Why Do People Get the Diseases of the Country to Which They Move?
Since their mainstream appearance in the 1970s, genes have been blamed for virtually everything: Our inherited musical ear, our beautiful and not so beautiful body features, and especially our illnesses — all products of our genetic code, a “predetermined” life controlled by this invisible hand.
It took only a few years to convince people that they are not in charge of their destiny anymore. Bad hair, bad teeth, great eyes, perfect cheek — you have it or you don’t. While in the beginning genes were mostly responsible for visible body features, we now know that invisible features like chronic diseases might as well be attributed to our unfortunate chromosome mixture.
It’s the bad genes
Although frightening at times, the relief of not being responsible for almost anything in our lives is very convenient and liberating in a sense, because it frees us from the burdening accountability of our own decision-making.
You hear it every day: There’s nothing you can do — it’s the genes. Lose weight, improve your physique, meditate, eat healthy — of course, you can try all of this, but you can’t do something significant about it.
This mindset shows most clearly in the growing number of preventive mastectomy, or breast removal procedures, to avoid breast cancer. The idea is to take action before something happens. The problem though with this thinking is that “faulty genes”, as they are called — don’t need to be necessarily expressed.
Lifestyle changes have a huge impact on gene expression, meaning that whatever you choose to do will reflect in your body either positively or negatively. Think of genes as of a giant library from which your body cells can order any information they like.
If you do things which are sabotaging your health, your cells may choose to express that by ordering an appropriate response from the gene library. The idea is to protect you from harmful action by sending out warnings or symptoms to change your course of direction. If you fail to correct your course — disease kicks in.
Not to punish you, but to protect you. Our genes have stored all information from previous generations for maximum efficiency. Every organism wants to survive and protect itself, therefore, to look at “bad genes” as on a punishment or “bad luck” is extremely oversimplified.
Lifestyle vs. Bad genes
What really happens in your body is — gene regulation. The right term used for this is ‘epigentic regulation of gene expression’ and describes the process in which “epigenetic mechanisms seem to allow an organism to respond to the environment through changes in gene expression” — in other words: epigenetics is the body’s ability to respond to its environment ‘outside of conventional genetics’.
This still relatively new field of genetics, for which the National Health Institute decided to invest more than $190 million to accelerate biomedical research to “help us better understand the role of the environment in regulating genes that protect our health or make us more susceptible to disease”, goes deeply into the environmental and dietary effects and our genomic adaptation.
Our body is not a fixed mechanism with little to no possibility for adaptation— to the contrary — it is a living organism of great sensibility to its surroundings, equipped with an extraordinary refined system capable of responding to challenges of greatest complexity.
Knowing that, you have to wonder if action like preventive surgery really prevents something. It may do so if the causes have been eliminated along with the surgical procedure, but if they haven’t, I greatly doubt disease won’t return and leak back into the system probably more destructive than before.
Cutting out/off a piece of your body will hardly stop your cells from responding to their environment as a whole — it may temporarily delay the response, but medium to long-term they will eventually draw your attention back to the unresolved issue.
Logic tells you, before concentrating on treatment or (extreme) prevention, there must have been a reason, for example, for cancer to occur in the first place. The funny thing though is, when I tell people about a relatively easy disease prevention like eating a plant-based diet, they say eating a plant-based diet is “extreme” and “not for everyone”. Then I wonder: How unextreme is a mastectomy? How unextreme is open-heart surgery? How unextreme is an amputation of a diabetic foot?
Lifestyle changes are the best preventive measures you can possibly take. A 2005 study by Dr. Dean Ornish (an others) showed that prostate cancer cell growth could be inhibited 8 times more by men who adapted a plant-based diet in comparison to those who ate a conventional diet.
Intensive lifestyle changes may affect the progression of prostate cancer - PubMed
Purpose: Men with prostate cancer are often advised to make changes in diet and lifestyle, although the impact of these…
This randomized control trial found that gene expression changed in over 500 genes in just three months, up-regulating the good genes that protect us, and down-regulating the genes that help promote disease by doing nothing else than eating a plant-based diet (Dean Ornish, M.D. at TEDxSF (7 Billion Well, 14:00).
A follow-up study with Nobel Prize winner Dr. Elizabeth H. Blackburn even showed that changes in diet, exercise, social support and stress management may result in longer telomeres, the parts of chromosomes that affect our ageing.
Slowing down ageing and enjoying good health well into old-age is what everybody wants while in reality: “People, including doctors, have an expectation that we will get fatter and sicker as we age. Children are the healthiest, their parents less healthy, and the eldest generation suffers from severe and chronic disease.” (John A. McDougall, The Starch Solution, Introduction p.15)
Somehow we know, although not consciously, that our current lifestyle stands in direct disproportion to a long and healthy life. Knowing that, we find refuge in the comforting gene story which releases us, at least temporarily, from our feeling of guilt. The idea that genes can be influenced from outside does not fit into the “there’s nothing I can do” picture. Although not good news for everyone, the truth is that genes can be influenced from outside — most directly through our lifestyle.
People Get the Diseases of the Country to Which They Move
Dr. John McDougall, a San Francisco based physician, was able to experience this first hand while practicing medicine in Hawaii. He saw that the elderly immigrants from China, Japan, Korea, and the Philippines enjoyed a life without diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, cancer of the breast, prostate, or colon, and “remained trim, active, and medication free into their nineties” while the second generation “were a little heavier and not as healthy” as their parents, the third generation suffered “from the most profound health problems, the same ones I had spent my years learning about during my medical training.” (The Starch Solution, Introduction p.15)
So what had changed? Their genes couldn’t possibly have mutated inside a few decades, therefore the only remaining answer is: their diet. The first, and partly the second generation, ate their traditional food based on rice and vegetables while the third generation had completely absorbed the American way of eating a diet rich in meat, dairy, and processed foods.
In one of his talks, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, PhD weighs in by saying that studies show that migrants, even without mixing their genes, “get the disease of the country to which they move.” It is true that “every single biological event that we experience starts out with a gene, but that does not mean that genes are sitting there, a sort of doing their own thing — these genes have to get expressed, and that’s where nutrition comes into play.”
*** This article expresses the author’s personal views and opinions only, and is not meant to serve as medical advice. Please seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding yours or someone else’s condition. Never delay or disregard professional medical help because of something you’ve read here. All you read on this Site is for informational purposes only. Reliance on any of the information is solely at your own risk. ***