“Should I have my DNA tested to see what diseases I’m at risk for?”
This is a question I hear more and more often these days. And I understand the appeal. It’s human nature to want to know as much about ourselves as possible. DNA testing is a great way to get some of those answers.
So if you want to try it out, I’m not going to discourage you. But I do have a couple of observations to make.
First, you should be aware that not all of these tests are accurate. Sure, they’ve gotten better over the years. But a lot of folks are still getting very different results when they send their DNA to two or more companies because of “complex forms of genetic variation.”
Second, some of my patients worry excessively about their gene pool. Will they end up with Mom’s Alzheimer’s, Aunt Nancy’s heart disease or Grandpa’s prostate cancer? Adding a few more potential diseases to the table won’t do much to ease their concerns.
In either case, these tests could lead to a lot of excess worry. And for no good reason!
I always tell my patients… The genes you inherit have little to do with your ultimate destiny unless it is an autosomal dominant disease where if you are passed the gene from one parent alone you can get the disease; think Huntington’s disease or Marfan syndrome.
They may have been passed on to you, but they don’t know what to do without some sort of guidance. This is where something called your “epigenome” comes in. It acts as a command center and determines which genes get turned on, and which get turned off.
This actually gives you a great deal of control when it comes to gene expression. It gives you the ability to switch “bad genes” off and “good ones” on.
And you won’t believe how easy it is to jumpstart this process.
Turn on Your Disease-Fighting Genes
Just about everything you do in your life has a positive or negative effect on your epigenome. Sit around and do nothing all day, and “bad genes” may be activated.
Get up and get moving, and you can shut those down while triggering activation of “good genes. “
For example, people who carry the FTO (obesity-promoting) gene variant have a 22% higher risk of obesity than those without it. But when people with this gene take part in regular physical activity, it reduces expression of the gene. Ultimately, it cuts their risk of obesity by about 30% compared to their inactive counterparts.
But exercise doesn’t just change the expression of your fat genes. Levels of physical activity also alter epigenetics involved in cancer, inflammatory disease, diabetes, heart disease and more.
In other words, remaining physically active does a whole lot more than just boost your heart health, lung capacity, metabolism and strength. It also influences the action of genes that could potentially save you from most of today’s deadliest health concerns.
Shut Down your Cancer Genes with Broccoli… and more!
The foods you eat can also play a positive – or negative – role on your epigenome. When you fill up with unhealthy fats and foods that are sugary, processed or refined, it’s going to turn on harmful gene expressions.
But fill your meals with fresh, whole foods and it can do just the opposite. They can activate genes that are protective for your health.
For instance, foods that contain sulforaphane can turn on tumor inhibitor genes. This explains why cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, cauliflower, radishes and cabbage are such potent cancer fighters. So make sure to enjoy plenty of fresh, organic cruciferous veggies every day.
The epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) in green tea can also reactivate tumor inhibiting genes. (Unfortunately, not all green teas contain appreciable amounts of this compound. Your best bet is to use loose, organic green tea leaves. Or, you can take a green tea supplement.)
Resveratrol, found in grape skins, is especially notable for being able to turn on your SIRT1 gene. This is commonly called the “youth gene.” It helps your body produce more mitochondria… the energy factories that keep your cells powered up to youthful levels.
For the biggest impact, I suggest supplementing with about 100 mg. of resveratrol each day. You can add 25 mg. of pterostilbene (a close cousin to resveratrol) to amplify the effects.
Curcumin, the main compound in turmeric, is one of my favorites. Not only is it one of the best inflammation fighters available to you. It also has numerous epigenetic effects. It works on many different levels to change gene expression related to cancer, inflammation and Alzheimer’s disease.
To make sure you’re getting the full benefits that curcumin offers, I recommend taking it in supplement form. Look for one that is standardized to 90 to 95 percent total curcuminoids. And make sure it includes bioperine, a black pepper extract that substantially increases bioavailability.
Remember, in general your genes are not your destiny. It’s how you live your life with diet, lifestyle and in the environment around you in turning on the health generating genes and turning off the disease-producing genes. While regulating gene expression works best when you are younger, even minor improvements in gene expression in your older years can have an impact on your health.
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