Are we doomed by our genetic inheritance?
Are we doomed by our genetic inheritance?
At the heart of the concept of health individuality is the idea that each patient has a unique genetic background and environmental history. As practitioners we are acutely aware that our lifestyle and environmental conditions either help or damage our health.
Although our genetic makeup is fixed, our genetic expression is malleable. Just as in a card game we are “dealt a hand”in life. We cannot do very much to change that hand, but we can change the way in which we play it.
Fora long time, Scientists believed that genetic expression is a fixed, unchanging and unyielding blueprint. However, a research paper published in 2005 created enormous excitement at the time. Scientists at the University of California found that patients with prostate cancer changed their genetic expression to turn off tumour expression by altering their nutrition, managing stress and exercising. Since then, more studies have shaped our thinking on genes.
We call this gene plasticity. Genetic variants may load the gun, but the environment we are exposed to pulls the trigger.
Dr Dean Ormish, who headed the study said “in most cases, our genesare only a predisposition;they are not written in stone. And if we have a strong family history for diseases such as prostate cancer, breast cancer, or heart disease-- "bad genes"-- then we may need to make bigger changes in lifestyle in order to help prevent or even reverse chronic diseases.”
I had the pleasure of working for many years with a delightful man called Harry. He told me that his father had died at thetender age of 37 from heart disease and his mother succumbed to the same condition a few years after. His uncles and grandparents were also heavily affected by heart disease. In fear of the genes he had inherited, Harry sought help from his doctor who explained to Harry (even with very limited knowledge of genetics at the time) that our genes are like a family inheritance. Some people are born rich and some are born poor. Yet, as they go through life many children that are born poor will manage to amass a fortune, through hard work.
In the same way, he explained, those lucky to be born with good genes have a little extra room to get away with not looking after themselves, but those born with a poorer genetic hand will have to take a little extra care. Harry took all of this on board and started preventative care in his early 30s. So, the concept of gene plasticity is not new.
Harry did eventually die of a heart attack, but at the very ripe age of 92 and having lived a life full of happiness, health and longevity. In fact, he was sprightly right up until his death.
The biggest error that we make is the assumption that a person with a genetic pre-disposition is flawed. Our genes don’t tell us that we are going to have a disease, they tell us how we are going to uniquely respond to our environment. Knowing our genetic weaknesses can be extremely helpful in preventative disease. For instance, knowing that auto-immunedisease is a probability would mean avoiding the environmental triggers that could trigger the condition and putting adequate prevention into place.
So, rather than say “ I am dialed in to get heart disease or dialed in to get cancer.” One should say that “I am dialed in to understand what my optimal environment is to express my optimal genetic pattern”
Ifyou have a family hereditary pattern it may make sense to invest in genetic testing. Genetictesting can be an enormously powerful way of mapping out your future health. Genetic testing used to be prohibitively expensive but these days you can run tests for under £200, and the knowledge can save you many years of ill health and disability in later life. People are often afraid of running genetic tests in fear of what they may find. However, knowing where to focus your efforts can be extremely empowering.
Lifestyle changes can and do alter the ways in which our genes express themselves. Here are some of the simple things that you can do to work around your genetic inheritance.
By exposing the body to fewer toxins, you reduce the strain placed on genes to detoxify the body and allow them to function in a better way. For instance, we know that certain pesticides block pathways and enzymes in the body, forcing the body to find work arounds.This adds to stress on the entire body. Have a look at this article on reducing the body burden.
While we sleep ourbodies are working away at repairing damage. This is not only so for our organs, but repair that happens on a cellular basis. Here is some advice on sleep practice.
Stress generates hormones that turn on transcription of genes to help the body cope with the stress response. When we are overstressed, the strain on our bodies are much higher. Here's what you can do to help reduce stress.
Often patients come to me with large lists of supplements. Knowing your individual genetic pattern can help determine exactly what you need, making treatment so much more targeted.
Formore information, see: http://www.pmri.org/publications/newsweek/Changing_Your_Lifestyle_Can_Change_Genes_Dean_Ornish.pdf