You Are More Than Your Genes

Welcome to the beginning of a several part posts on how we can beat predetermination, by consuming a lifestyle that is proven to reduce the incidence of numerous chronic diseases.

We all have DNA. DNA is the script for our very selves. We often think of DNA as being the recipe for life. It determines our eye color, hair color, facial features, whether we are likely to have fast-twitch or slow-twitch muscles in our extremities. It may determine how likely we are to have exercise tolerance for endurance or short-distance. We are products in some respect of our DNA.

Some of us believe that we are nothing more than simple products of our DNA.  Some believe that there is no higher power and that there was no image prior to our creation. Our DNA created us. When I learned about DNA in medical school we learned about certain errors in DNA that create disease. We learned about errors in chromosomes or clusters of DNA material can cause disease. We learned about how toxic forces like chemicals, UV radiation from the sun, other radiation from nuclear decay can cause damage to DNA, thereby creating mutated DNA and opening the door for disease. It became easy to imagine how all of life was simply a reflection of DNA and of the potential damage that can occur to DNA over our lifetimes, before and after birth.

Before DNA, we didn’t understand creation nearly as well as we do now. Historically religion has taught has that our Creator created us and that we were a product of His vision for us. We were subject to God’s will and so we would die when we were destined to die and live as we were destined to live. There was limited self-determination. The current Pope, Pope Francis, has opened up the idea that evolution and Creation can coexist for the 1.313 billion Catholics worldwide.[1] He said this about God’s creation, “He created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one of us so they would reach fulfillment…Evolution in nature is not opposed to the notion of Creation, because evolution presupposes the creation of beings that evolve.”[2]

Whether we believe in DNA determining our very existence or God’s design without room for evolution, we are at risk of believing in the fatalistic pre-ordained nature of our very existence. It’s obvious to most scientists that we all evolve, in small or big ways. We evolve philosophically. We evolve emotionally. We evolve physically. We can become stronger or less strong. We can become heavier or less heavy. We can develop fewer hairs, gray hairs, better smell when pregnant or worse smell as we age. We evolve. If you don’t believe me that I will prove that evolution occurs. If you take an agar tray of blood and you place staph aureus (must be methicillin sensitive staph aureus) on that tray, the staph will flourish. Now, place a small disc of penicillin in the tray. The staph that are alongside of the penicillin will all die. Over time, there will be a few staph strains that will develop resistance to this penicillin disc. This becomes the basis for bacterial resistance. When bacteria resist antibiotics, we have literally witnessed evolution in a living microorganism. Given our bodies are made up of millions of bacteria, we are literally the source of evolution for each of those bacterial colonies.

It is this sense that we “are who we are and can’t change it,” that is at the heart of chronic disease for millions of Americans. We talk about this a lot at Doctor of Living, but I think we have to review…Chronic diseases are “ongoing, generally incurable illnesses or condition, such as heart disease, asthma, cancer and diabetes.” [3]

  • Chronic disease now impacts 133 million Americans or 45% of the US population with 1 chronic disease.[3]
  • Chronic disease is responsible for 7 out of every 10 deaths in the US, killing 1.7 million Americans every year.[3]
  • The cost of chronic disease is astronomical. They account for 81% of hospital admissions, 91% of prescriptions and 76% of all physician visits.[3]
  • 99% of Medicare spending and 83% of Medicaid spending is on chronic disease.[3]
  • Healthcare premiums for employer-sponsored family coverage have increased 87% since 2007.[3]
  • The total cost of obesity to U.S. companies is estimated at $13 billion annually, including increased health insurance rates, sick leave, life insurance, and disability insurance associated with obesity.[3]

Feeling sick yet? You should be. This problem is beyond huge. It’s the greatest threat to American freedom we have ever faced. Larger than any military threat, larger than economic collapse, larger than pandemics, floods, fires, or other natural disasters. It’s sitting right in front of us – it’s chronic disease!

Where’s the opportunity, you may ask? The CDC estimates that eliminating only 3 risk factors: poor diet, inactivity and smoking would prevent:[3]

  • 80% of heart disease and stroke;[3]
  • 80% of type 2 diabetes; and, [3]
  • 40% of cancer.[3]

Here’s where things get really interesting. We have a huge crisis with chronic disease. Most of us have accepted that we are a “product of our genes” or that our Creator “made us this way,” so we effectively have thrown in the towel when we get sick. We are not motivated, because we don’t see that we are actually in control.

There was a fascinating study from Epigenomics in June of 2011, which illuminates the err in our thinking. DNA is a recipe for all that we are from a scientific perspective, but what’s amazing is that not all DNA is expressed all the time in our bodies. Our DNA is so long that it contains many sequences of genetic material that our bodies never use. In comes the field of epigenetics, which is the study of how our DNA or genetic material is actually expressed.

If you are curious about the nitty gritty and nerd out on this stuff, let me take a minute. For everyone else, bear with me, because it’s about to get really cool. According to Dr. Jorgen Alejandro Alegria-Torres, lead author from “Epigenetics and lifestyle,” “Increasing evidence shows that environmental and lifestyle factors may influence epigenetic mechanisms, such as DNA methylation, histone acetylation, and microRNA expression.”[4]

Ok, laymen’s terms right…What’s he is saying is that there is now scientific evidence through those 3 epigenetic mechanisms outlined above that our bodies can change the expression of our genes through environmental and lifestyle factors. This is HUGE! It literally means that the expression of our genes is within our control. It doesn’t mean that we can change our eye color or hair color, but we can change a slew of numerous other genes.

What’s even more is that “several lifestyle factors have been identified that might modify epigenetic patterns such as diet, obesity, physical activity, tobacco smoking, alcohol consumption, environmental pollutants, psychological stress, and working on night shifts.”[4] Holy cow!!!! This is what Doctor of Living believes in. We believe that there are 5 Pillars of Health: nutrition which is the same as diet; physical activity which is literally verbatim PLUS sleep which is the working night shifts; toxins which includes primarily tobacco, alcohol and environmental pollutants; emotional wellness which includes psychological stress. It doesn’t mention anything about spiritual connections, which include love, forgiveness, gratitude, which some may lump into emotional wellness.

The bottom line is that this paper virtually validates our philosophy completely, not just in our understanding of health and wellness, but that the lifestyle changes we recommend in our wellness plans have the potential to change our very genetic expression of our DNA.

The article provides further research on these area of nutrition:

  • “Polyunsaturated fatty acids may have a suppressive function in tumorigenic processes.” Polyunsaturated fats from plants primarily are much healthier than saturated fats from red mead poultry and dairy products and much healthier than oils that contain trans-fat.[5] For a great resource on fats, check out: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fat/art-20045550.
  • “Diets rich in fruits and vegetables, which contain may natural antioxidants can yield cancer protection.”[4]
  • Intake of folate and Vitamin B12 are important potential anticancer agents and should be sought out in diets.[4]
  • Intake of polyphenols in diet from cruciferous vegetables, green tea, soy beans, have been shown to reverse “epigenetic aberrations associated with malignant transformation.”[4]

When most of us get “cancer,” we have been living with cancerous cells for a while, before we notice anything.  These cancerous cells often develop because of damage to the cell replication process. Cells are constantly repairing and replicating themselves, replacing skin, nails, hair, etc. When things go awry, the DNA is replicated or repaired incorrectly, we have the beginning of potential cancer. There are many theories and constantly changing understanding of how and why this happens but suffice it to say that it happens all the time and all of us. Our bodies have amazing ways of taking care of the problem. Polyphenols are one amazing way to reverse damaged genetic expression.

  • Selenium may also have anticancer properties and help us to defend against oxidative damage.[4] Selenium deficient diets have been shown to induce genetic damage.[4]

There are many, many other studies on the impact of food and health and wellness, but this was specific to food and epigenetic or DNA expression.

Physical activity has been associated with higher methylation of certain cells in the body, which when present in elderly patients have been shown to have lower incidence and mortality from ischemic heart disease and stroke.[4] Exercise has been shown to reduce inflammation and chromosomal instability during cell replication, as well, making our body less like to have cells that go bad.[4]


[1] Catholic Church by Country. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_by_country. Accessed July 12th, 2019.

[2] “Pope Francis: ‘Evolution…is not inconsistent with the notion of creation.”

[3] “The Growing Crisis of Chronic Disease in the United States. https://www.fightchronicdisease.org/sites/default/files/docs/GrowingCrisisofChronicDiseaseintheUSfactsheet_81009.pdf. Accessed on July 12th, 2019.

[4] “Epigenetics and lifestyle.” Epigenomics June 2011; 3(3):267-277. Doi 10.2217//epi.11.22.

[5] “Nutrition and Healthy Eating. Dietary Fats.” Mayo Clinic Staff. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fat/art-20045550. Accessed July 12th, 2019.

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