We inherit our genes from our parents and with those genes, sometimes we inherit disease. This is the nature side of the discussion. Genetically inherited diseases can be debilitating, painful and deadly. Sickle-cell anemia, Cystic Fibrosis, Tay-Sachs, Huntington, Marfan … we know these names and we are actively seeking ways to solve these genetic disorders through scientific research. This is noble work indeed.
We also inherit other aspects of our health, like our ideas about nutrition, what causes disease and how to cure our ailments. This is the nurture side of the discussion. These we inherit from our elders, friends, schools and society. This inheritance can also lead to debilitating, painful and sometimes deadly diseases. Hypertension. Type-2 Diabetes, Atherosclerosis, COPD, Cirrhosis … we know these names too, yet we seem to be actively seeking ways to increase their hold on our societal health through the negation of known science. This is scary work indeed.
Our work needs to be to bring the truth to light. Instead of holding on to our old ideas about what food should look like - perhaps it is time to accept the science that is already known. It is not a secret.
There are no questions about the science. There are no doubts about the dangers. There is no need for us to die of these diseases of affluence.
We need to address the greatest disease burdens in our society, diseases of too much food, diseases known to be linked to a seismic shift toward diets that rely heavily on animal products. (1)
While we cannot change our genes, we can change our ideas. The top fifteen leading causes of death are linked to faulty ideas about nutritional health. We have to power to clarify those ideas, the power to share the science, the power to transform the health of our entire planet.
Like with any inheritance, if we invest in new growth, we stand a better chance of passing something of greater value onto the next generation. In genetics this growth could lead to the eradication of genetic disorders. For everything else, this new growth is found in the exploration of current science, in the contemplation of new truths and in the application of new ideas.
Our genes account for between ten and twenty percent of our risk for developing disease. Only a few decades ago society was concerned about killers like genetic disorders and infectious diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis. “Now, the killers are largely lifestyle diseases: heart disease, cancer, and chronic lung disease. Is this simply because antibiotics have enabled us to live long enough to suffer from degenerative diseases? No. The emergence of these epidemics of chronic disease was accompanied by dramatic shifts in dietary patterns.” (2)
The phrase ‘It runs in my family’ is true in that eating habits and beliefs about nutrition are most definitely learned when we are young. There are other things that ‘run in families’, like what disease is and how it can invade and destroy the human body. You have the power to break the walls built by your predecessors. You have the power to explore the science and change your ideas. You decide what your health can be. Use your power to blow up old ideas!
“The truth is that adhering to just four simple healthy lifestyle factors can have a strong impact on the prevention of chronic diseases: not smoking, not being obese, getting half an hour of exercise a day, and eating healthier – defined as consuming more fruits, veggies, and whole grains and less meat. Those four factors alone were found to account for 78 percent of chronic disease risk.” (3) Studies have shown that following these four tenants presented by Dr. Greger could lower your risk of heart attack by 90% and risk of stroke by half! (4)
Even if you are in possession of some ‘bad’ genes, do not despair. Although nutrition cannot transform your DNA, it can impact how well your DNA is protected and strengthened throughout your life. When we are born, we begin to deteriorate immediately. There are little protective ‘hats’ on the ends of our DNA which begin eroding from our first breath. These hats are known as are telomeres, and they are the genetic body guards who are on duty from our first to our last breath. This is hard work and as they tire from constant battle against toxic invaders, they relinquish some of their duties, eventually retiring from the job completely. Here’s the rub – when they retire, we retire – permanently.
Once more, nutrition comes to the rescue! Dr. Dean Ornish has shown that a diet of whole, plant-based foods can actually boost telomere activity (5). Even at a five year follow up study, living a WFPB lifestyle was shown to not only stop shrinkage of the telomeres but it actually helped stimulate new growth (6), which translates in the real world as a longer and healthy life! There is no other intervention shown to have this impact on our telomeres.
If you are still on the fence about the impact that your nutritional choices can have on your health, think about twins. If everything is up to our genes, then twins should have the same diseases no matter where or how they were raised. Whilst genetic disorders would be inherited by both siblings, the ‘idea’ inherited diseases differ greatly. In a 2014 study (7), genetically identical twins who had been separated at birth developed different diseases based on their lifestyle and nutritional choices. Definitely more nurture than nature for our leading killers today.
There is one universal unifier, a great equalizer at our finger tips when it comes to the power each of us holds over our health, our diet. “Unlike with medications, there isn’t one kind of diet for optimal liver function and a different diet to improve our kidneys. A heart-healthy diet is a brain-healthy diet is a lung-healthy diet. The same diet that helps prevent cancer just so happens to be the same diet that may help prevent type 2 diabetes and every other cause of death on the top-fifteen list.” (8)
Eat Well. Protect Your Health. Nurture Your World.
You no longer are beholden to the ideas you were fed as a child. You no longer need to swallow what is not palatable. The power is in your ideas, your choices, your fork. So, what are your ideas about nutrition? Health? Try this activity created by Dr. T. Collin Campbell to explore what you believe, why you believe it and finally if you wish to continue believing it. Dr. Campbell challenges his students in the Plant-Based Certificate course to honestly explore their ideas about food and health. 6D Living has expanded this activity to challenge us all to explore all areas of our life and the ideas we hold as truths.
Note: this post was originally published in 2021
1. Lim SS, Vos T, Flaxman AD, et al. A comparative risk assessment of burden of disease and injury attributable to 67 risk factors and risk factor clusters in 21 regions, 1990-2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010 [published correction appears in Lancet. 2013 Apr 13;381(9874):1276] [published correction appears in Lancet. 2013 Feb 23;381(9867):628. AlMazroa, Mohammad A [added]; Memish, Ziad A [added]]. Lancet. 2012;380(9859):2224-2260. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(12)61766-8
2. Greger, M., Stone, G., & Greger, M. (2015). How not to die: Discover the foods scientifically proven to prevent and reverse disease. p.5
3. Greger, M., Stone, G., & Greger, M. (2015). How not to die: Discover the foods scientifically proven to prevent and reverse disease. p.7
4. Ford ES, Bergmann MM, Kröger J, Schienkiewitz A, Weikert C, Boeing H. Healthy living is the best revenge: findings from the European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition-Potsdam study. Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(15):1355-1362. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2009.237
5. Ornish D, Lin J, Daubenmier J, et al. Increased telomerase activity and comprehensive lifestyle changes: a pilot study [published correction appears in Lancet Oncol. 2008 Dec;9(12):1124]. Lancet Oncol. 2008;9(11):1048-1057. doi:10.1016/S1470-2045(08)70234-1
6. Ornish D, Lin J, Chan JM, et al. Effect of comprehensive lifestyle changes on telomerase activity and telomere length in men with biopsy-proven low-risk prostate cancer: 5-year follow-up of a descriptive pilot study. Lancet Oncol. 2013;14(11):1112-1120. doi:10.1016/S1470-2045(13)70366-8s
7. Kulshreshtha A, Goyal A, Veledar E, et al. Association between ideal cardiovascular health and carotid intima-media thickness: a twin study. J Am Heart Assoc. 2014;3(1):e000282. Published 2014 Jan 2. doi:10.1161/JAHA.113.000282
8. Greger, M., Stone, G., & Greger, M. (2015). How not to die: Discover the foods scientifically proven to prevent and reverse disease. p.11