There is a great misconception about the way we perceive how much control we have over our health. From the time of DNA discovery, we gradually accepted that we are what is written in our DNA. It’s true that our DNA is the code for every feature and function of our body, however, we crossed a dangerous line when we began to blame DNA solely for our health issues. We are looking back at our family history and tracking what diseases our ancestors suffered from, as well as accepting that we are likely to experience the same health problems.
Although there is a small number of diseases that are strictly related to our genetics 1 and we can clearly blame our DNA for the health problems we experience, maybe you will be surprised to know that these represent no more than 2% of cases.2 So, what about 98 % of us who have been born with a pretty good working set of genes? How come we are getting so sick as a population?
You can change how your DNA works
DNA is only information and cannot be activated by itself. How the DNA works depend on ENVIRONMENT. DNA is activated by the environment, it always responds to signals from surroundings and then activates particular genes. This is not ground-breaking news but a study subject of a scientific field called EPIGENETIC, epi=above genetics.3
It is a group of mechanisms that control how the DNA works and how the genes are switched off and on as a response to environment. So, if your Granny had the BRCA gene and had breast cancer, you would probably end up the same. Wrong!4 Or, if your Grandpa suffered from high blood pressure because he had high cholesterol and lipid profile, you should too when you get older, right? Wrong! You can change your environment and alter the activity of your DNA so that these scenarios will never happen to you. We know that genes tightly cooperate with environment and we are already on track to find out which diseases are underlined by strong genetic influence and which are not.3
Are you still confused?
In other words, this means, that when we control our environment and the factors that we expose to our body, we can influence the course of diseases that we develop because we influence activation of our DNA. We know from studies of twins who, despite having almost identical DNA, experience different health issues in life. If the DNA would stand behind most of the diseases both twins should suffer from the same problems because they have an identical DNA, but it turned out not to be truth.3,5 Have you ever wondered how it is possible that most of the babies come to this world so healthy and then everything starts to go downhill? We do not need to end up old being sick and barely moving.
There is a very simple explanation for that. Although we are all healthy as children, during future years we are exposed to many negative factors. These factors accumulate, interact with our DNA and influence our health until they trigger illness, you name it type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular problems, cancer…
What you can do about it?
You can do a lot. You are in charge! Your every decision counts and accumulates over the years. What is the environment you can influence? Food, physical activity, stress, quality of sleep, and the list goes on and on. However, one of the major environmental factors that affects our health because it affects our DNA is the food we eat.6 Therefore, this blog aims to spotlight dietary changes that can advance your health.
With a little bit of effort, you can become as healthy as you wish because you have more control over your health than you think. You can start right now with a little bit of reflection:
- Chakravarti A, Little P. Nature, nurture and human disease. 2003. Nature, 42, 412-14.
- Strohman RC. Genetic determinism as a falling paradigm in biology and medicine: Implications for health and wellness. 2003. Journal of Social Work Education; 39,2,169-91.
- Bell JT, Spector TD. A twin approach to unraveling epigenetics. 2011. Trends Genet. 27(3): 116–125.
- Colditz GA, et al. Family history, age, and risk of breast cancer. 1993. Journal of the American Medical Association, 270, 3, 338-43.
- MacGregor, AJ. et al. Twins: novel uses to study complex traits and genetic diseases. 2000. Trends Genet. 16, 131–134.
- Choi SW, Friso S. Epigenetics: A New Bridge between Nutrition and Health. 2010. American Society for Nutrition. Adv. Nutr. 1, 8–16.