January 18, 2017

Do Your Genes Determine Your Destiny?

by Dr. Scott Saunders, M.D.

We have been told that our genes are responsible for everything from how we look, to what foods we like, to whom we marry. The old concept of “fate,” “determinism,” or “pre-destination” now has a physical presence in the genes! Is this true? Do we believe in fate? Is our destiny sealed the moment the sperm from our father penetrates the egg of our mother?

The answer is: no!

We are as free to choose our fate as we could be. Nobody is predetermined to do anything. However, some may have genetic weaknesses to overcome.

I had a patient in my office last week. I’ll call her Becky. Her answer to everything wrong with her was: “My mom had that so I do;” or, “I got that from my aunt.” I could not get through to her that she could make changes in her life that would preclude the need for her medications. She didn’t understand that her genes do not destin her to living with any of these so-called genetic illnesses. Hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes need not be her fate.

On the other hand, there are genetic diseases that don’t respond to the environment. One young woman, Alice, had a “pyruvate dehydrogenase deficiency.” Don’t worry…I couldn’t pronounce it either. It caused her to get severely fatigued every day. She didn’t get sleepy, but just felt unable to move for lack of energy.

This enzyme deficiency wouldn’t let her fully use sugar, so she only got a tenth of the energy out of each sugar molecule. Moreover, the acids left over built up in her tissues and she became extremely fatigued by the middle of the day. After she rested overnight the acids would clear out of her muscles and she felt fine in the morning. She would go about her day and the acids would build up until she couldn’t move anymore, and she would have to lie down. Her fiancé finally dragged her into my office saying, “Something is wrong with her!”

five senses turn genes on and offEpigenetics is the study of how the environment affects the genes.

It turns out that everything we:

  • See
  • Hear
  • Touch
  • Smell
  • Taste
  • Think

…affects our genes. Not just “affects,” but actually turns them on and off. I can give you a simple example:

I could say just a few words that produce a vibration in your ear. Your brain interprets the vibration and turns on some genes that dilate your blood vessels in your cheeks and makes you blush. This example produces a temporary effect, but there are other examples that produce permanent effects.

We have amazing mechanisms to turn genes on, or turn them off. Thus, it isn’t the genes that determine what we become, but what we do with them.

The study of all these effects is fascinating. Genetic material functions like the blueprint for creating an organism. But just like the blueprint for a building, there is some leeway in how we follow it.

As a young man, I was a carpenter, building condominiums in Los Angeles. I knew that the final structure of the building is often different from the plans given to us by the architects and engineers. We used to complain that the architects didn’t know what was possible. We thought they should all be required to actually build some structures before they started drawing them.

A very similar situation occurs with our genes. The cell may need a certain protein, but that gene may be turned off so it has to do without, or use something else. It can take time, and a lot of different factors to turn on a gene.

Food has a huge effect on genes. Everything we put in our mouths is turning on, or off, our genes. Click to Tweet.

At the very least, food affects our genes during digestion. But food can have far-reaching effects—even generational.

Eating certain foods during pregnancy may increase or decrease the chance of illness for your child later in life. Take diabetes, for example. Diabetes was unknown to the Pima tribe in Arizona on their original diet. But, since they started eating highly processed American food, they now have a diabetes rate of 80%!

oxygen free radicals damage DNAEight out of ten Pima Indians will have diabetes in their lifetime. What’s more, diabetes is showing up among youths and even young children. These kids are genetically predisposed against diabetes, but sugar turned on their genes that create diabetes.

The nutrients we consume affect our genes. Oxygen free radicals from food damage our genome (our complete set of DNA), causing dysfunction of cells, and even cancer.

However, even if everyone else in our family gets cancer, it doesn’t mean we have to get it. Though we may be predisposed to cancer genetically, we can create an environment that promotes healthy genes.

We need vitamins and minerals, and we need to avoid toxins that cause genetic mutations. (Promoting healthy genes like this also keeps the immune system functional to remove any cancer cells that may arise.)

Even our thoughts can change our genes. Many of us have had the experience of seeing a scary movie that caused our hearts to race and fill us with anxiety. You know that you can think about that movie and recreate the same reaction. If you experience fear over and over again, then you will develop a pathway of fear in the brain. This changes both neurotransmitters and your anatomy. The brain makes more physical connections as a pathway is used.

So, what about all this “epigenetics?” What does it mean for us? Well, this is an extremely empowering concept.

Becky felt doomed to her fate of hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes. But, she can change those genes. She is not destined to die young or slowly because of these genetic illnesses.

In one study, pregnant rats were fed gluten. The rats born from the research only had an increased risk of diabetes if they overate, became obese and didn’t exercise. When rats ate more proteins, less carbohydrates, less food in general, and exercised, then they didn’t get diabetes.

Alice, on the other hand, had a different problem than Becky. She had an enzyme that was defective and didn’t work at all. Luckily, half of her cells are normal, allowing her to live.

Even with Alice we can work around some of these abnormalities.

  • We still used the concept of epigenetics, modifying her environment to work with her genes.
  • We put her on a sugar-free diet so she couldn’t build up the acids in her muscles.
  • This forced her body to use fat and protein (which is made into sugar) for energy.
  • She had just enough sugar from the protein, and enough energy from the fat to allow her to function normally all day.

Several weeks into her new diet Alice was feeling pretty good, planning her wedding, and brought in her mother. Her mother told me, “I have been tired all my life, and the doctors just gave me anti-depressants! I’ve been on every drug for depression, and most of them made me worse! I want to take that test.”

However, we didn’t need to perform the test because we found out the deficient enzyme was on her daughter’s X-chromosome. This means it had to come from her mom because the males with this defect all die before they’re born. We put her on the same diet and her fatigue disappeared almost immediately. This is how knowledge is power!

Recommendations For Good Epigenetics [am4show guest_error=’noaccess’]

1. Avoid toxins:

  • Eat raw, organic fruits and vegetables
  • Avoid all processed foods
  • Avoid GMO (GE) foods

2. Consume antioxidant rich foods:

  • Fresh fruit and vegetables (vitamin C, B-vitamins, Folate, Vitamin A)
  • Raw Almonds (vitamin E)

3. Take your minerals:

  • Selenium – 200 mcg daily for 90 days, then once per week (or a couple of brazil nuts)
  • Chromium picolinate – 1 mg per day for 90 days, then once per week
  • Magnesium – 400 mg per day, take at night (or eat lots of leafy green vegetables)

4. Practice stress reduction:

  • Exercise daily.
  • Forgive everyone.
  • Write in a journal.
  • Have a regenerative hobby.
  • Garden (fresh vegetables from your own garden are tastier and more nourishing than store-bought produce).
  • Meditate and pray – ½ hour per day.
  • Be positive. Looking for the good in everything will dramatically reduce the stress of life, and protect your genes.


This is probably the most important protection for your genes, allowing them to work well by keeping the toxins out of the cells.

You can lengthen your telomeres, repair your DNA and prevent all forms of aging with periodic fasting. Click to Tweet.

Most of my patients fast one day per month.

When they fast, they eat a regular supper on Saturday, drink only water on Sunday, and then a regular breakfast on Monday. I have one patient who does a water-only fast for thirty days once per year. (He goes to a clinic to do this.) Fasting is great for getting rid of toxins and resetting the metabolism.

toxin fastYou can also engage in various modified fasts, such as:

  • Eating only raw, organic foods for thirty days
  • Drinking only fresh vegetable juice
  • Doing the Master Cleanse, which is water, lemon, cayenne pepper, and maple syrup.

There are many ways to cleanse the system. This helps your genes function normally, turning on the ones you want, decreasing inflammation and improving energy efficiency. Cleansing also turns off those genes that promote inflammation, obesity, and metabolic disease. With this knowledge, the Pima people could have a population completely free of diabetes in less than one generation. This is the power of epigenetics!

Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that your genes are coded for a certain predisposition. You are not doomed to live with a disease weakness or cancer tendency all your life.

The study of epigenetics is finally putting the myth of genetic determinism to rest. We now know you can turn on or off your genes by changing the environment inside the cell.

If you eat a lot of toxic substances, such as sugar, you will change your genes to create high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. However, if you avoid toxins, then your genes will function normally.

Provide your genes with antioxidant vitamins, methylation vitamins and minerals, and your cells will make the proteins and enzymes you need to have a healthy body.

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Dr. Scott SaundersDr. Scott D. Saunders, M.D. (Ask-an-MD) is a practicing physician, specializing in preventative health care, who utilizes eclectic health care for the whole family, including conventional, orthomolecular and natural medicine. He is also the medical director of The Integrative Medical Center of Santa Barbara in Lompoc, CA. He went to UCLA medical school and is board certified in family medicine. View natural remedies with Dr. Saunders at: http://drsaundersmd.com




4 Things You Didn’t Know About Your Genes

by Sarah Stanley

Are you under the impression that your inherited genes determine how you must live the rest of your life? Have you ever blamed your parents for the body you have?

Let me ask you one more question. If you knew you could change your genes, would you?

While it’s true that we inherit our genes, it’s also true that we can change our genes! This is what’s so fascinating about epigenetics! Our genes can be switched on and off. They are not hardwired. So if you don’t like what you’ve been given, there is great news for you. You can change your genes starting today!

Here are the four main ways in which you can modify and improve your genes!


Wikipedia defines gene expression “as the process by which possession of a gene leads to the appearance in the phenotype of the corresponding character.” In lay terms, this means that the genes that make up our chromosomes are the blueprint for our development.

Additionally, our genes can be turned on and off (think of a computer or iPhone). The hardware is our genetics and the software is our epigenetics.  To have a healthy body, we need both hardware and software to function. (Thanks to Dr. Richard Denison for explaining this!)

The first way to change your gene expression is through exercise.

I’m sure you know by now that exercise boosts your mood, improves your health, and makes your clothes fit. But the other amazing thing that exercise can change is our muscle and fat cells! Did your ears perk up hearing that?!

Researchers at Lund University Diabetes Centre in Sweden took sedentary, but healthy men, and sucked out some of their fat cells. They also measured their body composition, aerobic capacity, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and other indicators of health.

one single workout can alter DNAAnd then do you know what these scientists asked these men to do? They asked them to start moving their bodies and getting their sweat on (as I like to call it). With the supervision of a trainer, these men worked out for an hour twice a week, doing spin classes and other aerobic exercises. They continued this exercise plan for 6 months.

Not surprisingly, these men lost fat, which resulted in weight loss. They also improved their blood pressure and lowered their cholesterol. All from simply moving their body intentionally and being active! If that’s not motivation to get active, I don’t know what is. 🙂

In addition, this study found that the methylation (a fancy word for the atoms and molecules that make up our DNA) reversed the genes that were previously headed for obesity and diabetes! See how amazing fitness is?!

Other studies have found that…

…A single workout altered gene DNA from unhealthy cells to healthy cells. Click to Tweet.

If you are sitting reading this article you might want to jump up and go for a brisk walk, do some pushups, sign up for a 5k or a half marathon, go for a bike ride or go to yoga tonight. You can start changing the expression of your genes through exercise to live a healthy, disease-proof life!


The color of your eyes, the color of your hair, and your body frame are passed down through generations. Your genes are a result of the lives that your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents led. But only 2% of the genes you inherit cannot be changed. Only 2%! The other 98% can be changed!

This is why living a healthy lifestyle is such an important way to modify your genes. We really are a product of how we live! People used to think that heart disease, diabetes, cancer, stroke and other disease were hereditary (because of our genes) or growing older. But according to recent findings, that assumption couldn’t be further from the truth!

The way we live our life plays a large part in determining whether we get disease or not. This is because we can live in a way that creates health, longevity, and production of healthy cells (epigenetics). Or, we can live a life of disregard that promotes sickness, disease and illness.

Each one of us has cells that can cause disease (like cancer).

How we take care of our bodies on a daily basis can promote healthy cells that will prevent cancer and disease. Click to Tweet.

Or, our daily lifestyle can condition unhealthy cells to permit cancer and disease to flourish.

We have more power over our health then we realize! This is why making healthy habits a part of our daily life is so important.

As you just read, fitness is crucial to promoting healthy epigenetics cells. Of course, it’s also a no brainer to stop smoking, which only destroys cells. And, of course, the right nutrition is paramount to a thriving and disease-free body.


carcinogen starbucksWhat you eat can either prevent disease – including cancer – or have the opposite effect on your genes.  And because what you eat changes your genes, therefore what you eat changes the genes for future generations, too!

What you eat today will either positively or negatively affect your children, your children’s children and beyond! Click to Tweet.

As you probably know by now, our food system is pretty toxic. As a result, we have to be more diligent than ever to educate ourselves and learn about what we put in our body. Our food system is becoming more and more unsafe not only for our bodies, but our land, our air, and our water.

There are many ingredients in our food supply that are known carcinogens.

  • Coloring dyes, in particular, are linked to tumors, ADHD and ADD.
  • The caramel coloring in popular Starbucks drinks is a known carcinogen (Caramel Coloring IV E150d). This caramel coloring is also used in soft drinks. If you still drink them, now’s a really great time to ditch this unhealthy habit!
  • Pesticides from GMO crops are toxins to the body that will have adverse effects on your DNA. These harsh chemicals are free radicals that will speed up aging (yikes!), wrinkles, and encourage fat cells. Not something I think you want, right?! Choosing to eat organically is another way to help keep your gene expression in tip-top health shape.


I thought (no pun intended) this was really interesting. Even our thoughts have an impact on our genes. You have more control over your health than you think you do! And part of this is how you think. Remember this quote?

What you eat and drink is just as important as what you think. If our thoughts are negative (toxic), then they will have a direct effect on our overall health.

No matter the source of toxicity (food, drink, air, water, thoughts) it will impact us.

Our beliefs about ourselves are ingrained in us and start at a young age. If we’ve grown up in a dysfunctional or a non-nurturing family, unhealthy beliefs can alter our genes. Our beliefs can change our biology, according to Konstantin Eriksen, a biochemist.

So, what you believe about yourself can either help your genes and wellness or cause disease. Click to Tweet.

How can you change your thoughts to improve your health today?

  • Positive self-talk
  • A grateful heart
  • Thanking others
  • Surrounding yourself with positive people
  • Speaking only kind, positive words

And looking for ways to enjoy the moment may all contribute to healthy thinking.


positive thoughts save health

Hasn’t this been an insightful read? I know for me it has! In life, we can’t control everything, but we can control our genes more than we realize. This is incredible! It is so freeing! Because we can positively change our genetic expression, we can change the course of our life.

We can alter our DNA by creating a balanced lifestyle of fitness; eating real, organic food; and thinking positive thoughts.

For some, it may require a total life shift and how you go about your daily life. For others who have scars from childhood, it may require seeking out a reputable counselor/therapist who can help unravel your unhealthy beliefs into healthy, positive beliefs. In turn, we create positive thoughts from negative ones and change our genes into something beautiful.

There is so much we can do to take care of our genes! But it takes diligence to make wise choices daily. Remember, how we live today will impact our future generations.

Cheers to healthy genes!

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SarahStanleySarah Stanley is a wellness educator, endurance athlete, speaker, author, and founder of #wellnesschat & {wellprint}. Passionate about healthy living Sarah lives what she speaks about, practicing a whole foods, plant-based lifestyle that fuels her ultrarunning adventures. Her goal is to empower others to be knowledgeable about what they put in & on their body so they can live healthy, disease-free and happy life. She’s been featured in SELF, SHAPE, Ladies’ Home Journal and Washingtonian. Find Sarah on Twitter (@SarahStanley)G+ (+SarahStanley) and visit SarahStanleyInspired.com to start your wellness journey today.



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