Nature Vs. Nurture

In the past 20 years, genetic research has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that genes do not determine our health destiny. The nature versus nurture debate is over. Lifestyle and eating habits are both the cause and the cure of disease.

But no one wants to believe that because it implies that the people suffering from chronic ailments or diseases are responsible for their illnesses. We can’t blame people for getting sick (except smokers who get lung cancer, of course). It’s no one’s fault they have allergies, suffer from depression, struggle with weight, or God forbid, get cancer. So we collectively continue to wait with hopes that medical research will produce the antidote for those with unfortunate and faulty DNA–neglecting the overwhelming truth that we can and must nurture our nature. We race for the cure, raise awareness for early detection and anguish over the cost of healthcare. Meanwhile, our health is going from bad to worse.

We know that plants cannot thrive in low quality soil. If two identical tomato seeds are planted, one in fertile compost and bright sunlight, and the other in shallow top soil next to a toxic dump, the result is of no surprise. One plant will be hearty and bear abundant fruit. The other will have stunted growth, diseased leaves and small and deformed fruit–assuming it grows at all. We don’t blame failure to thrive on a plant’s DNA. We know that nutrients are necessary if we want healthy and robust plants.

The same is true for humans. Seven in ten of us are overweight, on medication and suffering from at least one chronic ailment. We’re like sickly plants that are failing to thrive. Many ailments and diseases tend to run in families, just like specific pests and fungal rots plague susceptible species of plants. But it’s a fatal error to search our DNA for the cause. Consider that in 1940, one in four women with the BRCA gene got breast cancer. Three in four women didn’t get the disease. So the gene doesn’t cause the cancer. But in 2013, a whopping 85 percent of women with the BRCA gene get breast cancer. Yet the gene has not changed. Our lifestyles and food supply, however, have.

Genes do not cause disease or create wellness. They simply make both possible. In the last 20 years, we’ve learned that a short list of controllable behaviors determine our medical fate (smoking, food choices and exercise). Those willing to accept responsibility for their habits can opt out of the Russian Roulette. Taking responsibility begins with a return to age-old wisdom:

  • You are what you eat.
  • Food is medicine.
  • Laughter is the best medicine.
  • An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
  • The cure is worse than the disease.
  • Sound body. Sound mind.
  • There is no sweet without sweat.
  • The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
  • Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.
  • There’s none so blind as those who refuse to see.

We must stop listening to the mass-marketing messages that barrage us 24/7. They are designed to sell addictive foods and products–not guide us to health and happiness. Wellness happens naturally. Unlearn to learn. Cooking at home doesn’t require a culinary arts degree. A home with a kitchen and maybe a cookbook will suffice. Don’t believe it takes a masters in nutrition to know how to eat healthy. Just eat more vegetables and fruit and less sugar, meat, milk and chemically-enhanced artificial junk food. Exercise doesn’t require expensive equipment or a personal trainer. Comfortable movement and the desire to feel good in your own body is all it takes. You don’t need a therapist to guide you to inner peace–just a few friends that make you laugh. Genetic testing won’t identify what’s wrong. Just start living right. Let your instincts guide you to replace bad habits with new ones that will sustain your health. When wellness is the intention, it’s not nearly as complicated as we’ve been led to believe.

Don’t blame nature. Nurture it. The quality and quantity of your life will expand.