OUR universal disease prevention strategy of the past century, specifically in the last six decades since World War II, has miserably failed from inadequate application or non-compliance by society in general. In spite of the great strides and mind-boggling advances in medical science and technology, in both diagnostic and therapeutic areas of clinical medicine, we, today, are still plagued with an epidemic, nay, pandemic, of obesity, diabetes and other metabolic illnesses, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and cancer.With state-of-the-art medical armamentarium and cutting-edge discoveries, we still lag behind in exercising prevention, and diseases appear to be more than a leg ahead of us in the race.
Obviously, there is a scientific basis for this. For one thing, when individuals join the race starting a healthier lifestyle in their teens, the opponent (disease) already had a head start, an advantage of 13 or more years to damage the integrity of their DNA. The outcome, like what has happened the past century, is predictable and not surprising. Of course, when our DNA has been negatively impacted by our unhealthy lifestyle for a decade or more before we start to change, our body has already been disadvantaged.
As a result, these young persons now live with a higher risk of developing the so-called “expected diseases of the middle and old age” which are, scientifically speaking, not “expected, not “normal, “and actually preventable. These “normal” illnesses, which society has unfortunately and unwittingly accepted with surrender, are, in fact not normal and “pre-destined.”
While we, adults of today, have allowed the damages to our cells and DNA to occur, through our own indiscretion, bad habits, and unhealthy behaviors, the children of the future do not necessarily have to develop arthritis, allergies, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and other metabolic conditions, heart attack, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and even cancer, which countless people have.
Preventing diseases starting at the cellular level, by protecting the DNA of the fetus in the womb and the babies in the crib, and onward, can significantly minimize the injury to the DNA and thus save the children from acquiring these “normal and expected” diseases when they grow to middle age and beyond. It is, indeed, possible to have a world where children and adults are free of these preventable diseases and able to attain maximal longevity, even to 100 and beyond. This could be achieved through human behavioral modification and cooperative and pro-active international programs in ecology to sanitize our global environment and minimize, if not eliminate, worldwide pollution of our air, water, and terrain.
Our mighty DNA
Deoxyribonucleic acid, DNA for short, is the vital structure in the nuclei of all the billions and trillions of cells and one of the building blocks of the body.
The organs are composed of cells with specific function, and each cell contains genetic material, which can automatically replicate itself and multiply, when the old cells. The ability of the DNA to protect itself and to some degree repair itself determines health and life span or longevity. When the constant insult and damage to the DNA is significant and irreparable, it can result in senescence (permanent dormancy); apoptosis (programmed cell death); or uncontrolled and disorderly cell division (causing cancer).
A healthy body requires uninterrupted interplay of thousands of proteins, which work harmoniously, in the right amount and appropriate places, a conglomerate of normal functioning protein enabled by a healthy intact gene.
Most of the more than 4,000 diseases afflicting man today are caused by altered or damaged genes from either or both parents. Major disorders like arthritis, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, heart diseases, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and cancer are due to a complex “reaction” among multiple genes and between them and environmental (human-induced) factors.
While our genetic make-up is unalterable, our lifestyle (habits and behavior), and our environment, are, to a great extent, within our control. For example, a faulty or damaged gene is the basic cause of cancer. Since genes are encoded within the DNA, insults and damages to the integrity of the DNA can increase the risk for diseases, including cancer.
The accumulation of injuries to the DNA over years can cause subtle changes in it, leading to increase or decrease in the risk for diseases. Therefore, the major diseases of mankind is not all due to hereditary or genetic factors alone, but a combination of the DNA and our lifestyle. If we protect the DNA of the new generation in a timely fashion, starting healthy lifestyle in the womb, and dieting in the crib and beyond, and preserve and maintain its health and integrity, we can prevent most, if not all, major diseases we adults are facing today.
DNA injury is ubiquitous; it happens every second to all of us. A single cell sustains injury (molecular lesions) from endogenous (food or substances we ingest) and exogenous (toxic environmental exposures, like carcinogens, etc.) at a rate of about 1000 to 1,000,000 times a day. When our DNA is compromised, our immune system is weakened, and we increase our risk of acquiring illnesses, most of these are what we call lifestyle illnesses, which are actually preventable to a significant extent. The global statistics in living healthy lifestyle for disease prevention show we still have a long way to go as a society to be more compliant, more disciplined, more proactive and preemptive in our individual and societal behavior towards our dream goal, as stated in the book, Let’s Stop “Killing” Our Children (view on philipSchua.com, amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and Xlibris.com).
While our DNA has the capacity to repair itself, repeated insults from our unhealthy behavior and bad habits (smoking, alcohol abuse, living a sedentary life sans physical exercises, daily consumption of red meat, processed meats and junk foods, instead of the healthier option of fish, vegetables, fruits a nuts in our diet, and neglecting stress management) will overwhelm our DNA to a point of defeat. Damaged DNA results in ill-health, diseases, and shortened potential longevity.
Starting a healthy lifestyle is never too late for anyone. But to enjoy the maximum benefit to health and longevity it could provide the future generation of children, disease prevention is best started from the cellular (DNA) level, a strategy whose time has come.
Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, a Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus based in Northwest Indiana and Las Vegas, Nevada, is an international medical lecturer/author, and Chairman of the Filipino United Network-USA, a 501(c) 3 humanitarian and anti-graft foundation in the United States. Websites: philipSchua.com and FUN8888.com Email: [email protected]