Genes are not Destiny


Let’s shatter a myth.

Over the years, I have heard many people express a belief that is not only false but also dangerous.

I’ve heard it conveyed in many forms:

“I know I’m going to get a heart attack someday. Everyone in my family has heart disease.”

“I am so afraid of getting cancer. So many of my relatives have cancer.”

“There’s nothing I can do about my diabetes. It runs in my genes.”

These are disempowering beliefs. However—they are NOT TRUE. That’s right. These beliefs are incorrect.

To further explain, how about a quick lesson on genetics?

Deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA (much easier to say, right?), is the molecule that contains our genes. Our genes, in turn, encode for proteins that determine our physical characteristics, such as our height, eye color, hair color, skin color, etc. Moreover, our genes can predispose us to develop many diseases. That part is true.

However, many times these disease-causing genes need to be activated in order to actually create a disease. There are “gene switches” that work to turn genes “on” and “off.” The question then becomes, “What determines whether a gene will become active?” The answer is the internal environment of the body. The next logical question is: “What determines the internal environment of a person’s body?” The answer to this question is the key to maintaining good health—lifestyle. 

Yes, lifestyle, which is defined by the foods we eat, the amount of physical activity we give ourselves, how well we sleep, how we manage stress, the strength of our relationships, and whether or not we use risky substances such as tobacco. These factors will define a person’s internal environment and, thus, what types of genes will be activated. In fact, it is thought that genes themselves account for only 10% of a person’s overall degree of health, whereas “gene switches” account for 70-90% of a person’s overall degree of health. 

To illustrate using an example:

Let’s say that you have a strong family history of heart disease. Your parents, one of your siblings, and several aunts and uncles have all suffered heart attacks. It is very likely that you also have the genes that will lead to the development of heart disease. However, given this genetic predisposition to heart disease, there are two possible health scenarios.

Scenario #1:

You eat a lot of fatty and processed foods and not many fruits, vegetables, or whole grains. You are relatively sedentary, have a stressful job, and don’t get adequate sleep. The chances are good that the heart disease genes will be turned on, and you will develop heart disease.

Scenario #2:

Your diet consists primarily of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. You are a physically active person and exercise regularly. You handle your job stress well, sleep well every night, and have a happy family life. In addition, you don’t engage in risky behaviors such as tobacco use. The chances are pretty good that the heart disease genes in your cells will not be activated and that you will not develop heart disease. 

This is empowering information! Always remember that it is you that has control of your own health.