Do Genes Cause Disease?
In conventional medicine there is so much emphasis placed on genes. A lot is asked about your family history, certain genes are said to be associated with certain diseases, and they even spent 10 years and 3 billion dollars mapping out the entire genome. They thought that by doing this they would find the genes associated with all the different diseases we suffer from as a society. They didn’t. This is because aside from a few types of diseases (Sickle Cell Anemia, Tay Sachs Disease, etc.) that people are born with, there are no genes that tell us whether we will get a disease or not. Some people may have a predisposition to their genes expressing themselves in ways that we call disease, but they only do this if they are put in an environment or given the instructions to do so. Our genes are not preprogrammed to “cause” a disease.
Early work showing that we can influence our genetic expression by changing our environment (and by environment I mean the food we eat, the toxins we are exposed to, the stress we experience) was done by a guy named Dr. Bruce Lipton. Lipton has a PhD in Developmental Biology, has taught at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine, and has done research at Penn State and Stanford University Medical Center. One of the most fascinating experiments that Lipton did was showing how our thoughts and state of mind can affect our gene expression.
To put things simply, Dr. Lipton put human cells in Petri dishes and in some of them he put chemicals that our bodies produce when we are experiencing negative emotions and negative attitudes, in others he put chemicals that are secreted when we feel positive feelings or have positive attitudes. He found that the he could influence the expression of the genes in the cells by altering the chemicals he put in them. Not surprisingly the cells were healthier when they were around the positive emotion chemicals and they became dysfunctional and diseased when they were surrounded by the negative emotion chemicals.
These experiments prove that our genes can be influenced by their environment and that no matter what set of genes we are born with we can change the way they express themselves to get better health by changing the environment they are in. Dr. Lipton has shown that just having more positive thoughts and emotions can have huge impacts on genetic expression, but since his experiments it has been shown that many different facets of our personal environments can have positive or negative impacts on our health. By changing our lifestyle and personal environments we can have a direct influence on whether our genes express themselves in a way that creates dysfunction and disease or lasting health.
You may be asking that if we know this then why does conventional medicine continue to approach things in a gene centered way? Sadly, just like most things in our capitalist society, conventional medicine is setup based on profit. The products they sell are treatments for things that people have been told they have no control over. Therefore, we are told that health is based on if we get a good set of genes or not. If conventional medicine were to embrace the fact that we can influence our genes expression by living in a way that only causes genes to express themselves in healthy ways, then their product would greatly suffer. It is not that the people in conventional medicine are evil, it is just the way the system is set up. Upton Sinclair said, “It is hard to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it.”
So, since we cannot rely on conventional medicine to tell us how to create healthy gene expression then we must become knowledgeable in how to do this ourselves. Of course, there are many people who can help you do this. Knowledgeable health coaches, chiropractors, naturopaths, and other health experts can guide you. If we, as consumers, start demanding this from our health care providers and stop paying for the care we don’t want then we will shift the thinking in medicine. For a profit driven system to work it must make a profit. If that profit starts to take a hit because the consumer wants something different then the industry will respond accordingly.
The moral of the story is to not fear your genes. Just because your mother and grandmother had a certain condition does not mean that you will. You just need to do what is necessary to make sure your body is in the right environment. This is similar to poker. We are all dealt cards that we had no control over, but what those cards are has no indication of whether you will win the hand or not. It’s not the cards you are dealt, it’s how you play the hand. In the words of Dr. Mark Hyman, a leader in lifestyle medicine, “your genes load the gun, but your environment pulls the trigger”.