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Michael Rothman MD Articles

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It Runs In My Family

Have you ever heard or used the phrase “it runs in my family”? Often times this phrase is used in the context of why you or someone you know has heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, emotional problems, weight problems, or any number of other ills.

What does “it runs in my family” actually mean?

Let me tell you a story (a true story) of an American Indian tribe, named the Pima Indians. The Pima Indians were a nomadic group living near New Mexico for hundreds of years, prior to the “white man” coming to this country.

These hardy people lived in an incredibly harsh climate in the desert. They had very little food (living off the roots and berries, and any animals they could find) and very little water. The temperatures were incredibly hot and these people lived in tents (with no air conditioning).

Yet, despite the climate and the harsh conditions, the average life span of the Pima Indian was 77 years. Someone observing these people would say that they must have had “warrior” genes to survive in such a climate.

Let us look at the Pima Indians today. They have an average life span of 44 years, an obesity rate of 85%, and a diabetes rate of 85%.

They are now all living on reservations and eating the Standard American Diet (SAD).

I can just imagine one of these poor folk going to his doctor and asking, “Doc, why do I have high blood pressure?, why do I have heart disease?, why am I obese?, why did my parents die so young?”

The doctor, of course, replies, “Why it runs in your family, it’s genetic”.

Really?!!!! Did this “run in the family” a few generations ago? Or, is this a problem of the genes not matching the environment?

The real problem with the Pima Indians is that their genetic makeup is such that they need to be eating roots and berries and not eating the Standard American Diet (SAD)

A similar phenomenon can be observed in almost any native culture subsisting on a native diet and then exposed to the SAD. Invariably, people from around the world, who have almost no occurrence of chronic degenerative disease, develop these diseases after exposure to the SAD.

Native Japanese, Eskimos, Africans, and Chinese who live long, healthy, disease free lives are developing chronic degenerative diseases after moving to the US or being exposed to western cultural influences (like McDonald’s).

When the phrase “It runs in my family” is used, it facilitates two major behavioral responses.

Firstly, to the doctor, “it runs in your family” translates to “ We can’t fix the cause of this problem, but we can treat the symptoms with medication”

Secondly, to the patient, “it runs in my family” translates to “I guess there is nothing I can do about this”.

The patient will then relinquish much of his/her personal responsibility and control for adverse health conditions. He/she will embark on medication treatment for symptom relief, unfortunately, never addressing the underlying nutritional/metabolic/environmental imbalances that led to this condition in the first place.

Do not give up control of your health!! Yes, certain people have genetic predispositions to adverse health conditions. However, the majority of the chronic, degenerative diseases running rampant in our country are the result of poor nutritional choices, environmental pollution and lack of adequate exercise.

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