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Epigenetics & Financial Planning

By jamesheidema - Posted on 30 September 2014

Recently I was asked to give a keynote presentation at a conference in Sochi, Russia for one of the largest banks in Russia – Sberbank. Over 700 particpants attended. They gave me free licence to determine my subject and my content. They were gathered in an area I think is one of the most beautiful parts of Russia. Sochi as you know was the site of the 2014 winter Olympics. Sochi is nestled in mountains of southern Russia near the Black Sea.

I chose to speak about a topic I just learned about, called epigenetics and its effect on financial planning. If you have not heard of epigenetics, I encourage you to research it and become familiar with it for it will have some effect on you and a much greater effect on your children and their children.

Let me set the scene and help you understand the basics. But before you read on, please understand one thing, I am not a scientist, but I do have an inquiring mind. I am sharing what I understand of the topic.

Every educated person understands that some behaviours we adopt shorten our lives, such as smoking (shortens our life by an average of 10 years), excessive drinking (shortens our life by an average of 20 years), and using any form on non-prescribed drugs (shortens our life by an average of 14 years). We also know the average life expectancy in our countries. Some are quite short, like Russia and other life expectancies are quite long, like Japan.

So I wondered, can we lengthen our lives? Can we increase these average life expectancies?

Well it now seems we can!

To simplify a complex science, through the study of genetics, the genome project and now epi-genetics we now know more about how our bodies work. We have about 24,000+ genes and approximately 16 trillion cells in each of our bodies. Each of those genes are chemically controlled by two attachments. The on/off switch (meaning the gene is operating or not) is controlled by Methylation. The degree that the switch is on is controlled by Histones.

A quick summary, Methylation is the on/off switch for a gene and Histones are the dimmer switch that determines how ‘on’ the gene is. A good example of this is autism. Even if you have the autism gene, you may not suffer from autism; therefore the autism gene in their body is switched off. Those that have autism can suffer with a severe form of it, or a milder version of it. Often the milder form of autism is called high functioning autism.

Currently I am dealing with prostate cancer in my body. I have found through research that everyone has cancer sells in their bodies, all the time. In my case the cancer cells are turned on, but fortunately they are dim. My methylation has switched on the cancer in my prostate and the Histone is dimly lit. By the time you read this article I will have had surgery to remove my prostate. I am confident all will go well and if it doesn’t, I will cope.

Now the most interesting thing about epigenetics, is that through gene therapy, and/or many genes respond to various triggers such as the foods we eat, our life styles choices, good (exercise, eating well, managing our stress, etc.) or bad (drugs, alcohol and/or smoking), hormones, stem cell treatments and others methods. In effect we can take greater control of our genes. An example of one of many things we can do is that bad life style choices shorten our lives and good ones extend our lives. Therefore, now we can significantly extend our lives.

Many scientists now believe we can live to 150 and older. Yes 150! For an example, at this moment Japan has over 44,000 people aged 100 or older. The oldest person in the world is now 127! So we are beginning to see the effect of gene therapy. Many scientists now believe some young children in our midst will live to 150 and beyond.

So here is the big question to all you who are reading this. If we can indeed live much longer (by the way, I totally believe we can live longer), then from a financial planning point of view how do we plan for a much longer work life and a much longer retirement? How do we price our products to accommodate longer mortality and morbidity tables and charts? How will society need to adjust if the population that is much healthier and does not retire at 60 or 65?

Very interesting questions! In my next article we will continue this conversation. In the mean time, please take some time to ‘google’ epigenetics. I am very excited about the prospect of a healthier society!