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Do Genes Determine Your Health?

A common question about ageing is whether or not genes have an important role to play; in other words does it matter who your ancestors are and does that have much bearing on how long you will live? Obviously, if you inherit a gene for a fatal illness it does. If you inherit a disorder which makes it difficult for your body to perform at optimum function, that too will play a part in how long you survive. Your family history will tell you this.

But the question remains: given a first rate set of genes, can you control when you will die, even in part, or is it already pre-programmed? Obviously it is an important point because if you can influence the outcome of an inherited health trait, or override it altogether, then truly your health and survival is in your own hands. The external or environmental factors that we bring to bear on issues can compensate for any destructive genetic material we have been provided with. The question is: can it be done?

The answer is slightly complicated but interesting. It's fashionable today, of course, to believe that everything is in the genes. But genes don't always show up. The gene for blue eyes, for instance, is subordinate to the gene for brown eyes. So if you get one of each (one from your mother and one from your father), the brown eyes will win. This is called a dominant gene (blue eyes are a recessive gene). But then it is found that sometimes even the dominant gene doesn't show up as it should. So scientists are beginning to talk of gene "expression" (whether it will come into play or not).

Many external factors will influence whether or not a gene expresses itself fully or partially. So really all this is saying that environmental factors are very important and genes are not the be-all-and-end-all, though science continues to peddle this silly story. Let us make this clearer by inventing an example: supposing that mother eating a lot of garlic while pregnant will suppress the brown eye gene (this is not true, we made it up to illustrate a point!). Which then controls the eye colour, genes or the garlic-rich diet? The answer is that is doesn't matter; because you can't change the genes, but you have the choice of eating garlic or not. So only the garlic is important. Do you see?

Where does this leave us in anti-ageing science? There are many genetic factors that are being studied right now. One is in relation to calorie restricted diets. We have remarked elsewhere that calorie restriction (CR) is the only known way to increase maximum life span (as opposed to average life expectancy). Dr Stephen R. Spindler, professor at the Department of Biochemistry at the University of California, Riverside, has studied the effect of long and short term CR diets on the expression of some 11,000 age-related genes in animals. He found something remarkable and published it in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (September 11, 2001). Not only was the age-benefit effect of CR seen over and over again but genetically determined age changes could be reversed. Till then, science had assumed that the genes took effect but the resulting damaging changes were blocked by CR. What Dr. Spindler showed, using sophisticated microchip technology, was that the expression of many pro-ageing genes was actually reversed.

The good news was that this occurred even in elderly animals. Because the effect was not merely blocking damage but undoing gene expression, they became younger animals, so to speak. Naturally, some genes decrease their expression due to ageing; Spindler found 26. These were genes which protect against cancer, enable proper DNA maintenance and several liver function genes. The best news of all was that even short-term calorie restriction could produce significant pro-survival health changes. Of the 46 liver function genes studied in mice, 27 benefited from a year or more of CR dieting, but 19 of this 27 (55%) changed for the better after just 4 weeks of CR.

It is interesting to note that Dr. Spindler found that 40% of the genes that increased expression with age were associated with inflammatory changes and 25% associated with oxidative stress. We have pointed out on page 000 that inflammation is one of the key processes of ageing; according to this finding, it's more critical than oxidative damage that is supposed to head the list of ageing causes. No wonder food restriction helps survival, if it reduces inflammation and other stresses. It would also explain the benefits of Luigi Cornaro's diet and indeed any detox (low allergy) plan.

MY ADVICE: forget about genes and don't use them as an excuse to be lazy about your health. You can start reversing the expression of known and as yet unknown age-related genes right away. Read tmy new book DIET WISE fast, if you haven't already done so, and take your love of life seriously: do what we tell you!

HOT TIP

We can't recommend full CR dieting for humans; the levels used in the animal experiments were very drastic. But you could consider three immediate actions:

  1. Reduce your calorie intake significantly, even if not to the point of hunger, starting NOW.
  2. Consider a 1, 2 or 3-day fast as a substitute for CR dieting.
  3. A weekly one-day grape/juice or full fast. That's 52 days a year of knocking back gene expression!

Look out for drugs that will mimic CR diets. None are yet on the market but there is a race to get them to you.

To learn more about genes and ageing and the work of Dr Stephen R. Spindler, visit: www.lifespangenetics.com. His work has been funded by the Life Extension Foundation: www.lef.org.

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