3s had longer telomeres.

The lesson to take from this is that if we can embrace these preventive measures, we can increase our body’s resilience. As resilience increases, so does our ability to age well.

Is Worry Holding You Back?

Are you a worrier? Some people are more prone to anxiety due to a genetic mutation. Research focused on a gene known as the COMT gene has show that people with two copies of the met158 variant of this gene suffer from greater anxiety than others.

Don’t Worry

Don’t despair! Other research shows that even those with a predisposition to worrying can control their reactions to anxiety-causing stimuli and enjoy a calmer existence.

Dr. Dennis Greenberger is the co-author of Mind Over Mood, which was named the Most Influential Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Book by the British Association of Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies. Mind Over Mood uses a tool known as “Thought Record” which helps people learn how to recognize, evaluate, and change negative thoughts necessary to decrease anxiety. By answering questions about anxiety-causing experiences, people are able to separate actual experiences from their mood or automatic reactions to the experiences.

Let’s say I’m going to take an exam for which I am well-prepared. However, when I enter the room, I immediately begin to feel like the other people about to take the exam seem more confident, look more prepared, etc. I have no information that this is true, and frankly, it has should have no impact whatsoever on my own performance — but worry can take the reigns and psyche you into feeling inadequate. By completing thought records, people can obtain a clearer picture of their thoughts and a deeper appreciation for how thoughts are affecting and determining their feelings.

Using this tool can really change perspective of a situation. It’s not easy work, but this learned behavior can have a tremendous positive impact on quality of life for those who suffer from chronic anxiety.

3 Easy Ways to Get Younger Looking Skin

younger looking skin, reduce wrinkles

Out of the 20,000 – 25,000 genes that comprise the humane genome, researchers have discovered that approximately 1,500 have to do with the aging process. While we can’t influence our genes, there are still many measurable actions that we can take to have great looking skin. Want to know what you can do to keep your skin looking youthful as long as possible? Keep reading…

1. Stop Smoking. Yes… here is yet another reason to QUIT smoking. As you age, your body naturally breaks down collagen which is why skin wrinkling occurs. Smoking decreases blood flow to the skin and breaks down collagen, causing your skin to age prematurely. Did you know that in as little as 2 weeks after quitting, your circulation begins to improve? Becoming an ex-smoker has many benefits.

Bioderma sunscreen, sunscreen from France

courtesy of Bioderma


2. Wear Sunscreen. Beware, sun worshippers! Not only does sun exposure cause premature aging, it is the leading cause of skin cancer. Trust me… I remember days of basking in the sun. Most of us have been there! After having a few moles removed and biopsied in later years, I’m much smarter about wearing sunscreen year-round. Take a lesson from someone who has been there… always apply sunscreen before exposure to sun and reapply often. Don’t forget the backs of your hands, your neck and your lips.

3. Drink more H2O. If your skin lacks moisture, you’re going to have problems. Make sure and drink eight glasses of water per day – more if you are exercising, flying, drinking alcohol or other activities known to cause dehydration. Use a moisturizer that has both hydrating and strengthening effects to maximize moisture retention. Eating foods high in water content like strawberries and broccoli is another way to boost hydration, and with these two in particular, you’ll get a boost of vitamin C as well.

Do you want to know more about easy ways you can get gorgeous, younger-looking skin? 

Four Tips for a Healthier Heart

Did you know that one in four women in the United States dies from heart disease? Pretty shocking, huh? That makes coronary heart disease (CHD) the number one killer of women in the US. There are many steps people can take to prevent heart disease. Concentrating on key lifestyle areas such as exercise, nutrition, and smoking is the best way to reduce your risk.

Here are 4 tips to help you become more heart healthy.

1. Stop smoking. Smokers are TWICE as likely to have a heart attack than non-smokers. Quitting is the most important thing you can do to live longer. In the first 20 minutes of quitting, your heart rate and blood pressure decrease. Within one year, the excess risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a continuing smoker’s. (US Surgeon General’s Report, 2010, p. 359) If you need any more motivation, think of your loved ones. Second-hand smoke is dangerous for them too. Quitting is hard, but there are many aids on the market that can help you. If the other members of your household smoke, be the strong one! If you vow to stop, you may be the inspiration they need to stop too. What’s better than helping your loved ones become healthier and live longer?

2. Move it! Your heart’s job is to pump blood through your body. You need to raise your heart rate for about 30 minutes each day so your heart can do this efficiently. If you aren’t getting regular exercise now, start slowly. Take a brisk 15 minute walk, then move up to 20 minutes and so on. Having a walking buddy helps with motivation, and you can get your social fix too. Walking and talking with a friend gives your mental health a boost as well.

3. Watch your diet. A healthy diet can reduce your risk of heart disease. Try and eat a balanced diet with high fiber foods like vegetables and fruits, whole grains opposed to white flour, and fish. Minimize dairy products that are high in fat, as well as other high fat items without a lot of nutritional value like cookies and cakes.

4. Have your blood pressure and cholesterol checked regularly. If you have high blood pressure, you run a higher risk for heart attack and stroke. High blood cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, and circulatory diseases. Know your family history! If high blood pressure or high cholesterol run in your family, you have to be even more diligent with your diet and get more exercise. High fiber foods and whole grains will help with you cholesterol. Your doctor may also recommend drug therapy if diet and exercise aren’t doing the trick.

The Science of Happiness

According to recent studies, having two copies of a particular gene are the reason some of us tend to look on the bright side. Those of us who have a long variant of a gene called 5-HTLLPR (or the SERT gene), which helps to recycle serotonin faster and more efficiently than the short variant, tend to be the happiest.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays an intricate role in our behavior. Lower levels of serotonin in the brain can lead to depression. If you are a 23andMe member, you can view the single nucleotide polyporphism (SNP) data for rs4251417 where ‘C’ would indicate the short variant.

Given how well I know myself and my family history, I was not surprised to learn that I had two copies of the short variant. Some people are very discouraged to learn this about themselves. I look at it this way — knowledge is power. So I’m not hard-wired for happiness… so what? It just means that I have to try a little harder.

I always find that starting the day off with exercise leaves me feeling more positive throughout the day. It may be the LAST thing I want to do when I wake up in the morning, but I know how much better I feel after a workout.

Other ways to boost your serotonin levels include a good hearty meal (yep, that’s why they call it comfort food!) as well as good times with friends or family. Try choosing what suits you best on a given day.

Stay positive! Your genes do play a role in how you feel, but ultimately YOU are in control of your reactions.