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!”
It turns out that everything we:
…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.
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%!
Eight 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.
5. DON’T EAT TOO MUCH
This is probably the most important protection for your genes, allowing them to work well by keeping the toxins out of the cells.
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.
- 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 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