Vail Daily health: Do our genes determine our health? |

Vail Daily health: Do our genes determine our health?

Dr. Elina Chernyak
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado –Thanks to recent advances in genetic research, we now know that our genes are not necessarily the architects of our health. Rather, our health depends more on what we do to our genes. Since the early 1980s, much has changed in our understanding of the role of the human genome in determining our health as we grow older.

We all look pretty similar to one another, and we also appear to be fairly similar within a narrow range of function. But we are not so similar at the biochemical level, according to research that gave rise to the concept of what Dr. Roger Williams, a University of Texas biochemist and leading researcher in Functional Medicine, described as “Biochemical Individuality.”

He described genetotrophic disease, which can result from low levels of specific nutrients necessary for improved expression of genes. In other words, the lack of sufficient amounts of particular nutrients resulted in imperfect expression of certain genes, giving rise to disease. The manner in which all genes are expressed is related to their exposure to specific nutrients as well as environmental factors.

The Human Genome Project is permitting us to recognize some unanticipated aspects of molecular genetics and molecular biology. The impact of nutrients on the expression of these genetic characteristics results in our diversified genetic potentials.

We do not have just one “us” locked in our genes. There are many “wes” only one of which is expressed at any moment. Exposure to various nutritional and environmental factors alters the expression of our genes, producing what we call the phenotype, or the observable characteristics of an individual.

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Micronutrients in our diet, as well as proteins, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins and minerals, influence the expression of genes. Everything we eat has an impact on our genes.

Lipoic acid, N-acetyl-cysteine, vitamin E and coenzyme Q10, for example, are known to have an impact on the modulation of gene expression. So, by designing an appropriate diet for an individual based on his or her genetic needs, and by reducing antigens to which the person is sensitive (such as gluten in wheat or casein in dairy products), we can improve a person’s immune system.

Doctors of functional medicine, such as myself, can use certain biological markers to evaluate dysfunctional metabolism and those markers may provide insight into where gene expression is increasing the risk or likelihood of various diseases, including heart disease, arthritis, and cancer.

In other words, we now have access to a genetic roadmap that can tell us where our own individual genetics may take us in the future. In the true spirit of preventative medicine, we can modify nutritional and environmental exposures today in order to help avoid potentially bigger and harder to solve problems in the future. This is an illustration of how much flexibility there is in our genes based on the decisions we make and the counsel we receive.

Many chronic symptoms, for which no clear diagnosis exists, are early warning signs of poorly expressed genetic characteristics. If we recognize the symptoms early on, we may be able to modify the course of that dysfunction, improve outcome, and reduce illness. Nutrition, and its impact on this messenger system, is a tool that I can use to try to restore balance. Making lifestyle choices and environmental modification to match the person’s genetic need are good medicine.

We are coming full circle – to the recognition that the ways we eat, think, act and believe manipulate the phenotypic expression of our genes during our lives. Those factors are much more important in the long run than the medicine we take or the surgery we have.

Herein lies another prime example of the effectiveness of integrative medicine – a bridge crossing a chasm between traditional medicine and nutritional supplements. Emerging from the research are modern discoveries of how in so many ways we depend on specific nutrients to promote functional physiology. If we expect to live healthy lives for eight, nine or 10 decades, we must heed the specific nutrient requirements of our bodies.

These are exciting times in medicine. We have moved beyond a philosophy that advised, “Wait until it is broken and try to fix it,” toward molecular preventive medicine, which is the basis of functional medicine and the patient-centered philosophy.

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