Are you a captive of your genes – what are genes?

Has anyone in your family had cancer, heart disease, or diabetes? Does that means you are destined to have these or any other conditions? Your thought, “It’s just in my genes?” Or are you of the notion that this is just bad luck and your luck will be better?

You can’t see them or touch them but your genes are literally who you are. But that doesn’t mean you are their captive. Read how I tested my DNA, what I learned about myself, and what it might mean for you.

What are genes and do I care?

You have no idea what causes any of those (or any other) illnesses. You think maybe there is a cancer or diabetes “gene” hiding out somewhere. You have no idea how to avoid something that is “just in my genes.”

Take a deep breath. Except in the rarest of cases, there is no one cancer, or any other disease “gene.” While the “genes” you inherited from your parents are definite players in your health, understanding them can make it possible to prevent or avoid conditions that will just make you feel bad before you finally just roll over and die.

We are all going to die, sooner or later. It’s just a question of when and how miserable we are willing to be before it happens. You are totally in charge of deciding what you accept as inevitable. You are rarely a slave to your genes unless you decide to be.

This first post in the series Are You a Captive of Your Genes answers the first question. What are genes and what do they do?  Clear that up right away so everything else will make sense.

What the heck are genes and DNA?

Inside every cell of your body (trillions of them by the way) are 46 chromosomes, half supplied by your mother and half your father. Within each chromosome is a really long string of DNA, packaged together into about 20,000 genes.

The DNA within that complete set of your 20,000 or so genes (a package called your  genome) is the operational instructions that make you, you. It would be nice if there was a written operations manual for your body like there is for a car, but it’s just too dang complicated. Scientists have only just recently completed a gene/DNA inventory and they will be trying to write the manual forever.

Anyway, one thing we know is that essentially every single cell in your body has the exact same set of genes, all 20,000 of them. The cells are associated in unique configurations so that you will have body parts and organs. Obviously an eye, your skin, and your heart (as examples) are there for different reasons. They don’t look and act the same. That means that genes required for eyes are sitting silent in heart cells because they aren’t needed.

Some genes, on the other hand, aren’t making body parts. Rather they are used in every  cell to maintain and keep your system working. These genes are sometimes silent and sometimes active (called expressed) depending on the situation.  Sorta like your hot water heater. When the water gets cold, the heater turns on. When the water gets hot enough, the heater turns off.

The string of DNA in any one gene could be from 300 to over a million nucleotide pairs long. So that will give you an idea how long that DNA string is.

This short animation created by Stated Clearly does a really nice job of covering the basics. Take a look before you read on.

The video is very good at showing normal. However, in real life there are many variations not necessarily meeting the standard for normal .

Do our inherited genes “match”?

The DNA strands in your genes are packed together in sets, one copy from each of your parents. But the DNA from our parent’s genes don’t necessarily match perfectly at the nucleotide level and thus begins variations in DNA sequences that can make a unique difference is how an individual’s body works.

Here is the deal. There is no perfect genetic makeup. Every Hyundai Elantra (my car) may be constructed and operate exactly the same. but the human body just doesn’t work that way. Why? Because we inherit our DNA from two living, breathing human beings who are not identical.

DNA sequence variations occur when the copies from the two parents don’t match. Happens all the time. These variations are called SNPs, pronounced snips and also called “polymorphisms.”

So, you ask, are these mutations? Not really. A gene mutation is a very rare occurrence unique to you that is usually caused by some event. A polymorphism (SNP) is a common variation in DNA shared sometimes by many people. At a pretty benign level, for example, SNP variations say whether you have blue eyes or brown eyes.

As the video showed, genes code for proteins  Everything in your body is made of protein. Many of those proteins are enzymes  that kick-start various processes. Those enzymes usually require nutrients (vitamins, minerals, amino and fatty acids) in the food you should be eating as co-factors for the enzymes. Our genes and the enzymes they produce could be perfectly normal but won’t work because the nutritional co-factors are not present. I explained enzymes and nutrients in my book, It’s All about the Food.

So how do I figure out what /will or won’t happen? What are my risks?

You are at risk of an accident when you get behind the wheel of the car and pull out on the road. But that doesn’t mean you actually will. It depends on the condition of your car and tires, your driving skills, what fool you get near on the road, the weather, if you text and drive, etc. etc. Do you get the point?

Consider the various systems in your car to be composed of genes (parts). When your car is cruising down the road, those systems are working together in perfect harmony.. When one system, say the electrical system, has a problem what is the symptom? If the window won’t close on the driver side, this doesn’t stop the car from running but it’s going to get a bit soggy in there if it rains.

Let’s stretch this car idea out a bit further. Here is how the car works, at least partially, as described by David McGuffin. 

“When the ignition key is turned in a car, the battery sends a high voltage jolt of electricity to the starter, which transfers the electrical energy into mechanical energy as it cranks the flywheel. As the flywheel is turned, fuel is injected and exploded in the pistons, which are connected to the crankshaft, gears and axle”.

A lot of places for things to go wrong. The more deficiencies in any of those individual parts OR connections between those parts, the more potential for failure you have. Maybe things work fine if you don’t go over, say, 30 mph. Maybe things work fine unless its raining or you turn on the AC.

Clearly some things are wrong. iIf you can’t fix the problems, this is your sunshine, cool weather, slow driving-around-town car.

Your body is exactly the same. It has a lot of genes with long strands of enclosed DNA. Some of those genes seem to be of minor import (think window won’t open) . Others can cause a varying cascade of operational difficulties depending on the number of variations in the DNA strands.You don’t want to have a sunshine, cool weather, slow driving-around-town body if you can help it..

There are likely to be symptoms. Generally speaking the more strand variations (SNPS) within any one gene or the more variations within any one connecting system of genes, the more potential for failure. Often if you stay within certain bounds, problems can be avoided. Step over the line ——

This is vastly oversimplified but I think it makes the point.

Symptoms?

For most people, ongoing symptoms are a clue that their genetics may be at play. Symptoms can be minor and easily avoidable, like an inability to eat oranges. Symptoms can also be major, ongoing streams of digestive issues or major health conditions. I have very few symptoms but I do have a few. For example, I am a type 2 diabetic.

With absolutely no knowledge of DNA and its implications, I have almost accidentally  (albeit a bit late) elected lifestyle, diet, and environmental controls that have minimized the negative potential associated with my SNPs. Now that I have some understanding of my genetic makeup, I can see how many symptoms I might have had, had I not made those lifestyle choices.

So what did my DNA test tell me?

There isn’t a book handed down from above that explains what each and every SNP means or might cause. The complete mapping of the human genome was only recently completed, providing an inventory of genes and DNA. Remember those number mentioned above? To have accomplished that at all is remarkable.

With that amazing accomplishment scientists continue asking and answering more and more questions, researching the relationship between SNP variations, the operation of the body, and illnesses. They are only beginning to discover the consequences of variations.

That means what I tell you in this series of posts is just what science know so far.

Upcoming posts

I have some SNPs suggesting increased risk for certain kinds of cancer. I should point out that, to my knowledge, no one in my mother or father’s families had cancer. But the whole bunch on my dad’s side had diabetes AND smoked. Read about DNA and cancer in my next post.

I have some major SNPs in several connecting systems that interfere with the metabolism of folate, vitamin B9. Most of us have no idea what folate is or why its important. But the implications of those SNPs can be really big.

The vast majority of people (that would include you) have some version of these SNP variations, probably different from mine. This may not sound like a big deal to you but I encourage you to watch for Part 3 – MTHFR before you decide that for sure.

I also have multiple SNPs reflecting an increased risk for type 2 diabetes. No kidding (sarcasm)! I know now that I am a type 2 diabetic so these SNP variations don’t exactly come as a surprise. I might have figured that out and addressed it many years ago if I had known to be interested in my family history. Or I might have just thought I might be lucky. As I said above, stack up the variations and your chances increase. What that means to me (and probably you) will be in Part 4 – Diabetes

Other interesting news not warranting a future post.

Lots of good news. I found some SNPs that are protective against heart attacks. The only heart attack in either of my parent’s families was the result of an enlarged heart caused by childhood rheumatic fever.  And I do NOT have the APOE gene SNP that is quite risky for a variety of health issues, the most significant of which is Alzheimer’s. Nor do I have the gene polymorphism that interferes with the metabolism of vitamin D.  Reductions in risk are good news.

On the other hand, I have four gene polymorphisms (SNPs) individually reducing by up to 60% my ability to converts beta carotene from plants to vitamin A. Vitamin A  is a critical vitamin and there are two alternative sources, one from plants and another from animal foods. God has lots of these little back up plans.

So I’m running short on the beta carotene to vitamin A conversion option, The other source of vitamin A is active (doesn’t require conversion) in animal protein and I do eat my share of that. So this is not big deal to me. But if I were a vegan or a vegetarian I might be in trouble without this knowledge.

In summary

Each of your parents bequeathed you half of your DNA. That DNA is paired together in 20,000 or so genes. and essentially every cell in your body has an identical set of genes. The pairings of the DNA within the genes do not always match. The variations in pairings (called SNPS)  can change how effective your genes are in doing their individual jobs. Sometimes those SNPs will protect you from or put you at risk for diseases or chronic conditions.

If for some reason a gene isn’t doing its job effectively, eventually you will have symptoms, a clue that something is awry. However, you are totally in charge of deciding to accept awry as inevitable illness. You are not a slave to your genes unless you decide to be.”

Watch for the next post – You are not a slave of your genes – cancer – to learn how you and I can minimize our risk for cancer. .  .

.Pat Smith is the author of “It’s All About the Food,” a book that guides nutritious food choices as the way to avoid illness and maintain a healthy weight. Pat is a resident of Montgomery County, AR, president of Ouachita Village, Inc. board of directors (Montgomery County Food Pantry),  chairman of the Tasty Acre project, and member of the Mount Ida Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors.

Diet or Exercise, Which is It?

“Listen,” a friend whispered to me, “the fitness guy at my gym once told me that exercise has nothing to do with weight loss. Like he said, you can’t overcome a bad diet with exercise. Is that right?”

Yep, he’s right!.

In a recent newspaper article and post, I explained how the combination of carbohydrates (sugar) and fat in your diet is responsible for excess fat hanging around on your body. But some people just don’t want to hear that. Surely there must be another way!

So instead some think (hope) all they have to do to lose weight is to exercise, jog a few miles a day or walk 10,000 steps. Go to the gym and lift heavy weights. Too many people watching the Biggest Loser think exercise is the big deal and it has to be extreme. Willing to do an extraordinary amount of work to avoid fixing their diet.

Other people aren’t quite so willing to do hard work and are overwhelmed with “extreme.” So they just abandon the idea of losing weight. No hope!

Fact is, for the average person like you and me, exercising isn’t likely to have a big impact on losing weight one way or another. But that doesn’t mean exercise isn’t important.

Moving your body is critical to your health. Without exercise your muscles become flabby and weak. Your balance suffers, making you susceptible to falls. Your heart and lungs don’t function efficiently. Joints get stiff and are easily injured. Endurance suffers. You are stressed, not sleeping well, don’t have energy or feel good..  You are aging much more quickly.

I personally don’t find those conditions attractive and doubt that you do either.  So my message to you is this — get off the couch and start moving. Just do it for the right reasons because weight loss isn’t one of them.

The question is, how much “moving.”?  And the answer is, more than you are moving now.

If you just struggled (is that a real word?) your way up off the couch, “more” might mean walking around the house, around the block, to the mail box a few times a day. In Mount Ida or other communities with an agricultural extension service, “more” might be attending the Extension Get Fit classes 3 days a week. Join with friendly people and learn to add light weights to your regular “exercise” routine. In Mount Ida, the extension service office number is 870-867-2311.

Use your imagination. The goal is to move.

As you grow stronger extend that walk to a mile or even more, start carrying your own groceries, climb the stairs instead of taking the elevator, dance to your favorite oldie in your own home. Exercising for the couch potato or the handicapped is an evolution, not a revolution. If you know anyone who has been to rehab after an injury, you have watched them build strength slowly over time.

I have been there. After a serious illness and coma, I couldn’t walk, get out of bed, or even sit up on my own. After rehab those abilities were restored, slowly and not over night. But they came back. This can work for you as well.

The next question, is your weight as measured by your bathroom scale the most important?  Nope, that’s not right.

Technically, muscle is heavier than body fat BUT the same weight in body fat takes up more space. The space consumed by your fat determines the size clothes you wear. And you have to confess, it’s really how you look in your clothes that matters to you.

This is an inches thing, not a weight thing. This is the amount of space your body is taking up in this world.  It is possible to lose inches and clothes sizes with only a small amount of actual “weight loss” as measured by your scales. Fix your diet, drag out the tape measure, get off your duff and move around.

The thing that reduces body fat and prevents adding more body fat is a good diet every day as a matter of course. The thing that builds and tones muscles, reduces stress, slows the aging process, and generally improves your whole outlook on life is some exercise every day as a matter of course.

“Every day” means ongoing. If you go on a “diet”, lose 10 lbs, celebrate and go off the “diet” that ten pounds will come back with a few extra bonus pounds. if you get off  the couch for a few weeks and then sit back down, the strength gained simply fades away.

Fix your diet, drag out the tape measure, get off your duff and move around.

Questions may be directed to patsmith2@live.com, Find Pat and her book, It’s All About the Food, on Facebook and Amazon.

Pat Smith is the author of “It’s All About the Food,” a book that guides nutritious food choices as the way to avoid illness and maintain a healthy weight. Pat is a resident of Montgomery County, AR: president of Ouachita Village, Inc .board of directors (Montgomery County Food Pantry):  chairman of the Tasty Acre project: and member of the Mount Ida Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors.

It’s the combination of dietary sugar and fat.

First of all, this is not a discussion of meat. Meat is rarely a contributor to weight problems. The blame for your excess body fat can be placed squarely on the combination of dietary sugar and fat. Not just sugar alone. Not just fat alone. Both together!.

Body fat is storage of excess energy. The two sources of energy for the human body, the stuff that keeps your brain going, lets you walk down the street, etc.are sugar and fat. Too little of both and you will lack energy. Too much of both and you will eventually be fatter.

Sugar

Sugar actually comes in four (4) versions In the American diet. All four versions originate in plants growing in the ground. Everything that grows in the ground is chock full of sugar, called carbohydrates, along with varying levels of vitamins, minerals, fats, etc.

Version one includes the simple vegetables like spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, avocado, etc. These are vegetables that can be eaten raw or cooked and the best sources of fiber. Generally speaking these are very low carb (sugar) vegetables that digest very quickly.

Version two includes starches like potatoes, beans, and various grains which require cooking to be edible. Starches have lots of sugar in complex form and, when eaten whole, take longer to digest.

That’s it for natural, whole plant food. Now we swoop down on the other two versions.

Version three is the commercially processed version of the starches (usually grain) in Version two. The processing consists of extracting certain parts, grinding the food up; applying high heat, chemical treatments/additions; thus creating a whole new product that has lost the initial value. Vitamins, minerals, and enzymes in food are very sensitive to heat and the nutrients tend to be lost. These food products would primarily be the wheat and corn products contained in almost every sack and box at your grocery store. Extractions of grain and sometimes potato starch are also found in various jars, cans, and bottles – stuff like soups, soy sauce, etc. The stuff is everywhere.

One advantage of Version two starches is longer digestion time which prevents the automatic hunger that occurs with rapidly digesting sugar. That advantage is lost in Version three. Thus we have a lot of carb (sugar) digesting very quickly with little nutritional value.

Version four is refined sugar, usually but not always extracted from beets. No redeeming value whatsoever in refined sugar but lots of it gets added to the processed products in Version three as well as the stuff you bake at home. Think sweets..

Fats

Think about it. Fat is always needed to make sugar Versions two/three/four really tasty, 

Add cream/milk/eggs/etc. to flour, it rises beautifully, fluffy and light. Then you ADD more fat. Do you put butter on bread? Have you ever cooked pasta and eaten it straight up?  Even your favorite marinara sauce will have oil in it. Macaroni isn’t much punk unless it has cheese. Thicken fat with flour or corn (starch) and you get gravy. Do you eat grits, rice, or potatoes (all starches) without fat of some kind?  Unlikely.

Comfort Foods

Bottom line is that the real danger to a slim/trim body is the COMBINATION of starch and fat — because these are the true southern comfort foods.

The government and American Diabetes Association (ADA) say the way to lose weight is to cut calories, eat lots of carbs and low-fat. That approach will work for many people, at least for a while. Sugar and fat are the essential calorie (energy) sources in food and fat has more calories per gram than sugar. So on the surface that seems to make sense.

But I assure you that high carb and low-fat isn’t comfort food. And high carb digesting quickly will keep you hungry. When you are hungry what do you do?  You eat, even if there is plenty of spare energy wrapped around your waist. And the comfort value in the low-fat food you might eat is minimal..This explains why most people won’t stick to it forever. The fat is just too important. So eventually you are back to high carb and high fat.

So if high carb/low-fat isn’t very satisfying, leaves you hungry, and tends to fail long-term, what is the answer? The answer is the reverse – low carb and higher fat. What that really means is eating mostly Version one simple vegetables with a smattering of Version two and enough healthy fat to make the food tasty. This is easier than you might think.

Cheesy cauliflower (or practically any other vegetable)  casserole. Mashed cauliflower instead of potatoes. Smaller portions of red potatoes. Oven roasted vegetables tossed in olive oil. Spaghetti squash instead of pasta. These can all be seasoned your favorite way, just as you would the “real thing”.

Does this mean that birthday cakes are out?  Not necessarily so long as you realize that these are useless high carb/high fat calories with essentially no nutritional value. As long you just have cake on a birthday (in small portion) and not daily or even weekly. This would be an occasional “treat”. How many birthdays do you have per year?

Does that mean that cereal and honey buns are out?  Yes it does. Because those will inevitably become daily staples.

Healthy Fats?

Commercially processed fats, primarily those extracted from grain and legumes such as corn, soybean, canola, peanut, etc. are unhealthy. They fit into the category of “processed” at high heat including application of toxic chemicals. They are unstable and very susceptible to oxidation.  And there are other good reasons not to use them. If you want to know more about this, please read my book, It’s All about the Food.

The healthy fats are extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil – preferably extracted without heat. Avocado oil has a high smoke point and is best for cooking above medium (350 degrees) temperature. .

Will this be a Hard Diet Change?

Anything different takes some effort. Any particular difficulty will depend on whether you are carb “addicted”, susceptible to feelings of withdrawal. If this is you, you probably get a knot in your throat even thinking about not eating bread. Thing is, your weight is tied to your diet and you have to change that.

Alcoholics are addicted. They would like all the problems associated with alcoholism to go away without giving up alcohol.  Won’t work for them and won’t work for you. Give me a holler if you need suggestions.

Questions may be directed to patsmith2@live.com, Find Pat and her book on Facebook and her website,.allaboutthefood.org.

Pat Smith is the author of “It’s All About the Food,” a book that guides nutritious food choices as the way to avoid illness and maintain a healthy weight. Pat is a resident of Montgomery County, AR: president of Ouachita Village, Inc .board of directors (Montgomery County Food Pantry):  chairman of the Tasty Acre project: and member of the Mount Ida Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors.

Sugar Calorie Creep!

Calories creep, just sneak up on you when you aren’t looking.

You do need calories because they provide energy. Sources of calories (called macro-nutrients) are protein, fat, and carbohydrates (sugar). But vitamins and minerals (called micro-nutrients) are the stuff that makes that energy work for you, tells your body to operate correctly. You find vitamins and minerals hiding out in the whole food sources of calories.

Virtually every natural food from the pasture or the garden contains some protein, fat, carbohydrate (sugar), vitamins and minerals. Your health is ultimately attached to the vitamins and minerals, not the calories. Got it? Continue reading

The Difference Between Full and Not-Hungry

What’s the difference between full and no-longer-hungry?

I have out-of-town friends who have both changed their way of eating. We will call them Dick and Sally. Dick’s primary interest was to control his blood sugar because he is a diabetic. Sally, on the other hand, was just being a supportive wife but she wouldn’t be unhappy if she lost some extra pounds.

This new way of eating (WOE) eliminated or almost eliminated processed food and sugar, pretty much a whole food diet of meat and vegetables. You know, the food that is around the perimeter of the grocery store. Continue reading

It was Serendipity!

Was life perfect yesterday? You had a plan and the plan played out exactly as you intended? More likely, a thing or two went awry.

The election didn’t go as you hoped. Perhaps a deer found the front of your car, your child gets up with these words, “Mom, I have to bring treats to school today,” or you spend the day in pain in the emergency room. This is just how life is going to be, “making the best of a bad situation.” Do you remember that old song?

Hard as it is to believe, any one of these plans gone awry may be a serendipitous moment. One of my favorite sayings is this, “Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.” A fortunate happenstance sometimes called serendipity. Continue reading

The Rock Bottom Line

The Rock Bottom Line

We all yearn to “feel great”, don’t we?

We want to wake up daily full of energy, think clearly, and have no pain or discomfort. Periods of illness are short lived and disappear on their own. Only healthy folks can make that claim.

If you watch TV, follow Facebook, read newspapers and magazines, you know one thing for sure. They are all filled with promises of amazing symptom relief with some supplement or medication. Don’t be fooled. Continue reading