the dna cop-out

We generally accept responsibility for our actions but not for our circumstances.  When I told a nonagenerian I was fortunate to have good health and to retire in my early 60’s, I was told “that’s not luck, that’s decisions made”.

Food plays a big role in people’s lives, and I don’t mean survival.  To quote: “some eat to live and some live to eat”.  I am (mostly) in the first category.  Folks with health problems usually resist changing their diet – food is one of their chief enjoyments.  And they rationalize that diet isn’t that important anyhow  – more important are the genes you are born with.  So accept your gene determined health and soldier on.  And why bother when medication will fix the problem?

Try telling parents whose kids have digestive problems that they should consult a registered dietitian.  Their reaction is “I give my kids good food” i.e. I am a good parent and it has nothing to do with the food they eat, must be the genes.  Then you hear the apocryphal story of the athlete who ate and exercised meticulously and nonetheless had a major health problem.  Must be the genes.  The accepted wisdom was if you lived to your 80’s that was from good lifestyle but to live through the 90’s depended on genes.   Until  recent  findings that exercise, diet and community are also important determining factors.

A buddy “Bob” in his early 60’s recently had a pulmonary embolism (lung blockage).  He survived and was examined by a raft of medical specialists.  I asked if the topic of diet surfaced.  He said he was never asked about his diet nor were there any diet recommendations.   The tests have not revealed an overt cause and so it must be his genes.  Again.

Another buddy suffers from gird and his son suffers from gird and he explained to me it is obvious that his son inherited his genes.  The fact they lived in the same household and ate the same food is not relevant.

Why change if change makes no difference?  As one obese patient assured the hospital dietitian “don’t worry I’m on a sea food diet”  and then, seeing the smile on her face he added “I eat what I see”.

However, nutrition science must step up its game.  When I ran distance in the 60’s I sucked salt tablets.  Not because it was pleasant but because I perspire easily and this was the recommendation for replenishing  lost salt and reducing cramps.  Seemed logical.  Then salt became BAD.  Now it is not so bad.  Fats were BAD now not so much.  Sugar is now the culprit – last year fruit juice was not good but eating raw fruit was ok.  Now eating raw fruit high in sugars is not ok, according to some.  And then the faddists – avoid grain and go for meat or maybe do the reverse.  And the platitude – “everything in moderation”, is another cop-out.  I know diet is complicated and compromised guts make it more so, but  these turnarounds and banalities produce skepticism, not confidence.

And what is the message?  Research indicates that cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes, which are chronic diseases that account for most deaths, are largely preventable.  And four lifestyle decisions – never smoking, maintaining a healthy weight ( BMI<30 ), exercising at least 3.5 hours weekly, and having a healthy diet (large amounts of fruits and vegetables and reduced meat intake) appear to be associated with almost an 80% reduction of developing deadly chronic diseases.  So I watch what I eat and accept responsibility for my health, just as I do with relationships and financial circumstances.


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