How You Can Reverse a Family History of Disease

Have you ever noticed how many diseases have family history listed as one of the top risk factors? Heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimers disease are just a small handful of the diseases that have family history listed near the top of the list.

Whats really scary, though, is that a health problem in one generation will often impact more than just the children of that generation.

Years ago, researchers found that laboratory animals deficient in the mineral zinc will develop an immune defect. And this immune deficiency is passed on to the offspring. Whats really interesting, though, is that even if the subsequent generations are given the regular allowance of zinc, the immune defect persisted for four generations before they were able to correct it. All this occurred because the first generation was deficient.

So it is not just your mom and dads health problems that are important, but all of your great, great grandparents needs as well. Many argue that our family history is purely genetic and, therefore, cant be changed. But medicine is finding that our health decisions can actually alter our genes.

Consider that identical twins, carrying the same genes, can have completely different health histories. One might be totally healthy. The other might have cancer or mental illness. Obviously, their genetic code cannot account for the difference. However, alterations in the expression of their genes could.

Your genes are responsible for everything made by your body. They determine how hormones, enzymes, and proteins (to name just a few) are made, and how much.

What were now discovering is that these creating and regulating duties can be blocked or altered. For instance, some genes can be altered so they make too much of their product, perhaps a carcinogen like estrogen. Or a gene that over-produces proteins might hopelessly clog an assembly line, disrupting your cellular functions. On the other hand, impeded production might withhold necessary hormones to other cells, which causes them to malfunction as well. You can see how easy it is to throw off your mechanics.

Because of all these different possibilities, scientists have developed an entire field of study around the function of genes called epigenetics. Epigenetics has discovered that our genes are particularly susceptible to harm from a particular type of substance — environmental chemicals. Everything from pesticides and herbicides to cleaners and drugs can influence your gene expression without any alteration in your genetic code. And this expression, which often includes disease, can be passed on through multiple generations.

What this means is that your cancer could have been caused by your mother or grandmothers exposure to an environmental poison 50 years ago. And it could have happened without damage to their genetic code. I cant tell you how many times I’ve had people who have led very healthy lives tearfully cry, How could this happen to me?

Michael Skinner and his colleagues at the University of Washington further confirmed this connection to other generations. They found that mother rats exposed to hormone-mimicking chemicals during pregnancy gave birth to four successive generations of male offspring with significantly reduced fertility. Only the first generation of mothers was exposed to a toxin, yet through four generations, the toxic effects could still be detected.

Skinners work suggests that the chemicals alter a natural biochemical process called methylation. When methylation is functioning properly, it protects your DNA. But Skinner finds that toxic chemicals can attach themselves to your DNA and alter the methylation without causing a mutation. When the methylation is altered, it changes the behavior and expression of your DNA.

I’ve told you in the past about methylation. When it is defective, it can cause all kinds of problems in humans, including autism and many chronic diseases.

One of the worst chronic diseases is cancer. Its been known since 1983 that cancer cells have unusually low levels of DNA methylation. In 1900, cancer deaths per 100,000 people was 67.7. That number jumped to 123 by 1940. It almost doubled again to 208 by 2000. These numbers directly coincide with the incredible rise in prescription drug use, industrial pollution, and the release of thousands of man-made chemicals into the environment. According to these figures, were on the precipice of a huge explosion in cancer deaths.

Look at how these statistics work in individual cancers. Were currently witnessing a national pandemic of breast cancer. One in seven women is likely to develop it (it was one in nine just a few years ago). Prostate cancer is not far behind. In fact, 100% of all men get microscopic prostate cancer by age 80. And there is some evidence suggesting these two cancers are genetically connected.

Skinner believes that his findings in rats could explain the dramatic rise in breast and prostate cancers in humans. The cumulative effects of multiple toxins over several generations may now be taking their toll.

Because many diseases are caused by genetic factors, you might think there is nothing you can do to stop them. But there is. In fact, there are several things you can do. Were learning that some nutrients actually work on the genetic level. So it is possible that the devastating effects of these poisons could be undone.

Action to Take:(1) While you cant get rid of the chemicals in the environment, you can reduce the amount you willfully put into your body. I think it is vital you eat only organic, non-genetically modified foods, avoid chemically based drugs (whenever possible), and do not cook or store any food in soft plastic.

(2) You also need to protect your DNA as best you can. First, you need to evaluate your ability to methylate with two simple blood tests: homocysteine and MMA (methylmalonic acid). The lower your homocysteine is, the better. While lab reference ranges go up to 12 (and sometimes higher), I think that 8.0 should be your target.

(3) Once you have your blood-test results, work to lower both your homocysteine and your MMA. Two nutrients in particular will help you do so. I’ve told you in the past about how folic acid protects against cancer. Folic acid is a critical player in DNA methylation (take 800 mcg daily). So is vitamin B12. (They belong to a group of nutrients we call methylators). An elevated MMA suggests a vitamin B12 deficiency. (See this months Health Note on page 3 for more information on vitamin B12.)Additional methylators are DMG (dimethylglycine) and TMG (betaine or trimethylglycine.) My favorite DMG product is called Gluconic-DMG made by DaVinci Laboratories. Its available in sublingual tablets of 125 mg and likely available in many health food stores. TMG is also called Betaine (NOT betaine HCl). Its found in 500 mg capsules. Either product may lower homocysteine levels, even where B12 might not.

Unfortunately, we do not know if these nutrients can stop the methylation-suppressing action of toxins, but they are your best bet. When there are interfering compounds, I think that loading up on more of the good guys can help you overcome the bad guys.

(4) You can encourage elimination of chemical toxins that you have encountered by regularly sitting in a sauna. Far infrared saunas send penetrating heat rays deep into your body. The heat mobilizes fat-soluble and heavy metal toxins so that they get eliminated through your sweat. I think they are the cats meow when it comes to safe detox. Terri and I use this sauna regularly in our work. She even purchased one for her home long before we married. We like the products offered by High Tech Health of Boulder, Colorado.

(5) I’ve repeatedly observed that ozone and other oxidative therapies, such as photo-oxidation, can dramatically and safely improve health in chemically toxic people. Oxidizing these toxic chemicals makes them water soluble — less toxic and easier to eliminate.

Ref: Science, June 3, 2005; Waldman, Peter. The Wall Street Journal, July 25, 2005.