Your Power to Change
I heard a simple yet inspiring lecture by Michael Roizen, MD, chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic and a keynote speaker at the American Association of Diabetes Educators 2010 annual meeting in San Antonio. The topic was the genetic influence on aging and how to "control" your genes. Prevention was Roizen's primary message. For example, if you've been dealt a bad genetic hand, such as a propensity to develop type 2 diabetes, you have a certain amount of power and influence to prevent the potential complications associated with high blood glucose. By the time you reach 50, he says, lifestyle dictates 80 percent of how you age; only the remaining 20 percent is controlled by genetics.
Roizen emphasized that "the human body is an amazing thing. Genes work by manufacturing proteins, but whether or not a specific gene is turned on or off is largely under your control. [For example] if you eat more than 4 grams of fat in a meal, it turns on genes that cause poor results. Food is not 'let's make a deal.' You can't exercise it away. You can exercise away the outward appearance of it, but you cannot change the internal effects of it." However, he added, "if you stopped eating saturated fat today, within three years it's as if you've never had it. It doesn't have an effect on your genes that lasts longer than that." (click here for more on the field of epigenetics, which studies how food choices and other environmental factors may affect our genes.)
Roizen pointed out that U.S. health care costs are much higher than those of other nations, in part because Americans have twice the prevalence of chronic diseases compared with people in other countries. The good news, he said, is that four factors cause 75 percent of chronic diseases, and they are all within our control: tobacco use, food choices and portion size, inactivity, and stress. He said that 81 percent of hospitalizations, 91 percent of prescriptions, and 76 percent of physician visits are linked to one of these four issues.
Even for patients who have made poor lifestyle choices, Roizen said there is an opportunity to improve the odds. He showed a video segment that followed an obese patient with type 2 diabetes and many other health problems. This man was able to improve his diabetes outcomes in just 28 days after changing his lifestyle. He changed his nutrition significantly by eliminating "junk food" from his diet, adding more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fiber, and lean cuts of meat. He quit smoking and he started exercising. He was able to bring his blood glucose back into the normal range, lower his blood pressure, and improve his cholesterol levels. Yes, it's hard work, but the payoff is tremendous: improved health, a sense of accomplishment, more energy, and overall well-being. There's a positive lesson here for all of us.