Chronic diseases related to our lifestyle choices often sneak up on us with no warning. Some of us are more likely to develop these illnesses than others. Your family history, food choices, exercise frequency, weight fluctuations and even your genetics can all influence your health. 

The good news is, chronic diseases are generally preventable, and this playbook is designed to help you understand these diseases, how they affect your health and how to make changes in your life to help prevent them. 

What are health–related diseases?

Avoidable health–related and inflammatory–related conditions are a group of diseases, often chronic, that have a strong link to your lifestyle and food choices. By making the correct lifestyle and dietary changes as early as possible in your life, you can substantially lower your risk of developing the following conditions:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Osteoporosis
  • Certain cancers
  • Liver disease
  • Respiratory disease
  • Kidney disease

Various dietary and lifestyle factors are precursors for most chronic diseases. Being obese, for example, has been found to significantly increase your risk of developing one of the above mentioned diseases. Carrying certain variations of a gene will also contribute to your chronic disease risk.

Health, genetics and lifestyle

All of us can develop health–related diseases. If your diet is high in sugar, trans fats, and alcohol, and low in fruit, veggies, and fibre your chronic disease risk would be much higher compared to someone who includes fruit and veggies daily and tends to limit sugars.

The amount of fruit and veg you would need to eat on a day–to–day basis, for example, can be guided by your genetics. Certain genotypes can predispose you to being more sensitive to developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and/or certain cancers. Everyone should, therefore, manage their diet and lifestyle differently.

Let’s talk a little more in–depth about how your genes work, and how they may affect your lifestyle disease risk. Genes produce proteins which dictate how your body functions. Tiny differences in your genes, called Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) affect the hormones and enzymes responsible for your metabolic responses.

Using your genetic information, you can develop a personalised dietary and lifestyle management plan to assist in reducing your chronic disease risk and improving your overall health.

Which genes are involved in chronic disease risk?

There are various genetic variants associated with chronic diseases. Each gene could impact your type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and cancer risk. Here’s a few examples...

ACE

The ACE gene, also known as Angiotensin Converting Enzyme, is not only associated with your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, but will also tell you how likely you are to develop chronic high blood pressure–if you have an unhealthy diet.  ACE is a type of protein that is an important regulator of blood pressure and electrolyte balance in the kidneys. Electrolytes consist of minerals in the body, like sodium, potassium, and chloride, they play a role in your water balance, which can also affect your blood pressure. Knowing your ACE variation can tell you how careful you may need to be with your sugar content, and the maximum amount of salt you should be adding to your food.

FABP2

FABP2 is a protein that is found in the small intestine. The small intestine is the main place in your body where you absorb fat from food. This means that your Fatty Acid Binding Protein (FABP2) plays a key role in the uptake and transport of fats. Depending on your polymorphism of this gene, you could experience higher total and LDL cholesterol (often known as the ‘bad’ type of cholesterol) levels, as well as reduced HDL (good) cholesterol levels–if your saturated and trans fat intake is high. This combination of unhealthy dietary choices, coupled with an increased genetic predisposition, can increase your risk of heart disease.

VDR

Vitamin D plays a part in maintaining your bone health, and the Vitamin D Receptor gene (VDR) binds to vitamin D, which in turn helps with calcium and phosphate absorption. Variations in the VDR gene will impact how well your body utilises calcium for your bones, impacting your risk of osteoporosis if you don’t have sufficient Vitamin D or calcium from other sources. In this instance, if you carry a certain genetic variant of the VDR gene, you may need to increase vitamin D and calcium in their diet.  

CYP1A2, GSTT1, GSTM1 and SOD2

Your liver and a variety of cells in your body have the ability to remove toxins and fight against oxidative damage. Toxins and oxidative damage can come from the food you eat, your environment or are simply created by your body. Genes like the CYP1A2, GSTT1 and GSTM1, and SOD2 are responsible for phase one detoxification, phase two detoxification and antioxidation respectively. Variations in these four genes will impact how well your body handles toxins and oxidative damage, which can be used to help tell you if you may need to prioritise eating more fruit and veg than the average, and/or need to be careful to avoid burnt or charred proteins.

Why lifestyle changes are important

Chronic diseases affect both men and women equally, with the major risk factors for both genders being an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, and tobacco use. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) if we eliminate the major risk factors for chronic disease we could prevent 80% of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and 40% of cancers. The burden of chronic disease is anticipated to increase from 46% to 57% by the year 2020, if we don’t make these much needed lifestyle modifications.

Identifying your environmental risks, and changing these risk factors can alter your chronic disease risk in a predictable way. This is the combination you need to harness the “prevention is better than cure” idea.

Preventing lifestyle diseases

We all know that following a healthy lifestyle is important, and now we know as big reason why–to prevent chronic diseases. In this chapter of the playbook you will learn which lifestyle modifications are essential and the reasons you should follow them.

These recommendations can always be further personalised based on your genetic predispositions.

1. Watch your weight

Watching your weight not only refers to overweight but underweight as well. The goal here is to maintain a healthy weight for your height, as well as a healthy body fat percentage for your age. Being overweight or obese increases your risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer–to name a few. Underweight, on the other hand, can lead to osteoporosis.

A healthy weight is maintainable through balanced eating habits and regular exercise. A few simple changes that you can make to ensure your best weight would be to:

  • Make sure vegetables make up most of your plate
  • Aim for three fruit servings per day
  • Choose high fibre foods like chickpeas and lentils
  • Have at least one serving of nuts and seeds per day
  • Go for more fish than red meat
  • Flavour your food with salt alternatives

2. Exercise, exercise, exercise

Exercise is the first thing to get binned when we get too busy, and the majority of our days are spent seated behind the screens of a computer we quickly become the epitome of sedentary.

Finding time to go to the gym is not always possible, but exercise does not always mean running a tredmil marathon. Try to have activity breaks throughout the day, such as walking around the office, and using the stairs where possible – it all adds up. Aiming for a minimum of three 30 minute work–out sessions per week is all you need to remain physically active–and this in itself will bring you one step closer to preventing lifestyle–related diseases.

3. Vitamin D–the Sunshine vitamin

We have the incredible ability to make vitamin D from spending some time in the sun, and this is useful considering the dietary sources of vitamin is limited to pink oily fish and some mushrooms. However we no longer spend enough time outdoors to get that essential vitamin D, and we often don’t eat enough fish to compensate for it. If this wasn't enough of an obstacle; cloud cover, time spent in the sun, the amount of skin you have exposed, your skin tone, the use of sunscreen and time of day, will influence whether or not you make enough vitamin D to conserve your bone health.

You need vitamin D to help with calcium absorption–preventing bone loss and eventual osteoporosis. To help you meet your vitamin D requirements countries like the UK and USA fortify milk with vitamin D, which is ideal considering milk is a major source of calcium. If you are lactose intolerant, all is not lost, including 90g of salmon 3three times per week will meet your requirements, otherwise a teaspoon of cod liver oil is also an option. If none of these seem like a viable option for you, consider supplementation, but speak to your doctor about is first.

Monitoring your vitamin D levels is always advised, even if you live in a sun filled country. Vitamin D deficiency can lead not only to reduced bone mineral density in the long run, but heart disease as well.

Conclusion

Preventing chronic diseases like obesity, type two diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and osteoporosis are easily done together. Since these conditions usually co–exists, managing your health for one ailment, will assist in alleviating another. For instance if you cut down on sugar and are more selective with your fat choices you can improve your weight management and reduce inflammation, both of which are needed to prevent type two diabetes, and heart disease. Limiting your salt intake reduces you risk for high blood pressure, this means your heart disease risk is lowered too. Vitamin D, exercise and omega-3 fats, might seem like an unusual combination, but together will aid in your heart disease and osteoporosis prevention.

For more tips to help you improve your health, download our guide, Proactive Health Management Playbook.

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