Don’t Blame It All On Your Genes!


Recently, I read a social media post from one of my husband’s friends (let’s call him Peter). Peter is in his late 40s/early 50s and just came through what is probably the scariest and most terrifying period in his life. He successfully underwent quadruple cardiac bypass surgery (also known as a CABG). After a long and brutal recovery, he is now looking back and sharing his thoughts.

After reading the lengthy post, it was nearly impossible for me not to scream and throw objects at the computer screen. I was FURIOUS! Not at Peter, but at his cardiac surgeon. Peter retells his story and how his surgeon told him that the problem was purely his bad genes and a product of “choosing the wrong parents”. Not only is his cardiac surgeon DEAD WRONG, but the consequences of his faulty counseling may very well guarantee that Peter will be a repeat customer. I would like to think that the surgeon was just ignorant and uninformed, but after two decades in the medical profession, I’m not so sure.

First, let me address the issue of genetics and cardiovascular disease. Yes, there is certain genetic information that you inherent from your parents that can increase (or decrease) your chances of developing heart disease. But with very rare exceptions, genes alone are not responsible for your illness. You can have very bad genes and still remain disease-free. You can also have favorable genes and die of chronic illness. This is because genes need to be activated by environmental factors in order to express themselves. And those environmental factors are things that you have complete control over, such as smoking, poor nutrition, and sedentary lifestyles.

Science has repeatedly shown the reversal of coronary disease when patients were placed on whole plant-based diets. Back in the 1970s, studies in the American Heart Journal documented the reversal of angina (the heart pains due to blocked arteries) in patients placed on a vegan diet. And of course, Drs. Dean Ornish and Caldwell Esselstyn have famously reversed coronary artery lesions WITHOUT drugs or surgery by placing patients on whole plant-based diets. They did this angiographically, which is the gold standard for evaluating the heart vessels. These doctors are not alone. Numerous physicians and scientists have conclusively demonstrated that whole plant-based diets with high consumption of phytonutrients, (along with the restriction of animal products, processed sugars and oils, and processed white flour) prevent and reverse disease.

So WHY would a cardiac surgeon tell his or her patient that the problem lies with your parents, and not with your pie-hole?? If I am giving this doctor the benefit of the doubt, I would say it’s just being uninformed. But the cynical part of me won’t let him/her off the hook so easily. If you are a hammer, every problem is a nail, and ONLY presenting your patient with options that will inevitably result in him ending up back on your operating table, seems more consistent with modern medical care.

So, back to Peter and his quadruple bypass. I immediately messaged him with my thoughts and info on whole plant-based diets and the way to prevent this from happening again. I wanted to get the idea that it was all in his genes and there was nothing he could do about it, out of his head. His response……crickets. And his response is by no means unusual.  Peter was confronted with two choices. Behind Door Number One was a doctor who said that he would need to eliminate most of the foods he liked, and start new habits which sounded a bit unpalatable. Behind Door Number Two was another doctor, equally experienced, who said that nothing he does matters because it’s all your parents’ fault. Human nature propels us to gravitate towards those ideas that reinforce our habits and allow us to continue to partake in those things that bring us pleasure, even if those things cause us illness and death. (I call it “Taking your prescription pills in the drive-thru of McDonalds”). And this is why physicians and health professionals who fail to present the complete truth to their patients about diet and nutrition are particularly egregious to me. They are essentially denying their patients the right to an informed decision. We have the knowledge to save millions of lives. Heart disease is still the number one killer in the western world, and when we don’t arm our patients with the evidence-based information, we create victims. And there is nothing empowering about being a victim.

I hope Peter understands that it’s not his parents’ fault. I pray that he eventually comes to the realization that there were choices he has made that got him on the operating table, and there are choices that he can NOW make that will ensure that he will never go back there again.


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