If you look at your family tree and become concerned your ancestors may have passed on genetic problems, such as heart disease or diabetes, to you, cheer up! Turns out, your genes don't have to control your life. Scientists have recently discovered through the study of epigenetics, that adopting healthy behaviors can turn off undesirable genes.
If you wish you inherited better DNA, you're not alone. Epigenetics expert Dr. Sara Gottfried says we could all use an upgrade in that department.
"I've tested a lot of people over the last twelve years in terms of genomics," she told CBN News, "And everyone has two to five not so great genes."
She includes herself.
"I happen to have a problem with genes related to weight gain," she explained, "So I have one gene in particular called the 'fatso' gene, FTO, and it makes me programmed to be about 200 pounds no matter what I do."
However, Dr. Gottfried found a way to shut down the 'fatso' gene in herself and others who carry it.
"So one of the ways of turning the switch off for the FTO gene is to eat a low carb diet, mostly from vegetables. That really serves me best and doesn't activate my fatso gene," she continued, "The other thing that I do is I exercise for a minimum of 30 to 60 minutes a day. So high-intensity interval training is really good for me in terms of silencing this gene and making sure that it's not raising my body mass index and making me fatter."
Some people are afraid to take DNA tests because they don't want to know if they have a problematic gene, like the one for Alzheimer's. But experts say it's better to know because there are steps we can take to silence these genes.
For instance, in his book, The End of Alzheimer's, Dr. Dale Bredesen lists dozens of lifestyle changes that have proven effective in squelching the Alzheimer's gene for hundreds of patients.
"If there are specific exposures, you want to get rid of those," he said, "If there are nutritional changes, you want to address those, if there are hormonal changes you want to address those, if there are inflammatory changes, address those."
Examples of these including eating a low sugar diet, taking certain supplements like curcumin and avoiding neurotoxic chemicals such as synthetic fragrances.
"Alzheimer's disease is no longer a mystery," Dr. Bredesen explained, "You don't have to say, 'We don't know why you get it. We don't know what to do about it.' We do know why you get it. We do know what to do about it. And we know how to prevent it."
Dr. Kenneth Pelletier delves into the practical application of epigenetics in his book Change Your Genes, Change Your Life in which he declares DNA is not our destiny.
"At first I thought like everyone, that genetics determines who we are: color of hair, your height, the diseases you'll get, how long you'll live," he said, "And then when I got further into it I realized that was not the case."
For example, twins with the exact same DNA very often have different health outcomes because of epigenetics. In other words, one twin's behavior may activate a certain gene, while the other twin's behavior may silence that same gene.
"So there may be a 40 percent chance one twin will have heart disease and not the other, it's very low with cancer, maybe 30 percent, so all of these very strong genetic pushes for major diseases were not showing up in the twin studies and they said 'what's going on here?' and that was the beginning of epigenetics."
So when it comes to our genes, our behavior can carry consequences for ourselves and our ancestors.