Headwinds — we all face them. They slow our cars when driving against them, they cost extra effort when walking outside, and if you throw a bucket of water outside against a stiff wind, you may wind up drenching yourself. Metaphorically, headwinds are forces working against you in life, making it harder to succeed at a goal. But headwinds can be overcome — they are resistance, not roadblocks.
Sometimes life doesn’t seem fair: you have to put out extra effort for something that seems to come easily to others. You can’t get a better job although you are as qualified as the person who just got it. Money is too tight and you can’t make ends meet. Your car needs repairs and will be in the shop for weeks. What do you do? Probably you work harder to overcome the headwinds.
Maybe you face these headwinds: you can’t manage to lose weight even after trying many diets. You have arthritis that is threatening your everyday activities. You got a cancer diagnosis. Health-related headwinds are often the worst challenges you face, because they affect every day of your life and everything you do each day. They may seem to be roadblocks, not headwinds. But thanks to the remarkable adaptability of your body, you may find they are headwinds after all if you resist them the right way.
Genes — roadblocks or headwinds?
You probably have been told that if you have “bad genes”, there is little you can do. You have genes that are considered high cancer risks, so you get monitored frequently and keep worrying that someday cancer will break out. Maybe you have “fat genes” — everyone in your family is overweight and you figure you are stuck with a body that just holds onto fat. What do medical forms ask you? Usually they want to know diseases that affected your mother, father, and other close relatives because they consider those mean genetic risks for you as well. And they may have a point — genetics do mean headwinds (or tailwinds) for different people. But here’s the good news — in most cases, especially if a potential disease or condition is not manifest now, they are just notes of caution. Most of what actually happens to your health is only hinted at by your genes. Environment, which you can control, is the main factor.
There is one simple reason for this. You have many genes that overlap to control your health. Many are turned off, awaiting a time when the environment has changed and they are needed. Your “bad” genes may not even be active — they exist, but are not expressed. Or they may be “under expressed” and others may be “over expressed”, changing your overall reaction to your active genes. The term for this is “epigenetics”, where “epi” means “on top of” the genetic expression. Being on top indicates supremacy, because it is the environment that drives your body to turn on and off various genes that are in control.
Epigenetics means that your body is constantly trying to find the best path forward given the environment you present to it. Your cells have a vast library of genes — some might be considered good, and others bad. Actually they are simply coded instructions that can be searched to discover which apply to any situation. This means you have more control than you may have thought possible over your health. Challenges, yes, but headwinds are merely challenges.
Inflammation is an area where we see that normal genes are neither good nor bad. Inflammation is a necessary process, designed into the body to handle emergencies and healing. Yet it can be very destructive. Your body had better be able to produce inflammation when needed, or else you would not live long. Yet, inflammation harms healthy tissue as well, and a lot of inflammation will do a lot of collateral damage.
Entering into this mix is your own genetic makeup. Two people given the same diet, general health, and environment may have different levels of inflammation. Each is unique. Published in JAMA Psychiatry, researchers at the University of Birminghan, Birmingham, U.K.studied gene variants responsible for levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6), which is a gene linked to inflammation, and determined that people with more of these variants showed a higher level of IL-6, which resulted in reduction in size of some regions of the brain, which then increased risks of mental disorders. Their suggestion was to research drugs to reduce levels of IL-6. They missed the more obvious solution!
Inflammatory markers of IL-6, TNF-alpha, and CRP are blood indicators of inflammation levels. The Birmingham study demonstrated the risk to the brain of inflammation. Another major risk of inflammation is coronary disease. In a study published in Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association, researchers at the Università degli Studi di Milano, Milan, Italy and the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston Salem, NC set out to determine how effective these markers were in predicting coronary events. They chose a study group of 2225 of people aged 70-79, a key age range for heart conditions, who were in apparently good health at the start of the study. The average follow-up time was 3.6 years, and in that time had 188 reported cases of cardiac heart disease, 92 events of congestive heart failure, and 60 stroke events. All three markers together (IL-6, TNF-alpha, and CRP) were highly predictive of these events, and those with known risk factors — smoking, diabetes, hypertension, high BMI (body mass index), high triglycerides and creatine, and low levels of HDL and albumin — had the highest inflammation indications and the greatest number of cardiac events during the study period.
Studies of most diseases link inflammation to the disease. Inflammation is easy to spot in blood tests, and reducing it means reducing your chances of contracting many diseases, and improving disease conditions you already may have. Many inflammation-caused diseases are simply attributed to “old age.” Inflammation does tend to rise as we age — this just makes it even more vital to get it under control!22
Inflammation will respond very strongly to environment. Even where genes responsible for inflammation are over expressed, they can be turned off by environmental triggers. Genes make a difference, but which genes are expressed or muted make a much bigger difference. Take a look at the list of risks in the Milan/Salem study: all are either direct assaults on the body’s environment (smoking and high BMI), or are markers that respond well to healthy environmental changes. Anyone, regardless of genetic make-up, can improve these markers with diet, exercise, and other health-promoting habits. Maybe some people have a great genetic make-up and have it a bit easier than others, but significant improvement in inflammation is within the grasp of everyone.
Environmental effects on inflammation
Many studies have been performed on the reduction of systemic inflammation by diet, exercise, lowered mental stress, and other healthy practices. Let’s just take one: published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, researchers at the Departments of Health and Human Performance, Immunobiology, Gerontology, Animal Science, Iowa State University, Ames, IA selected adults of age 64 or older to study the same three inflammatory markers — CRP, IL-6, and TNF-? — in addition to IL-18, to determine effects of exercise on those markers. They determined that cardiovascular exercise significantly reduced levels of IL-6, IL-18, TNF-?, and CRP. Strength/flexibility training only reduced TNF-? significantly. The fact that the research showed different results for the two types of exercise lends additional credence to the study, showing different responses to different types of exercise. But all exercise caused a response! That again shows that different people with different genetic make-ups will respond to exercise and reduce inflammation.
You are not a product of your genes
You need not blame your “genes” for a moment. Just work diligently to bring down inflammation. You can get your markers checked, then work on them and check again. Setting a goal and seeing progress is a great way to encourage yourself, but the biggest motivator is feeling better. Whatever headwinds you face, you can overcome them and make improvements. All genes work for you and must respond to the environment you give your body. Epigenetics is the great equalizer — everyone can tell their genes who is boss.
Dr. Nemec’s Review
The first UK study showed that if you have weak gene variants then inflammation will go up and that inflammation, when it hits your brain, can cause anxiety, depression and emotional disorders. The second Milan study showed diet and lifestyle will either decrease or increase levels of inflammation. The third Iowa study showed that different type of exercise decreased different inflammation indicators. Cardio exercise decreased all four marker IL-6, IL-18, TNF-?, and CRP whereas strength and or flexibility training only reduced one of the four: TNF-alpha.
Sum up all three studies and we can say weak genes can cause inflammation that can damage any organ in the body including the brain, that diet and lifestyle could increase or decrease these levels of inflammation, and most importantly each specific lifestyle choice has the ability change certain parameters. So the end result is that genes do not mean much in the big picture of health unless you choose not to be proactive, not to change your diet, and not to start exercising with a variety of exercises. You are in control of the epigenetic steering wheel and you can drive all the genes, whether they are weak or strong, from the outside, from the environment you produce, from your lifestyle.
Here are the ways we can help you in your health journey:
- Outpatient Comprehensive Teaching and Treatment Program-has the most benefit of teaching, treatment, live classes and personalized coaching. This program has the most contact with Dr. Nemec with 3- 6 month programs that can be turned into a regular checking and support program for life. This is our core program that has helped so many restore their health and maintain that restoration for years.
- Inpatient Comprehensive Teaching and Treatment Program-is our four-week intensive inpatient program for those that are not in driving distance, usually over 4 hour drive. This is the program that is an intensive jumpstart with treatment, teaching, live classes and coaching designed for all our international patients along with those in the US that do not live in Illinois. This program is very effective especially when combined with our new membership program support.
- Stay at Home Program-is offered to continental US patients who cannot come to Total Health Institute but still want a more personal, customized plan to restore their health. This program also includes our Learn Membership Program.
- Membership Program is our newest program offered for those that want to work on their health at a high level and want access to the teaching at Total Health Institute along with the Forums: both Dr. Nemec’s posts and other members posting. And also, to have the chance to get personalized questions answered on the conference calls which are all archived in case you miss the call. The Membership Program has 3 levels to choose from: Learn, Overcome and Master. The difference is at the Overcome and Master levels you received one on one calls with Dr. Nemec personalizing your program for your areas of focus.