A few years ago, a patient came in with some unexplained symptoms. She’d been to the hospital twice, and even had a small surgery that didn’t help the problem. Bad as that was, she’d also gotten some bad news on a related genetic test. You can imagine she was pretty scared.
I told her: “Epigenetics is your friend.”
Translated: Your genes are not your destiny. Your choices can protect against, prevent or override the genetic cards in your hand.
With that in mind, I was gratified to read a New York Times story confirming the power of lifestyle choice on health outcomes — even with uncongenial genes.
Researchers, publishing in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, found that lifestyle choices cut in half the risk of heart diseases (heart attack, coronary bypass, death from heart disease), even in people with high genetic risk.
This is huge. As the author notes, “lifestyle changes are as powerful as, if not more powerful than, many drugs we recommend and pay billions of dollars for all the time.”
What were those lifestyle changes? Not a single surprising thing. Not a one.
- Don’t smoke. You knew that.
- Don’t be obese. (Overweight is okay — and it really is possible to be healthy at every size.)
- Exercise, even just once a week.
- Eat more fruits, veggies, nuts, whole grains, fish and dairy. Eat less processed crap and sugar.
Getting on board with any single item on the list makes a difference. And the more you do, the lower your risk. Even if your genes put you at risk, doing three or four of those things cuts your risk by nearly 50 percent.
Here’s the take-home message from the New York Times article:
“These results should encourage us that genetics do not determine everything about our health. Changes in lifestyle can overcome much of the risk our DNA imposes.”
Your health is in your hands. You can do it. Really.