Your Genes do NOT Determine Your Health
Bold statement I know. Unfortunately, or luckily enough we cannot blame our parents or grandparents for everything. Nonetheless, some hereditary diseases such as blindness for example may be unavoidable no matter what you do. However, the severity of many hereditary diseases may depend on external factors. Women with mutations in the “breast cancer genes” BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 for example do not necessarily have to develop breast cancer. Approximately 50% of women with these mutations will however by the age of 70 have developed breast cancer as compared to about 13% of women in the general population. So by having the mutation you are sure enough more likely to develop cancer than someone who does not have the mutation, but mutations in other genes are also necessary for things to go wrong. I would be very interested in comparing a woman with either of the BRCA gene mutations who eats well, gets enough rest, and do not subject herself to toxic environments with the average woman who does not pay attention to such things but does not have the gene mutation.
I was not going to write about breast cancer today but it is a very good example. Some women may prefer to not know whether they have this gene since the knowledge in itself can cause major stress and anxiety. There is no doubt that more people die or develop disease after major stressful events which in itself can contribute to providing the right environment for cancer development or heart conditions. Other women would like to know so that they can take action. Angelina Jolie is probably the most famous woman I know about who has taken some drastic measures to prevent the development of breast and ovarian cancer by having a double mastectomy and removal of her ovaries. I absolutely think that knowing whether you have a gene for a specific condition can be helpful. It is what you do with this knowledge that should decide whether you would benefit from finding out.
Although it looks like this turned into a discussion about hereditary breast cancer, that is not what I would like to highlight. No matter what genes you have, no matter how likely you are to develop breast cancer, type two diabetes, high blood pressure etc. There are a lot of things you can do to decrease your risk of developing any these conditions. It is entirely possible to decrease your risk of developing disease to less than that of the average person if you just pay attention to how you take care of yourself. The three key areas you should focus on are:
Stress relief and relaxation
I mention stress first since it is widely overlooked as a factor causing disease. The top 10 most stressful life events according to the Holmes and Rahe scale can be used to predict the likelihood of illness.
- Death of a spouse
- Marital separation
- Death of a close family member
- Personal injury or illness
- Dismissal from work
- Marital reconciliation
The further up on the list you are and the more of these events that you have experienced in the last year, the more likely you are to develop disease. There are obviously many more events that can take place such as selling your home, moving, starting a new job, starting a business, and becoming a victim of a crime. If you want to take a quick stress test you can find one here. I have not had the best year in terms of stress and scored 185 which indicate that I have a moderate to high chance of becoming ill in the near future. So what do I do about this? Some people call me a health freak so obviously I am already doing something about it.
First of all I practice self-care. Twice a day I am walking my dogs out in nature. This is my type of meditation if you like. It allows me to clear my mind and just be. Do whatever works for you to clear your mind. Have a massage or a hot relaxing bath.
I exercise several days a week. Some of you may know that I am practising Olympic weightlifting and I love it. Not everyone loves exercise, but even 10 minutes of daily exercise can be enough to reduce stress. Choose whatever type of exercise you enjoy, whether it is lifting weights, ice skating, or practicing yoga.
I pay attention to my diet. I eat a diet which consists of unprocessed foods. I buy mainly free range pastured meats and go organic as much as possible. I cook all the food myself so that I know what goes in. I generally avoid sugar like the plague and you should too if you want to decrease your stress response.
There are obviously many more things you can do to reduce the stress in your life. Try to do nothing, learn how to meditate, recognise when you experience stress, or put systems into place that can help prevent your response to stressful situations. Meditation can help with pain-related depression and anxiety, most likely due to the reduction of stress hormones and their inflammatory effects. If you are able to recognise when you experience stress you can learn to acknowledge the stress and accept that it is there. Most of the time you will not be able to change the situation, therefore acceptance may be the quickest way of taking control of the situation.
I already mentioned what I do in terms of eating well. The stress hormone cortisol can over time cause insulin resistance which can lead to type two diabetes. The best way to prevent this from happening is to avoid eating sugar and excessive amounts of carbohydrates. Likewise, high cortisol will promote inflammation and free radical formation, so you would ideally want to eat a diet which contains plenty of anti-oxidants and unoxidised fats. Avoid all vegetable oils apart from coconut oil and olive oil.
Avoidance of toxicants
This is a topic for a standalone blog post, but I will just mention it briefly. We are surrounded by toxicants. You can find toxicants in plastics, household cleaners, detergents, cosmetics, perfumes, lotions, prescription drugs, pesticides, food additives, tooth paste, shower gel, shampoo, preservatives, fertilisers, scented candles, cigarette smoke, and air pollution amongst others. It is impossible to avoid toxicants, but by choosing products that do not contain a long list of added chemicals that you will put on or in your body you have come a long way. Start small and make better choices along the way.
By taking care of yourself you will decrease your risk of developing disease by changing gene expressions, whether you have inherited genes that increases your risk of developing a particular disease or not. There is always an environmental factor and the way we live our lives today is unfortunately not the best environment to stay disease free. Take care of your body and it will take care of you. As a bonus you may discover that you all of a sudden have much more energy, feel happier, more patient, and those aches and pains you have learnt to live with have disappeared.