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  • Writer's pictureDave Balzer

Heredity is not Destiny: The Dangers of Medical Dogma

Genes influence every aspect of human physiology, development, and function. This impact of genetics on scientific research led to the much anticipated Human Genome Project (HGB) in 1990. The HGB set out to identify, map, and sequence the physical properties and functions of human DNA. The purpose was fascinating and inspiring at the time... if scientists can understand every aspect of our genetic code then they can rid the world of rare genetic conditions and complex diseases such as cancer. After 13 years and billions of dollars spent, the HGP was declared complete in 2003 (really it was 92% complete... an A- I guess?). In the decades that followed it became abundantly clear the HGP was vastly oversold. Yes, it made breakthrough progress in rare genetic conditions, but there is still relatively little known regarding the complex exchange between genetic makeup and environmental experiences.

Not only was the Human Genome Project oversold, but it created a culture of "Heredity is Destiny" that is still alive and well in our medical systems today. There are many dangers that develop from the dogmatic construct of “genetics being destiny”. If genes rule our destiny then we are off the hook on being accountable for our health. This leaves us very vulnerable to outside influence and creates a state of minimal ownership over health outcomes in life. When we lack autonomy and a sense of agency we can fall prey to the outside influence.

Enter stage right... Big Pharma and Big Medicine! Both know they can prey on this vulnerability and give you a false sense of safety (Big Pharma more explicitly and our failed medicine system more diffusely). When people get sick, stressed, injured, depressed, or are dealing with general chronic dysfunction they crave input and help from others. It’s human nature... Big Pharma and Big Med know this, market to it, and take advantage of it. I am not saying people shouldn't seek help; this natural emotion and reaction is needed to heal, adapt, and evolve. Yet, adequate support is paramount in truly healing many chronic conditions. This support must include empowering the individual through collaborative external interventions, while establishing self-healing through lifestyle behavior change.

So, back to the dangerous construct of genes being destiny… It can be challenging to be culpable for our own behaviors or the actions of others. When accountability comes knocking we often slam the door to block any discomfort. It's much easier to be a victim of genetics than to take ownership of health. It’s commonplace in our current culture. I know this sounds harsh, so please allow me to discuss further and you'll see my empathy for this dilemma.

“Blaming genetics, and its impersonal nature, absolves us of any sin and wipes away the shadow of guilt - we are off the hook!” - Dr. Gabor Mate

Like Dr. Mate stated, we are spared of actually needing to analyze how our behaviors and environment are effecting our life and bodily state. Leaning in to this discomfort is where solutions are found. "The obstacle is the way” (<-- great book by the way). And this discomfort exploration, especially in regards to healing pain, trauma, stress, or chronic dysfunction requires significant support -- spouses, family, friends, clinicians, healers, community groups, etc. Support systems cannot be offloaded to a magic pill, magic scan, or guru healer… quality support requires guidance on self-healing. Active approaches versus passive treatments. Personal empowerment versus hiding from the dark shadow of anxiety, shame, and guilt.

Illness, injury, stress, trauma, or chronic dysfunction creates a disconnect between the body and self, along with a disconnect to others in our environment. Traditional biomedical care (pills, injections, surgery, rest -- aka "told to do nothing") does very little to nurture a bodily reconnection to self and its capacity for vitality. I would even argue that blaming genetics actually amplifies the disconnection already present by pitting you against yourself in the path toward healing. This mindset leaves many feeling physically and mentally lost, abandoned, unheard, and vulnerable. I know it sounds like I am painting a picture of some religious cult documentary on Netflix. I don't mean to make that comparison, but maybe there is some truth to it... The opioid crisis rolls on as the weak and vulnerable suffering from chronic pain continue to be prey. Those recommended to undergo (expensive) chemotherapy treatment are christened as "fighters", yet many who choose other treatments are looked down upon during the most frightening time of their life. Individuals on antipsychotic medications for depression and anxiety are labeled irresponsible for not taking their medications, when in reality they feel horrible and more internal disconnect with or without them. The examples go on and on... anxiety, fibromyalgia, IBS, rheumatoid arthritis, etc. Many of the typical treatments for these conditions create a further disconnect within the body. Don't get me wrong... I fully understand that these treatments are sometimes necessary and successful. Yet, for optimal outcomes they should always be paired with interventions and education that restore human autonomy, instead of spitting patients out with the existential fear that their body is failing them. This restoration of connection within the body is a true definition of healing and leaves no shadow of vulnerable genetics.

To sum it up, you are not a victim of your genes!

Genes load the gun, but environment pulls the trigger.

Therefore, properly supporting and nourishing the body can give you control and comfort in your specific environment. Think about it from an evolutionary perspective. Genetics can't possibly be the sole cause of the massive rise in chronic disease over such a short time period as it goes against the evolutionary biology of genetic modeling.

Do you remember being a little kid… working really hard on drawing a cool picture or building an awesome train set, then running to mom and dad to show it off? The satisfying positive reaction from them about how cool your creation is! So much growth can come from these types of interactions. This opportunity for empowerment is what’s missing in the “genes as destiny” construct. Have you ever walked out of a doctor's office with a similar sense of self-efficacy? Health, medicine, and healing should light a spark similar to that little kid... a spark of excitement. A spark of potential accomplishment. A spark of curiosity. A spark of hope. Seek out people, places, and activities that support this health spark!

Grand Canyon - Rim to Rim to Rim Hike - Fall 2020



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