Genes: A Tale of Two Mice
Genes. Such a hot topic, but oh, so confusing. Patients will walk in clutching 23andMe results looking for translation, others will have been diagnosed with a genetic disease they’ve never heard of and want to know my opinion on the elective surgery they are now contemplating, the one recommended by their geneticist. Pre-pregnant couples come in with full genetic work ups and wonder if there is actionable information that I can apply to their pregnancy-prep protocol.
Unfortunately, when it comes to genes that show you are at risk for a life-threatening disease, there are more questions than answers and more new frontiers than time honored solutions.
The good news is that with some preventative surgeries you really do change your fate. Especially if generation upon generation before you have suffered from a similar disease, i.e. very specific types of breast/ovarian/stomach cancers. These genes are risky to ignore. Action needs to be taken, and while active prevention and lifestyle adjustments can make a difference, sometimes more drastic, more invasive measures need to be seriously considered as well.
But there is more! Still highly confounding are the more subtle genes, the ones that can “maybe” make you fat, hot tempered, headachy, have attention issues or even a bit more susceptible to certain cancers and autoimmune diseases. They are known by letters, like MTHFR, COMT, DAO, GST/GPX, NOS3 and more. How do you know you have them? And if you know you do, then what? Surgery is not often recommended for these anomalies.
That is where – in certain cases – naturopathic medicine’s herbal, lifestyle and dietary support can really help.
Illustrating this is best done with a story of a mouse – actually two – small brown lab mice.
Both were bred with strains of genes that had strong potential for obesity, cancer and heart disease. (PBS’s Nova did a wonderful story about them called A Tale of Two Mice). When we meet these two, one is morbidly obese; the other fit and trim. The secret to their difference was that the fit mouse had been fed special vitamins – yes – vitamins – that were in a form that prevented these genes from “expressing” (aka creating health risk). He was still at risk, but much, much less so while he was taking the vitamins. It turned out that both mice had difficulty with an important chemical process in their body called methylation – and once the vitamins (which were pre-methylated) kicked in, the problem receded.This was one of the first experiments that clearly showed that environmental choices – lifestyle, food, sleep, and targeted supplements of good quality – could make a difference in your level of health risk.
Dr Ben Lynch, a naturopath, has recently written a terrific book, It’s called Dirty Genes – I highly recommend it. that dives deeply into this topic. It describes many of the genes that you can control (and describes how!) in order to shift your body toward a happier healthier you.
We clearly have control over many of our genes through the choices we make in how we live our lives. Empowering indeed!