“It’s Not About the Cards You’re Dealt, but How You Play the Hand.” ~ Randy Pausch
Genes are the Cards You’re Dealt; Lifestyle Determines the Outcome
When it comes to long-term health, so many of us have been led to believe that our health concerns are genetic and that there’s not much we can do about it (other than take a pill, of course).
It turns out that only a tiny percentage of conditions are strictly genetic in origin. Even in those less likely scenarios, we typically have more power in managing them than we’ve been led to believe.
Understanding our genes can help prevent illness and inform our treatment protocols.
An estimated 80% of our health and longevity depends on our lifestyle as opposed to our genes, with the vast majority of chronic illnesses (like Alzheimer’s, depression, and heart disease) being largely modifiable by the life we lead.
In this article, I’ll go over three perspective shifts to consider if you find you hold the belief that you have ‘bad genes’ or that you have evidence to support this view.
1. Everyone Has Some Genetic Issues
When we look into functional genetics, which relates to genes we can functionally modify the expression of, almost everyone has suboptimal areas. These may be in cognitive genes, cardiovascular genes, or genes that promote hormone imbalance.
However, most genes are responsive to lifestyle factors regarding whether they are ‘turned on’ or ‘off’.
To give an example, the gene APOE is well studied for its association with Alzheimer’s disease, as well as increasing the risk of coronary artery disease and stroke.
Suppose someone has a suboptimal variation of this gene, such as APOE 4/4. In that case, it does not necessarily mean they will progress to full-blown Alzheimer’s or have a cardiovascular incident at a younger age. With diet and lifestyle modifications and, ideally, early detection of this gene, the manifestation of it can be radically different.
Another example would be cognitive genes. If someone has suboptimal variations of genes for serotonin transport, such as 5HTTLPR, and an increased fear response as indicated by the gene ADRA2B, they may be more prone to both irritability and anxiety.
Suppose they were to supplement with 5HTP for the serotonin gene and incorporate a strong yoga and mindfulness practice to target their suboptimal stress response. In that case, the expression of these genes may remain dormant.
2. The Majority of Genetically Correlated Chronic Health Conditions are Preventable
When we talk about chronic health conditions, we’re referring to illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, depression, and Type II diabetes, among others.
These conditions all have some degree of heritability. However, if we adopt the proper diet and lifestyle practices early on, they will only sometimes manifest.
Examples of preventive interventions include the basics such as: avoiding smoking, limiting alcohol intake and movement, and increasing positive social interactions (with isolation being a more significant risk factor than pack-a-day smoking).
Chronic illnesses cost the medical system a considerable amount of money, and we often are led to believe that they are simply genetic. Although genetics play a role, it is likely far less than lifestyle factors.
In the case of obesity, for example, many believe they have ‘bad genes’ when an environment with frequent access to highly addictive foods may be the bigger culprit.
3. Your Beliefs About Your Genes May Affect Your Genetic Expression
As an important consideration, there is ample evidence in both medicine and psychology that our beliefs about our health or health interventions have a sizable effect on how things play out when it comes to our health.
A simple example would be the placebo effect. Regardless of the intervention, if the patient believes an intervention will work, it will increase its efficacy. If the doctor thinks the intervention will work, it will also add to the efficacy of the intervention.
In reverse, there is also something called the ‘nocebo effect’, where a patient may have negative views about an intervention, which makes them more likely to experience side effects.
Related phenomena may apply to beliefs about ourselves, including our beliefs about our fundamental makeup, such as in our genes.
Joyce Schenkein, Ph.D. in Neuropsychology, has shown through research involving placebo vs. opioids that individuals can create opioid painkillers by believing they are taking them. This biological shift can affect gene expression, modifying outcomes that may have appeared to be hardwired.
Although our actual genes are mostly not modifiable, their expression of them primarily is. And this is where our lifestyle, including diet, exercise, stress management, and mindset come into play.
Dr. Bruce Lipton, a development biologist focusing on epigenetics, asserts that our beliefs profoundly influence our biology, creating cellular changes that he believes can vastly outweigh the messages our actual genes are encoding.
Regardless of the extent of the effect, the part that mindset plays in our genetic expression and long-term health needs to be emphasized more.
Our psychology and mindset around our health and our genes play an essential part in disease prevention and in creating the optimal physiological environment for long-term health.
Only 20 Percent of Our Longevity is Genetically Determined
When getting bad news from genetic results, it can sometimes seem like your health concerns are destined to be a certain way.
While a minority of genes lead to inevitable conditions, the good news is that the vast majority of genes are modifiable in their expression, and we have much more control over outcomes than we think.
The earlier you find out about your genetics, the more likely you are to be able to work preventively to target your predispositions and steer the ship toward better long-term health and the prevention of chronic conditions and nagging health concerns.
For already existing concerns, knowing your genetic makeup can also help inform health protocols to gain a better understanding of the root cause.
For further reading, view the following articles on our learning center:
- What To Do if I Can’t Lose Weight? How Genetics Play a Role
- Is Alzheimer’s Genetic or Hereditary?
- What Is Preventive Medicine
You have what it takes inside you to make a definite choice that will change the future trajectory of your health.
Our team at Tiger Medical has the experience, clinical skills, and coaching acumen to help you address weaker areas of your genetics and improve the mindset and lifestyle factors affecting gene expression and long-term health.
To talk to one of our professionals, click here to schedule your call!