” My Dad had a heart attack when he was young. I guess I will too. “
” Do you think that since my mom had breast cancer, I am going to get it?”
Patients ask me on a daily basis about genetics and disease. People want to know if their family of history of a disease means that they will get the same thing.
I explain that diagnoses like cancer, heart disease, and dementia involve genes in complex interactions.
A gene is a segment of our genetic code, otherwise known as DNA. Our DNA contains the information on thousands of genes. Each gene codes for proteins. That is all our DNA does….make protein.
Some people are born with a different piece of DNA that makes an abnormal protein that can render them more likely to acquire a disease. This is referred to as a genetic predisposition or susceptibility.
Mutation or changing of genes can happen between generations, but since we acquire our genetic makeup from our parents (remember the sperm and the egg!), a family history of particular disease can make us more susceptible to that disease.
So, here’s the critical question people want an answer to: does being more susceptible to a disease mean that the disease will happen – that it is inevitable?
And my answer is always a resounding “no.” Just because you have a family history of a disease does not mean you will get that disease.
A genetic predisposition to a disease still requires a triggering factor(s) to actually cause the disease.
Think of it like you would a camp fire. All the elements for a camp fire can be present, but you still won’t have the fire until there is a spark to ignite it.
This same concept holds true with disease. You may be genetically predisposed to a disease, but some type of “spark” is required to trigger it.
Once I give that explanation, I am always asked, “So what are the sparks that trigger disease?” And for me, that answer is easy: poor nutrition, exposure to environmental pollutants, and lifestyle choices that exacerbate the susceptibility.
Take heart attacks, for example.
People blame their parents and genetics for their heart attack. My education of that patient starts with the question, “There are over 200 million adults in the U.S., half of which have coronary artery disease or hypertension. Do you really think we developed the genetic programming to cause half of our population to have disease? We have evolved over millions of years to do some amazing things with our bodies. Evolution did not give us disease. Mankind did.”
Here’s my list of ten things you can do to prevent disease. I write about each extensively in my book, “The Paleo Cardiologist: The Natural Way to Heart Health.”
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