In 2007 Dr. Dean Ornish wrote an article about genetic predisposition to weight related diseases, like diabetes and heart disease. Ornish also claims that some people are simply genetically more likely to be overweight than other people. You might have noticed this-you go out to lunch with a friend all the time, and even though she orders the hamburger and you always order the salad, you’re the one that puts on the pounds while she stays rail thin.
In his article, Ornish cites a study conducted by the University at Ottawa Heart Institute in Canada with 28,000 participants. The study identified a particular gene that among people of Caucasian descent make them between 25 and 40% more likely to get early heart disease than the rest of the population. Such statistics are scary, and since then considerable research has been furthered about the role genetics play in weight related diseaes. Before I started writing this blog, I was working in the diabetes program of a Native American health care clinic. I learned that Native American people, as well as African Americans are genetically more likely to develop type-2 diabetes than are other racial groups.
If you find that you’re in groups that are likely to develop such diseases, it can be tempting to believe that there’s nothing you can do to prevent them. But keep in mind that while you might be more likely to develop a condition, it definitely doesn’t mean that you will! Take Ornish’s example above: for every 4 out of 10 people that are at risk to develop heart disease, 6 out of 10 people are not. And for every 4 that are at risk, we have no idea how many will avoid heart issues with positive lifestyle changes.
You can even use the risk factor as motivation to live in a healthier manner. If you know that you’re at risk for heart disease, before you have any signs, reduce red meat from your diet. If you know that you’re at risk for diabetes, as we told our patients at the clinic, cut back on the sugar. If you’re at risk for high cholesterol, eat eggs only on special occasions. And for all of these, increasing your exercise level can be enormously helpful.
Knowing you might be genetically at risk, can also be motivating to monitor your health closely. Talk to your doctor about a plan to keep on top of any area in your health that you’re worried about. They can give you helpful suggestions about diet, exercise and medication, as well as track your vitals so that any warning signs will be identified sooner rather than later.
While all of this may seem anxiety provoking, think of it as a way for you to take charge of your body and your health. Keeping a healthy weight, eating well and exercising, will lower your risk of getting heart disease, diabetes, and other health conditions.
For links to the original article and more about scientific studies, go to http://www.pmri.org/publications/newsweek/Genes_Are_Only_Part_of_the_Story_Dean_Ornish.pdf