By: Jerry Simon, MD (Medical Supervisor at Crossroads Centre, Antigua.)
As one who did just about every available Genetics course in university I do not deny the importance of genetic diseases. However, when it comes to the diseases that kill us most often in the West today, I deny the myth of the bad gene syndrome. In other words, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, stroke, stomach and intestinal ulcers and even most mental illnesses are determined more by our lifestyle rather than the genes we may or may not have inherited.
Let us take a hard look at cancer. The ones that seem to be more prevalent in our society are cancers of the breast, cervix, prostate, colon, kidney, skin, pancreas and lungs ( not necessarily in that order ). Although genetics does play a role in the development of these diseases, by far the most important factor is the way we live.
Studies show, for example, that Japanese women living in Japan have a very low incidental rate of breast cancer, however in the United States the rate of breast cancer among Japanese American women is practically equal to the high rates seen among Caucasian American women. While in Japan the lifestyle involves more exercise and a diet that consist of fish, vegetables, whole grains, little fat and refined foods; the American lifestyle is more sedentary and consist of diet more like that of a Babylonian king. Interestingly in areas of Japan that are adopting a more Western lifestyle the incidence of breast cancer is increasing.
These findings are not isolated. In a study carried out recently by New Zealand scientists it was shown that as countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa adopt a more Western lifestyle the incidences of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, stroke, gastric and intestinal ulcers and tooth decay are ever becoming greater. For the first in a very long time it is projected that the life expectancy in the United States will decrease as the incidences of childhood obesity, diabetes and hypertension increase.
In an extensive study known as the Danish Twin Studies it was established that genetic factors play less than 25 percent role in how long or healthy a person lives. This should be seen as very good news as we can control the 75 percent-factor lifestyle.
In his study of the so called Blue Zones ( areas in the world where people live the longest and healthiest ), Dan Buettner explored why these people live longer and healthier than the rest of the world. In Ikaria, Greece, the people drink a herbal tea that lowers blood pressure. In Sardinia, Italy, their food and drink are loaded with powerful disease-fighting antioxidants. In Nicoya, Costa Rica, the Meso-American diet of beans, squash and corn tortilla propel people there to reach their 90’s at a rate four times greater than in the United States.
In Loma Linda, California, the Seventh Day Adventists live an extra decade compared to the rest of the American population. They follow a diet inspired by the Bible, Genesis 1:29. This is the concept, where the Creator gives us for food every plant bearing seed and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. Like the Ital Food concept, it is a diet that consist of food that is pure, wholesome and from the earth. It avoids artificial additives and foods produced using artificial chemicals, pesticides and fertilizers.
On average people living in the Blue Zones reach 100 years of age at rates 10 times greater than the general American population.
Buettner found several principles that were common to the Blues Zone regions. If applied to our lives they could make a huge difference; not only to how long we live but to the quality of our existence.
He started by saying we need to move naturally. Be active without thinking about it. Exercise not for the sake of exercising, but find an activity you enjoy and make it fun.
He continues by admonishing us to eat less. Follow the principle of “hara hachi bi” of the Okinawans. That is stop eating when the stomach is about 80 percent full. Eat more plant products and less meat and avoid smoking and alcohol abuse.
Determine your purpose in life, but don’t kill yourself with work and responsibilities. Find time to relax. (Even God rested on the Sabbath day).
Participate in a spiritual community. Take time to pray, meditate, reflect and at least once weekly, fellowship. Put loved ones first and spend quality time with your family circle and extended family.
Finally, be surrounded by people who share positive values of healthy living. At times it may be necessary to move from where you are to a more conducive environment. But what is your life worth?
The quality of your life and health is determined more by the choices that you make rather than the combination of genes you inherited from your parents. I especially like the way Dr. Ben Lerner, who has coached numerous Olympic champions, puts it. He says ” By putting nutrition, exercise, stress and time management together with the wisdom and love of God, I put all the necessary pieces of the puzzle together to create wholeness.”