It wasn’t too long ago that scientists believed that mapping the human genome would provide us with the answers to the mysteries of life and lead to the cure for many diseases. Well, the human genome project was completed in 2003, and although a few gene technologies have been developed to help some rare diseases, it turns out that our genes are less like a static and unchanging map and more like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” series.
Choose Your Own Adventure
You see, instead of our genetic story being written in stone – i.e. “You have this gene, therefore you will have this disease,” the story is more of a complex interplay of gene switches that are turned on and off by our environment and our choices. Like the “Choose Your Own Adventure” book series where the choices that you make affect the actions of the protagonist and the outcome of the story, your lifestyle choices and environment have a profound effect on how your gene story plays out. And it is this part that fascinates me – YOU decide the outcome of your story.
What’s on My Genetic Map?
Personally, I have delved deep into my own genetics to see which lifestyle pathways may be more or less beneficial for my health. With cancer on both sides of my family including 3 out of 4 of my first-degree relatives, that is a major concern. But then I think of my grandfather who survived 3 different types of cancers and lived well into his 90s. What contributed to his longevity despite these serious illnesses? Most of my female relatives experienced estrogen-dominant illness such as cancer or fibroids. Why is that? Both of my grandparents that lived into old age had neurological issues. How can I avoid cognitive decline and dementia as I age? I witnessed a first-degree relative with years of positive autoimmune markers and a non-specific diagnosis spiral into complete disability when faced with mold illness. Do I have the same susceptibilities to autoimmune illness and mold toxicity? And then there was my own lifelong struggle with adverse reactions to chemicals that left me wondering what cards I was dealt when I faced my own chronic health challenge.
Genomic analysis was still costly when I first started exploring this area more than 10 years ago, so I started with what I could afford and what was most pertinent to me at the time. With two first-degree relatives facing ovarian and breast cancer and my own personal history of uterine fibroids – all estrogen-dominant conditions – my first stop was to look at genes involved in estrogen metabolism. Sure enough, I discovered that genetically I am less able to process and safely clear estrogen metabolites, leaving me at higher risk for these diseases if I do not do anything to choose my own adventure and optimize the outcome.
Personalized Prevention and Lifestyle Medicine
This is where lifestyle medicine and prevention come in – an area I have focused my career on. Neither of my relatives were BRCA positive (which is one of the more penetrant genes – meaning the story is more written-in-stone, although still responds to lifestyle choices) so I did not have any prophylactic procedures. But I am very mindful of my exposure to estrogens.
This means I will not use prescription hormone therapy and I do my best to minimize exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), particularly xenoestrogens which are chemicals that have estrogen-like effects. Xenoestrogens can be found in products we use in everyday life. They are in personal care products (shampoo, makeup, nail polish, lotions, etc), food, plastics including those that are used as food containers, insecticides, cleaning products, furnishings and building materials, and on and on. This is part of the reason why having a detoxed clean lifestyle is so important to me. “Resilient Health: How to Thrive in Our Toxic World” goes into detail on how to avoid EDCs in all of these areas.
In addition to reducing exposure, I also support processing and elimination of estrogens and other chemicals by optimizing my detoxification system. This includes choosing the right foods – did someone say cruciferous vegetables? I eat broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, kale, bok choy, cabbage or some other food in the brassica family daily and also supplement with sulforaphane – a compound found in these foods that can upregulate (turn on) genes that help to process harmful estrogens and get them out of the body. I also support my detoxification system in many ways that I share on this blog, social media, and more fully outlined in “Resilient Health”
Many other lifestyle choices also help to reduce the risk of developing cancer, so I make sure to incorporate those as well – including physical activity, meditation, limiting alcohol consumption, limiting exposure to hormones from animal products, optimizing glucose and insulin regulation, getting adequate vitamin D, and keeping with the rhythms of nature to get consistent night-time sleep.
Empowerment Through Awareness, Assessment, and Action
Rather than being fearful of my genetics, I feel empowered that I can do many things to shape the outcome of my story. I believe in the three-step approach that I outline in my book – Awareness, Assessment, and Action. Using the tools of genetics I’m aware of my predispositions. I can then assess what environmental and lifestyle factors play a role in turning these genes on or off. And then I can take action by addressing those factors to optimize my health.
A New Tool for Personalized Action- IntellxxDNA
Since technology has advanced so much in the last decade, I recently took an even deeper dive into my genomics – looking at genetic factors that influence inflammation, response to infection, risks for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis and more.
My past attempts to look at these genetic factors using commonly used testing kits led me to little actionable information. It was like “You have these genes that make you more likely to have Alzheimer’s Disease. And you have these genes that make you less likely to have Alzheimer’s disease. Now what?” Needless to say, I was not recommending these direct-to-consumer tests to my patients as they seemed to cause them more worry and confusion.
But now I’ve found a tool in IntellxxDNA that not only can provide information on your gene risks, but also what actions you can take to mitigate those risks. This tool even gave some insight as to how I might respond to coronavirus infection! I was already incorporating many of the actions needed to reduce my risks for many chronic diseases, and seeing the evidence further reinforced my positive actions. For instance, I was surprised to see that I have some genes that predispose me to obesity – but my lifestyle choices have been able to keep that at bay.
Through this tool, I also learned of some genetic risk factors that encouraged me to reinvigorate health practices that I had let slide (like taking targeted supplements) and reinforced the need for additional lifestyle changes (like increasing the intensity of my physical activity) so that I can stay well as I age. Aware of the terrain on my map, I can choose my own journey towards longevity and continued health and vitality.
If you’d like to learn more about how IntellxxDNA can help you optimize your health, and you live in or can visit my practice in California, you can schedule a 10-minute complimentary call here. If you are outside of California, contact IntellxxDNA to find a provider near you. I truly believe that use of this knowledge can be life-changing!