Genetic Predisposition and Lifestyle Hope

Genetic Predisposition and Lifestyle Hope

If you have high cholesterol and it runs in your family, is it a waste of time to attempt to treat your problem with diet rather than medications? If your mother, father, and all three siblings have high blood pressure, is it safe to assume that an exercise program won't be enough to keep you off of blood pressure-lowering pills? What about diabetes: if most everyone in your family struggles with that condition are you destined to face the same – lifestyle notwithstanding?

If you answered “no” to all the following questions, you scored 100% – and you’re likely in the minority. In my experience, many wrongly assume if they are genetically predisposed to a condition, lifestyle measures probably will be ineffective. However, the good news stands in stark contrast to this prevailing sentiment: regardless of what runs in your family, healthy lifestyle choices can often either postpone or stave illness off all together.

Some years ago while working in Oklahoma, I saw this illustrated when working with Native Americans – a population genetically- predisposed to a variety of chronic diseases. Across tribal lines many First Nation peoples are at increased risk of diabetes and, like other segments of the U.S. population, often suffer from weight and cholesterol problems.

However, I witnessed an amazing intersection between lifestyle and genetics when studying the results of over 400 patients who participated in an 18-day residential program very much like the NEWSTART program I now work with at Weimar.

Our biblically-based Oklahoma program included a total vegetarian (vegan) diet, regular physical exercise, stress management, and group support. It resulted in significant changes across the board. The average, overweight, participant lost 8.3 pounds (4.0% of baseline weight). Total cholesterol levels dropped 24 points (11.5%), LDL (the “bad cholesterol”) fell 16 points (13.3%), and triglycerides decreased 44.8 points (20.6%). Those with diabetes recorded an 11% improvement in blood sugars’ while typically taking significantly less medication.

However, a separate analysis of Native Americans who went through the same program revealed even more striking improvements. Although their baseline values were similar and they lost a similar average amount of weight, 8.8 lbs (4.0% of baseline weight), their blood fat decreases were especially impressive: total cholesterol 39 points (18.6%), LDL 27 points (20.7%), and triglycerides 48.4 points (28.2%). Those with diabetes improved their blood sugars 31%.

Although not a rigid scientific study, those results made an eloquent point: rather than predisposing you to failure, “bad genes” might actually be an indicator of a better response to lifestyle changes.

The conclusion seems obvious. Regardless of your genetics, why not renew you commitment to the healthiest lifestyle possible – as close as possible to the one God gave our first parents in Eden?

Comments ( 2 ) Leave a Comment
  1. 1 Jeanne Apr 2, 2011, 11:45 PM PDT

    I have been a nearly vegan vegetarian since I was 16 and do use some eggs and am alergic to milk products so don’t use much of it.  When I was in my 40’s my cholesterol and triglycerides were found to be at a fairly dangerous level and since my 4 siblings have weight problems and nearly everyone in my family has heart problems it makes it more difficult for me to get my cholesterol under control.  I have other issues such as fatty liver with cysts and kidneys have cysts as well.  I wonder if staying for 18 days at your institution or one closer to where i live in Virginia would help me discover what I need to do differently.

  2. 2 Mother Aug 24, 2017, 8:48 PM PDT

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