Put the blame on genes…or not?

Put the blame on genes…or not?

  • By: Βαλεντίνη Κωνσταντινίδου
  • 4 March 2016

Blame our genes or not?

Do the following phrases sound familiar?

“I have always had extra kilos, that’s who I am”, “I was meant to be diabetic”, “Everyone in my family has hypertension, and so do I”. Do we, humans, have inherited characteristics from our parents that can define our health and wellness throughout our lives? Is there something in our DNA that dictates if we are going to be obese, diabetic, hypertensive, or even prone to the aesthetic signs of aging (i.e. wrinkles)?

YES, definitely, YES. There is.

So, we are born to live “under the mercy” of our genetic predisposition and there is nothing we can do about it. We, thus, should blame our genes for everything.

NO, definitely NOΤ.

Complex diseases have special characteristics

With the exceptions of rare, genetic diseases, all the other complex diseases occur from the long-term interaction between two main characteristics:

  1. Genetic predisposition (our DNA) and
  2. Environmental influence (our choices).

Blaming our genes for our current condition (our destiny) is the easiest thing to do, and we, humans, have a great tendency to do things that are easy. However, when it comes to health, we should learn to acknowledge that easy is not always what will keep us healthy and sound. We should start using our own “free will” to shift our genetic predisposition in a beneficial way. But, first of all, we have to know. We have to be aware of what kind of genetic predisposition we carry on our DNA, so we could act accordingly and make the right choices before it is too late.

Let me straighten you some points that could be easily misunderstood.

Our DNA is not our destiny

Our DNA is what makes us unique and dictates our genetic predisposition, but our DNA is not our destiny. We can think of our DNA as the “canvas” that our parents gave us when we were born. The colors, the design, the drawing, and the actual conversion of an empty canvas to a fascinating picture are totally up to us! And these are the decisions we have to make.

I would like to present here a couple of exciting scientific results and try to convince you about the power our lifestyle choices can have on our DNA. Among all the everyday lifestyle choices we make, I will focus on dietary patterns and I choose to use the example of the Mediterranean diet.

Some scientific results

Back in 2010, we published the first results on the nutrigenomic effects of virgin olive oil polyphenols, within the frame of the Mediterranean diet. We performed a trial in 90 healthy volunteers and the results showed a decreased expression of genes related to atherosclerosis, inflammation, and oxidative stress, which was also concomitant with a decrease in plasma biomarkers. That means that the Mediterranean diet not only could “talk” to our genes in the nucleus of our cells but also to other markers circulating in our blood. These beneficial effects were observed just after 3 months of following a Mediterranean diet with virgin olive oil (i.e. not a common olive oil). These results received great press attention because, for the first time, we had evidence that the simple adherence to the traditional Mediterranean diet could affect how certain genes worked.

Some years later, in 2013, results from the Spanish study PREDIMED were showing that adherence to the Mediterranean diet could affect fasting glucose values and stroke incidence even in people who were genetically predisposed to those. People who had the “unfortunate” version of the TCF7L2 polymorphism (i.e. TT) were expected to have higher fasting glucose concentrations and more stroke incidence after 4.5 years of follow-up. That is because this version of the polymorphism (i.e. TT) is related to diabetes type II. Interestingly, the PREDIMED results showed that this did not happen. The TT “unfortunate” carriers could neutralize their genetic predisposition and behave as the “fortunate” ones (i.e. CC) just by following the traditional Mediterranean diet.

Every day we have more and more scientific results, in a wide variety of genetic markers that confirm how powerful our lifestyle choices are when it comes to the control of our genetic predisposition. So, the next time you will be tempted to blame your genes for this high blood pressure, or blood cholesterol, think again:

Our DNA is not our destiny.

Blaming our genes for our current condition may be the easiest thing to do, but it is not always true. It is our choice to let scientists show us how to “correct” our genetic predisposition and adapt to a lifestyle we love and love our health back.

Dr. Velentini Konstantinidou

By Dr. Valentini Konstantinidou, RDN, MSc, PhD.

  • Nutrigenetics & nutrigenomics researcher and lector
  • Nutritionist – Dietitian
  • Food technologist
  • Accredited Practitioner Coach (IAPC&M)
  • Founder of DNANUTRICOACH®
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