health is a choice Series
Part 2: genes vs habits
Most of us have been taught that genetics are the primary factor that determines our health and longevity. This statement is true, but not in the way we’ve been taught. The classic view is that our genes pre-determine our health, how long we live, and what diseases we might contract. The truth is, our genes don’t pre-determine what happens. Instead, they determine what happens every day depending on how we live. Depending on our habits.
I have known this fact for over two decades. Indeed, it was actually the basis for my first book, The Schwarzbein Principle, which I published in 1999. The Schwarzbein Principle is:
The degenerative diseases of aging are not genetic;
they are caused by metabolic imbalance.
How did I come to this conclusion? First of all, from my knowledge of hormones. Hormones are chemical communicators that tell the cells of the body what to do. As a trained endocrinologist I already knew that hormones regulate every aspect of our physiology.
From my knowledge of biochemistry I also understood how nutrition, sleep, stress, exercise, and the consumption of or exposure to foreign chemicals basically determined what hormones were being produced and secreted, in what amounts, how they acted, and how they interacted with each other. In short, I knew, scientifically, that nutrition and lifestyle habits regulate the hormones that regulate metabolism.
Clinically, I proved the science by having my patients change their habits and noting how doing so rebalanced their metabolism. What was the proof? When they changed their nutrition and lifestyle habits, the various problems my patients had come to see me about in the first place – weight gain, insomnia, fatigue, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol, headaches, depression, anxiety, etc. – resolved without relying on the continuous use of prescription drugs. All of these problems, which are precursors to degenerative disease, are signs and symptoms of metabolic imbalance. [Stick with me and I will teach you all about metabolic imbalance – what it is, what causes it, and how to fix it.]
So, back in the nineties, I knew I was on to something important and that, both scientifically and clinically, I was on solid ground. The fundamental science supported The Schwarzbein Principle. And, seeing consistent clinical results over more than a decade with thousands of patients was compelling.
Even so, I was criticized professionally, because, while I could explain what happened and how it happened, I could not explain scientifically why it happened – why habits were the drivers behind human physiology.
The criticism was understandable. In medicine, it is important to know why things happen the way they do. But, at that time, there was no explanation for “why” that could satisfy my critics. Fortunately, that is no longer the case.
Today, we know why. We have scientific proof.
Since the late 1990s, much has been learned about genetics and the related field of genomics. As you may recall, the human genome was mapped in 2003. A genome is the complete set of genes or genetic material present in a cell or organism. From the evolving knowledge of the genome emerged “epigenomics,” in simple terms, the study of how the genes in our cells behave (gene expression) based on our environment and our habits.
We have always known that genes regulate metabolism. And, we have known that we are born with a fixed (static) set of genes. However, through epigenomics we discovered that, how this static set of genes behaves, is determined by a dynamic set of influences. We learned that there are certain types of proteins (biochemicals) that reside in and around our chromosomes, and it is these proteins that tell our genes how to express themselves, that is, how to behave. It isthese proteins, which are continuously modified by our habits, that tell our genes what cellular activity to engage in.
This is why identical twins with identical DNA do not get identical diseases. It is also why, even though genetics (the heritable sequence of the DNA) plays a role in disease, it does not play the primary role. About 80% of what happens to us is determined by our day-to-day habits, which influence how our genes are expressed – the fundamental premise of my first book and the cornerstone of the Schwarzbein Program.
Indeed, your health is determined primarily by your daily habits. So, now, let’s take a few minutes and focus on habits, on why we do what we do as relates to our health.