Exploring the Big Disconnects Between Diet and Disease:
#3: It Runs in My Family, So It’s Out of My Control
Another Big Disconnect deals with the misconception that diet and lifestyle don’t matter because “(disease X) runs in my family.” I’ve heard this expression countless times over the years from people who believe the genetic cards have been dealt and they’re powerless to prevent disease. If you’re living with the assumption that you have no control over your health because you’re pre-programmed for some malady, I have good news for you: Disease and disability are more preventable than you think—even if you are genetically predisposed. There’s a big difference between being born with a gene (genetic predisposition) and whether that gene will develop into disease (genetic expression).
Suppose you were born with a predisposition for colorectal cancer. Your food choices remain by far the greatest determinant of whether or not you’ll develop cancer. Non-genetic factors such as poor diet and lifestyle habits account for up to 90 percent of the cases of our top killers.[i] Nutritional biochemist Dr. T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study, Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition, and The Low-Carb Fraud, has spent decades in the area of nutrition research. One article he’s authored reveals how the gene responsible for liver cancer can be dramatically repressed by consuming less animal protein, thereby delaying or preventing liver cancer. He also points out that the production of enzymes, which are the main products of gene expression, can be markedly controlled by what we eat.[ii] Research regarding the Alzheimer gene (ApoE4) also convincingly demonstrates that diet trumps genes in the expression of this dreaded disease, with saturated fat intake and mid-life cholesterol levels being factors in the development of dementia.[iii]
Remember that genetics may load the gun, but lifestyle pulls the trigger. Genes can only establish the potential for disease—they do not represent a guaranteed diagnosis. Dr. John McDougall points to many studies which confirm that “good genes” are turned on by a healthy environment, just as “bad genes” are silenced by a healthy environment.[iv] A healthy environment equates to a starch-based diet with vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and the avoidance of animal products and oils.
While certain diseases certainly do tend to run in families, the above statistics demonstrate that people are giving their genetic makeup way too much credit for their ailments and, in some cases, perhaps using it as a handy excuse to avoid making any lifestyle changes. The biggest risk factor for disease that typically runs in families is the diet and lifestyle pattern that’s been passed down from the parents. Think about that with your own family. What diet and lifestyle habits are your children learning? Their health and future well-being are at stake—and possibly that of your grandkids. Switching to a whole food, plant-based diet is your best defense to prevent, halt, and reverse disease, regardless of your genetic makeup. With a dire family history of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes, I’m relieved to know that it’s so.
[i] Dr. Michael Greger and Gene Stone, How Not to Die (New York: Flatiron Books, 2015), 12.
[ii] Dr. T. Colin Campbell, “Are Genes Hazardous to Your Health?” Dated August 3, 2010. Accessed January 14, 2018. http://nutritionstudies.org/genes-hazardous-health/
[iii] Dr. Neal Barnard, Power Foods for the Brain (New York: Grand Central Life and Style, 2013), 50-56.
[iv] Dr. John McDougall, “Human Genes Are Turned Off and On by Diet.” The McDougall Newsletter, September 2013, Volume 12, Issue 9. Accessed January 14, 2018. https://www.drmcdougall.com/misc/2013nl/sep/epigenetics.htm
(The above article is an excerpt from The “Plan A” Diet book)