Many people are haunted by their family medical history. We’ve all got skeletons in the closet, whether it’s a fatal heart attack, cancer, stroke, broken hip, migraines, diabetes, arthritis or dementia. But how much of it is truly genetic and how much is due to lifestyle?
In a new book, The Gene Therapy Plan, New York City oncologist, internist and hematologist Mitchell L. Gaynor, MD, explains groundbreaking research in this intersection of biology and behavior. There is a growing understanding of just how nutrition and environment affect the human body—and it all involves genetics.
Scientific studies have revealed that lifestyle impacts the genes that control the body’s mechanisms, Gaynor explains. Two new sciences have emerged—nutrigenetics and ecogenetics—focused on helping us avoid the worst of killer diseases. “We know so much more about genetics now,” Gaynor says. “There’s a preponderance of studies coming out rapidly.”
Studies reveal that inflammation—which triggers chronic diseases like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer—is directly tied to our genes. Cancer, for example, is a by-product of cell-damaging inflammation. And while cancer rates are rising dramatically, the data shows only 10 percent of all cancer is truly genetic.
We can control our cancer risk every day by our actions, says Gaynor. “The human body has thousands and thousands of genes that can promote or suppress cancer,” he explains. “We have genes that can detoxify the body or inflame the immune system, genes that affect how we metabolize sugar. All of this affects our risk for cancer.”
Food + Exercise = Gene Therapy
There’s good reason why the right foods and exercise keep us healthy. We’re tweaking our genes with every forkful, step and moment. “Each of us is doing gene therapy on ourselves every day, based on the food we eat,” Gaynor explains. “We’re either doing the body good or harm.”
According to Gaynor, exercise is a form of gene therapy as well. “A number of genes get turned on when we exercise,” he explains. Exercise is exceptionally good at enhancing the birth of healthy new cells. Exercise also controls inflammation in the body, blood sugar levels and the “hunger hormone” leptin—which helps prevent overeating, adds Gaynor.
Gaynor describes his phyto gene defense against cancer as “a mixed cocktail of vitamin E tocotrienols, lycopene and selenium, which helps keep dormant tumors hibernating for good.” Tocotrienols are disease-fighting antioxidants that are unique to vitamin E.
Getting this trio of nutrients in food is much more beneficial than taking three vitamin supplements, says Gaynor. Also, research shows that getting the combination of nutrients together—in one meal—provides stronger cancer prevention than eating them separately.
In one study, researchers gave vitamin E, lycopene and selenium to mice with early stage prostate cancer. They observed that when mice got the trio of nutrients together, the tumors went dormant, which means they quit growing.
Clearly, this research supports the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet—rich in fresh fish, vegetables and healthy fats. Lycopene is found in tomatoes and tomato products. Selenium is found in Brazil nuts, tuna, meat, fish and eggs. Rice bran oil is rich in vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids. All eight forms of vitamin E are found in rice bran oil, which makes it particularly powerful, says Gaynor.
It’s all part of the evolving science of genes and longevity, he adds. “We’re seeing this same concept applied in oncology, with immune therapies and epigenetic therapies that target specific genes to treat cancer. It’s all very exciting.”