Could a genetic test help you dodge a disease like cancer or Alzheimer’s? By finding out early that you have a gene predisposing you to diseases like obesity, cancer, heart disease, or dementia, you can take steps to reduce the chances of getting the disease. This is the basis of epigenetics, a new frontier in medical science. By Tamara Pitelen.
A few years ago, the general belief was that if something was ‘in your genes’ you were stuck with it. We thought our genetic profile was chiseled in stone and you just had to make the best of what you got.
The new science of epigenetics is turning all of that on its head. Yes, you might have a gene that predisposes you to cancer or dementia, fibromyalgia, migraines, thyroid deficiency, obesity, arthritis, or some other condition but you have huge control over whether the gene is activated or not. And if you do activate it, there’s also a chance it can be turned off – or at least cooled down. It turns out that our genes are not so much chiselled in stone but written in pencil and they can be erased and rewritten.
Dr Nashim Ashraf of the DNA Center for Integrative Medicine and Wellness in Abu Dhabi says, “Genes are like a light switch, that’s how people should think.”
“Epigenetics is the new science of medicine that modifies the expression of the gene.” This work is the specialty of the DNA Health Center’s team of US-trained and US-certified professional medical and naturopathic specialists.
“So you have the genes you were born with, I can’t change those but what I can do with diet, supplements, hormone replacements, and other treatments, is either turn off the gene or turn on the gene, like a light switch.
“Basically, people think genes are your destiny but that’s not quite true,” Dr Ashraf says.
“Your genes hold the gun but your lifestyle and environment pull the trigger. Meaning you can modify your genetic makeup to prevent diseases from developing that you thought you were destined to have – that is epigenetics.”
Scientists now know that our genes are in constant dialogue with our environment. Our genes respond to stress, diet, activity levels, and other environmental changes.
So you have the genes you were born with, I can’t change those but what I can do with diet, supplements, hormone replacements, and other treatments, is either turn off the gene or turn on the gene, like a light switch.
So what does this all mean? Especially in a world now groaning under the weight of a pandemic of lifestyle diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, auto-immune diseases, digestive issues, and more.
What it means is how you feed and move your body; how you deal with stress and negative emotions, and what toxins such as radiation, BPAs and pollution you are exposed to, have much more impact on the diseases you will or won’t get than your genetic profile. Biology is not destiny; you create your own future with every bite, breath, thought, step, puff, reaction, etc.
It’s never too soon to get yourself tested through a healthy wellness check, says Dr Ashraf. “The first thing we try to impress is do not wait till your 60 years old for that. It’s too late! You should have a healthy wellness check from the age of 30. The human body starts deteriorating from the age of 25; your hormones start decreasing… that’s when you should be tested. For people with a high incidence of disease in the family, they should come earlier.”
One of the most famous cases of using Predictive Genetic Testing (PGT) to make decisions about future disease risk has been Angelina Jolie. The Hollywood movie star got herself tested for the genes that predispose someone to breast cancer. Jolie got tested because breast cancer is prevalent in her family. Unfortunately, she did have the breast cancer genes and the wisdom of traditional medicine was that she was a ticking time bomb.
“The genetic test is for BRCA-1 and BRCA-2,” Dr Ashraf says. “If you have these two genes you have a 90 per cent chance of developing breast cancer.
“For 80 per cent of people, the most common time in which cancer comes is the fourth and fifth decade of life.
“Due to Jolie’s age at the time, it was almost certain she would develop the disease in five to seven years so she decided, rightfully so I believe, that she would have a bilateral mastectomy. That’s epigenetics. So yes in this case surgery had to be done, which is extreme but in future that will change because we are working out how to silence these genes.”
While medical science has figured out how to turn some genes off, it has not so far figured out the BRCA genes. But hopefully, says Dr Ashraf, Jolie’s daughter or granddaughter will not have to resort to surgery as in time we will discover the keys to turning off these genes as well.
So how do you turn off genes related to disease? Through herbs, exercise, anti- inflammatory foods, anti-oxidants, stress management, detoxing, etc.
Incredibly, one of the most effective ways to turn off genes that predispose us to disease is the humble spice turmeric.
One of the most potent anti- inflammatory effects known to man, the yellow spice turmeric is extremely effective in ‘cooling down’ these inflamed or triggered genes.
According to Dr Ashraf, the challenge though lies in getting enough turmeric to be effective.
“Increase it in your diet, yes, but if I have a patient in whom I want to use turmeric as a medicine, then I give them a turmeric capsule, which is available in any good organic health food store. I take it myself every morning, 1 gram. A friend of mine in Seattle drinks it in a smoothie every morning. This is the science under epigenetics, it is nutrigenomics – nutrition and genetics.”
The research into what turns the genes off is ongoing but alongside that and possibly more important is figuring out what turns the dormant gene ‘on’.
With the global epidemics of cancer, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and so on, there’s something we’re doing as a human race that is turning on these genes, what is it? No surprises for guessing that according to experts like Dr Ashraf, it’s sugar, processed foods, pesticides, cigarettes, etc. The diet and lifestyle of the developed world is triggering these dormant mutated genes.
“We’re eating genetically modified foods – tomatoes are being crossed with fish – can you imagine a fish gene going into a tomato!? We’re bombarded with environmental toxins like pesticides and radiation from computers, cellphones, microwaves… these are all examples of the increased and changing landscape of toxins and environmental hazards that we are being exposed to that, even just 50 years ago, people were not.
“The biggest killer today is metabolic syndrome, which means obesity, high fat, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes. I believe this is triggered by the sugar in our diet, by our sedentary lifestyles, fast foods and too many carbs,” Dr Ashraf says.
UAE GENE TESTING
For those concerned about future illnesses or conditions that might be written in their DNA, the DNA Center for Integrative Medicine and Wellness offers evaluation and treatment by a US-trained multi-disciplinary medical team that covers all corners of health and wellbeing. Services include, a personalised blueprint for health assessment; a Full Body Imaging CT Scan/early detection screening for cancer and cardiovascular risk; comprehensive functional genetic and metabolic testing; bio-impedance analysis; heart, lung and tissue analysis; testing for food sensitivities, as well as a holistic treatment plan that offers everything from traditional and alternative medicine, to aesthetic procedures, and yoga and spiritual therapies.
“If someone comes to us and says, “I just can’t lose weight…” we approach them here at DNA not by saying ‘ok, how many calories will you burn, what is the latest fad diet…’ no, you have to start with genetic profiling of that individual. There is a gene called FTO, Fat Associated Obesity gene, if you have this, you have a 50 per cent chance of being obese. Or you may have increased appetite because of a problem with your hormone leptin; you may have an issue with insulin resistance; you may have an issue with breaking down fat or enhanced absorption of fat, and so on. So the first thing we do at DNA is look at the individual and their complete basic genetic makeup specific to their condition. Someone comes in for migraines, 80 per cent of that can be prevented or improved by removing food allergies. We are seeing children here with autism and hyperactivity disorders, women with severe hormonal issues and none of them realise it’s all triggered by food.
“Once we have the results, the patient meets with our multi- disciplinary team, we have a US- trained doctors, integrative medicine specialists, a naturopath, homeopath, Ayurvedic specialists, Yoga teacher, exercise specialists, and more.
Dr Ashraf says that the whole concept of holistic integrated healthcare is that having a genetic mutation doesn’t mean that in most cases that you will actually have the disease, but it makes you at more risk.
“We are talking about the most common chronic conditions, like heart disease, chronic pain, migraine, cancer, thyroid… a multitude of conditions that make us age fast and die sooner. So instead of calling it anti-aging, I think the proper term is healthy aging – there is no such thing as anti-aging, I don’t like that term.
“We do a panel to check you for being susceptible to things like fibromyalgia, or chronic headaches
or pain. We all say, ‘why do I get it’ it’s because you may have that gene so you have to super bombard that patient with the right antioxidants and supplements and you have to detoxify them… you have to remove the toxins.
Also called predictive medicine, it’s the new frontier of medicine and it’s what we do here at the DNA Center.”
DNA GENETIC PROFILING
Intrigued? Want to find out if you have any disease timebombs counting down inside you?
For those concerned about future illnesses or conditions that might be written in their genes, the DNA Center for Integrative Medicine and Wellness offers check-up packages ranging in price from $1800 for an entry level check to $9500 for a three-month package that offers everything available; extensive tests and comprehensive treatment plan with five day detox.
The centre also offers stress management packages; nutrition analysis and food sensitivities; sleep apnea screening and evaluation; weight-loss and detox; bio-aesthetics; anti-aging and beauty therapies, and cosmetic surgery.
For more information, email info@ dnahealthcorp.com or call 02 610 9000.