If our parents suffered from a heart condition, Alzheimer’s or cancer, does that mean that our fate is sealed? Is it just destiny that we will fall victim to the same bad luck? Today, I want to demonstrate that, through the choices we make and the actions we take, it is us who are in control of our destiny – and not our genes. Let’s start with a little caution, and then move on. There is an elevated risk that we might be more susceptible to the same conditions as our parents and grandparents. In Patrick Holford’s brilliant Optimum Nutrition Made Easy, he says, “In studies tracking the health of 44,000 sets of twins, 27% of the risk was due to inherent factors. That means that in 73%, the risk is due to external factors such as diet and lifestyle. Alzheimer’s is another good example. Only one in 100 cases of this debilitating disease
What Holford is trying to tell us is that, while our genes might be predisposed to a certain condition, it means we need to follow a healthier lifestyle to balance our odds. By eating well, fasting intermittently and exercising, any rogue genes we might have inherited should stay dormant for our entire life. Our genes don’t dictate our future, but instead increase our susceptibility to various diseases. If I tell you that sugar can cause cancer, it might be the case for some and not for others. It also doesn’t mean that sugar is the only cause of cancer. What it does mean is that consuming sugar, just like smoking cigarettes, increases our chances of getting cancer – just as it does with most of the other almost exclusively Westernised diseases we will discuss later. If cancer, Alzheimer’s, gout, diabetes, thyroid problems or heart disease runs in your family, then it’s your susceptibility that rises. If we have a heightened susceptibility to modern disease, then living Primally, reducing our intake of CARBS and other sugars, and intermittently fasting and exercising are actions we should take to mitigate our susceptibility.
We discussed earlier in the chapter that it takes thousands and thousands of years for evolution to take effect and hence the need for us to eat the food that our Primal ancestors used to eat. Anything else is most likely to cause an imbalance and lead to ill -health or disease. Anyone who has accidentally put diesel in a petrol car (or vice versa) will know what happens. As soon as the wrong fuel is sucked into the engine, it splurts, struggles and eventually stops. Yes, genes play a background role, but what’s leading the rapid growth in modern diseases are the actions and choices we humans are making. If it was all the fault of our genes, then common sense says cancer rates could not have exploded in the UK, from one in 20 people a century ago, to one in two people now contracting the disease during their lifetime.
Dr Mark Hyman provides a great analogy in the foreword ofHashimoto’s Protocol by Dr Izabella Wentz: “Genes are not your destiny is something I truly believe in. I tell my patients that genetics load the gun, but environment pulls the trigger. The way you eat, how much you exercise, how you manage stress and your exposure to environmental toxins all contribute to the formation and progression of chronic diseases”.
PRIMAL CURE POKER ANALOGY:
Our genes deal us our hand, but it’s how we play our cards that defines our outcome.
If ill-health runs in your family, and you are of the mindset that it is futile looking after yourself because you’re doomed anyway, then check out the website epigenetics.com. The word ‘epi’ is Greek for ‘over’ or ‘on top’ and genetics this of course, relates to that which we inherit, something transmitted from one generation to another. Those who study epigenetics are trying to discover how much of who we are is actually inherited or induced. After spending a lot of time researching epigenetics for myself, I believe we have far more control over our outcome than we realise. It is worth remembering that, many of the diseases we fear – Alzheimer’s, heart disease, diabetes etc – are all fairly modern illnesses. Just a century ago they virtually didn’t exist. Three of my four grandparents, plus my wonderful auntie Avis, all died from cancer. But several decades ago, when they passed away, they weren’t fully aware of what caused the diseases. On paper it might look like the dreaded cancer is a very probable outcome for my family, but I believe that it isn’t. I believe that genes have very little influence over modern diseases. Sure, they govern the colour of our eyes, hair and how tall we become, but are they really that responsible for passing on diseases that have come about because we have changed our lifestyle so much from that which nature designed for us? If we subscribe to Dr Hyman’s analogy that, ‘genetics load the gun, but environment pulls the trigger’, that still leaves us in full control. Or as I teach my children, ‘If it’s to be, it’s up to me’.
What about being overweight, surely that is in the genes? Apparently not. We can understand why people believe this, as we will often see entire families being overweight or obese. However, in 2010 it was proven that our genes do not predetermine our weight. In that year, in order to try to discover what genes were associated with being overweight, more than a quarter of a million people had their DNA analysed. Of the 21,000 genes in our body, only 32 appeared to play any role in weight gain. Such a small number led scientists to suggest that the difference in weight between those with the very lowest genetic likelihood and those with the absolute highest likelihood was just 7.7kg (17lbs). That means, even if we are extremely unlucky and the permutation of our genes is the very worst possible outcome, then at most we can only blame our parents for a little more than one stone of our weight. The realistic chances of all of our DNA lining up in this combination is lower than winning the jackpot on the National Lottery!
As Dr Jeffrey S. Bland writes in The Disease Delusion, “We are not hardwired to come down with the diseases that undermined the later years of our parents or grandparents”. His outstanding book also states, “The bottom line is that genetic inheritance is not fate. Your lifetime health was not predetermined at your conception. On the contrary: You have the opportunity – and the power – to shape your own pattern of health and longevity”.