Many African American women have the belief that genetics has an unbreakable hold on our lives and on our health and because of this have thrown in the towel on trying to prevent or reverse chronic, life threatening and debilitating conditions. But emerging evidence says that long standing belief is simply not true…at least not entirely. Instead our genes are more like thousands of tiny light bulbs that when switched on in specific combinations can trigger certain patterns. Patterns that lead to conditions like diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure. These “on switches” can be activated by environmental triggers like toxins, stress hormones, lack of exercise and our choice of food. Yes food. If your genes are a loaded gun then what you eat can be the trigger. In some case a very deadly one.
But the genes that make us retain body fat, contributing to chronic diseases like high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes were not always the curse we view them as now. Once upon a time those genes saved our lives. They allowed a captive people both male & female to survive & work on the castoffs of those who held them captive. The tails, feet and intestines of pigs rather than the choicer hams and chops. Breads made of coarsely ground corn rather than the softer, finer milled flours.
The leavings the masters had little or no interest in. It was a diet that included very little animal protein because animal protein was far too expensive to be “wasted” on laborers. But plants could be grown in small gardens tended alongside slave quarters and the produce from those small gardens made to sustained them. Those whose genetic material allowed them to survive on that meager fare with fewer calories not only survived but thrived, worked, bore children and passed along those same genes to their offspring.
We were bred to operate on little but are confronted daily with excess by our ancestors’ standards. We thrived on a mostly plant based diet but now have animal protein in abundance with almost every meal. Not fresh high quality animal proteins but processed, chemicalized, hormone filled, antibiotic laced meats that resemble the fresh natural meat products we once considered a flavor enhancer or a garnish only in appearance. The volume of edibles is abundant. The nutritive value is not. Now in the 21st century branches of once sturdy family trees have withered with chronic debilitating conditions not due to a lack of food but rather from an over abundance.
Dr. Mark Hyman, Author of The Blood Sugar Solution, refers to the foods we eat as information. Information that tells genes to switch on and switch off and that process can trigger illnesses and chronic conditions. So my Type 2 diabetes developed at age 36 not because my father and grandmother developed it but because I inherited a certain set of light bulbs that my environment and my actions switched into the on position. I have a gene or genes that have the information needed to create that condition AND through my diet and lifestyle I inadvertently switched those genes into the “on” position.
What it is important to know is that just as the pattern was created by turning certain light bulbs on…that pattern can be changed by turning them off again. In life there will always be stressors but you can learn to deal with stress in more effective ways. You may not be able to avoid all exposure to environmental toxins but you can minimize that exposure. A healthful, nutrient rich diet may be a lofty goal but African American Women have survived in the face of great challenges for generations. Once again it is time to move past merely surviving and embracing thriving! For ourselves, our children, our mates and our communities! Eat well. Move well! Be well!