A new article by Gina Kolata of The New York Times takes a look at how genetics affects our overall health and lifespan. The information will surprise you, it seems people’s cavalier attitude about family genetics and individual health is a little unfounded:
Life span is determined by such a complex mix of events that there is no accurate predicting for individuals. The factors include genetic predispositions, disease, nutrition, a woman’s health during pregnancy, subtle injuries and accidents and simply chance events, like a randomly occurring mutation in a gene of a cell that ultimately leads to cancer.Apparently genetics can still leave you at risk for certain diseases, but it isn’t a slam dunk:
The result is that old people can appear to be struck down for many reasons, or for what looks like almost no reason at all, just chance. Some may be more vulnerable than others, and over all, it is clear that the most fragile are likely to die first. But there are still those among the fragile who somehow live on and on. And there are seemingly healthy people who die suddenly.
Some diseases, like early onset Alzheimer’s and early onset heart disease, are more linked to family histories than others, like most cancers and Parkinson’s disease. But predisposition is not a guarantee that an individual will develop the disease. Most, in fact, do not get the disease they are predisposed to. And even getting the disease does not mean a person will die of it.
Yet even diseases commonly thought to be strongly inherited, like many cancers, are not, researchers found. In a paper in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2000, Dr. Paul Lichtenstein of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and his colleagues analyzed cancer rates in 44,788 pairs of Nordic twins. They found that only a few cancers—breast, prostate and colorectal—had a noticeable genetic component. And it was not much. If one identical twin got one of those cancers, the chance that the other twin would get it was generally less than 15 percent, about five times the risk for the average person but not a very big risk over all.Earlier in Kolata’s article she mentions that decades ago people were more inclined to believe environment factors, eating right, exercising, and quality medical care most strongly influenced long-term health. I think Dr. Fuhrman would agree. Check out this from Eat to Live:
Looked at one way, the data say that genes can determine cancer risk. But viewed another way, the data say that the risk for an identical twin of a cancer patient is not even close to 100 percent, as it would be if genes completely determined who would get the disease.
Both patients and physicians act as though everyone’s medical problems are genetic, or assumed to be the normal consequence of aging. They believe that chronic illness is just what we all must expect. Unfortunately, the medical-pharmaceutical business has encouraged people to believe that health problems are hereditary and that we need to swallow poisons to defeat our genes. This is almost always untrue. We all have genetic weaknesses, but those weaknesses never get a chance to express themselves until we abuse our body with many, many years of mistreatment. Never forget, 99 percent of your genes are programmed to keep you healthy. The problem is that we never let them do their job.
Most chronic illnesses have been earned from a lifetime of inferior nutrition, which eventually results in abnormal function or frequent discomfort. These illnesses are not beyond our control, they are primarily genetic, and they are not the normal consequence of aging. True, we all have our weakest links governed by genetics; but these links need never reveal themselves unless our health deteriorates. Superior health flows naturally as a result of superior nutrition. Our predisposition to certain illnesses can remain hidden.