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The Bogey of Genetic Determination

by Doris Grant(more info)

listed in dna gene expression, originally published in issue 32 - September 1998

Today, since the advent of 'spectacular genetics' in modern medicine, very many diseases are being blamed on heredity. As a result, there is now a dangerous and widely held belief that genes inherited from our parents can be responsible for an increasing number of conditions, cancers in particular, and that nothing can be done about them – apart from highly questionable genetic engineering.

The author holding the famous Grant loaf

The author holding the famous Grant loaf

It is therefore imperative that the thinking responsible for this bogey should be revealed as a false genetic concept of what actually constitutes an hereditary disease. This false concept, moreover, has such serious implications that it could open up a veritable Pandora's Box for humanity; mentally, physically, socially and ethically. Unless this is widely acknowledged and understood we may find our bodies and our foods inexorably engineered and our right to choose gone forever.

The first to draw attention to this false concept was the famous American doctor and surgeon, William Howard Hay, in the early years of this century. He warned that heredity is not to blame and on our parents we may blame only our 'predisposition' to disease of this or that organ – the actual disease emerging sooner or later, or hopefully never, according to our own lifestyle and environment.[1]

By the nineteen-sixties another famous doctor, Surgeon Captain T L Cleave, had expressed his concern about blaming heredity for so many of our diseases. In The Saccharine Disease[2] he pointed out that the struggle for existence has prevented malformations exceeding five per thousand live births, and gave the following figures (see Table 1):

Table 1: Malformations per thousand live births

Spina bifida, meningocele  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .     2.0
Congenital malformations of the heart  . . . . . . . . . . . .      2.8
Cleft palate, hare lip   . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .    1.5
Pyloric stenosis (not certainly a true
Congenital malformation)   . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .     3.3
Club foot   . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .    4.2
Congenital idiocy (including mongolism)  . . . . . . . . . . .    2.1

Dr Cleave also pointed out that most other hereditary defects have much lower figures than these, confirming that the incidence of disease from basic gene disorder is small.

Known as 'Peter' to his friends, Dr Cleave warned that before attributing an ailment to an hereditary defect, the frequency of occurrence, or incidence of the ailment, must be considered. "If the incidence of the ailment is many times as great as that of any known hereditary defect, then, quite apart from other considerations, such a cause for the ailment becomes extraordinarily improbable. For example, in the case of the conditions… Such as varicose veins and peptic ulcer, the incidence is over twenty times as great which makes hereditary defects as the cause of them correspondingly untenable. This approach by incidence figures is thus of great value in deciding whether a disease is due to hereditary defect, or to a new factor in the environment to which no adaptation is yet possible."

Recent research appears to support Dr Cleave's argument; a number of 'so-called' hereditary defects have now been shown to respond to preventive treatment, revealing that something CAN be done about them, and that heredity is therefore not to blame.

Spina bifida, for instance, and other neural tube defects, can be reduced by up to 70 per cent if women take the B vitamin, folic acid, before pregnancy, until at least twelve weeks into pregnancy. As the risk of spina bifida can thus be greatly reduced and in time prevented, spina bifida cannot be regarded as a lasting mistake of inherited genes.

Hereditary defects could more helpfully and understandably be termed "intercepted heredity", "disturbed" or "thwarted" heredity. First, because regarding them as inexorably hereditary creates a frightening sense of helplessness, of being a prisoner of our own genes.

Secondly, because this helplessness diverts attention from environmental factors which might suggest or provide a remedy.

As Hans Moolenburgh, a Dutch physician of wide acclaim, has observed; "Genes are not everything. What we see here is not a lasting mistake of the genetic structure… most probably a temporary genetic mistake through some poison, or illness in the ancestor which (if not repeated in the following generation) will be repaired in possibly three or four generations."[3]

Genes and cancer

In the World Cancer Research Fund Newsletter No. 10, 1993, Richard H. Wilson, Research Fellow, Queen's University, Belfast, emphasises: "that a genetic predisposition to cancer does not mean that an individual will develop the disease. It is not necessarily our genes that give us cancer but the behaviour of those genes in our bodies, and outside factors like the food we eat can play a very large role in regulating how genes can act."

In this same Newsletter a very comforting editorial firmly and similarly states: "Nobody is predestined to get cancer … it is true that some of us may have a higher risk of cancer because of the genes we have inherited. Scientists now agree that whether or not we develop the disease is most probably determined by the way we live our lives, the food we eat, whether we choose to smoke, how much we drink, how much exercise we take … all these lifestyle factors are thought to play a role in cancer development … quite simply, by making a choice about the way we live, we can ultimately take control of our lives and perhaps stop cancer before it starts."

According to Barclay Newman, author of Vital Food Factors[4] it is possible to prevent cancer by use of counter factors in the form of nutrition. He claims, for instance, that even if a human gene with a flaw has a tendency to do mischief to a developing baby, a high intake of B vitamins and vitamin C can act as a disease counteraction.

Since 1993, when the U.S. Academy of Science published its "landmark report" on cancer, there has been compelling evidence that nutrition in the form of unhealthy eating habits is indeed the main environmental cause of cancer. Irrefutable confirmation of this evidence came to light in September 1997, in the World Cancer Research Fund's major new scientific report: Food, Nutrition and the Prevention of Cancer, a global perspective.[5] It clearly reveals that cancer is largely a preventable disease and that dietary change offers some of the simplest, most positive ways to prevent the disease. The message behind the report stressed the importance of achieving the correct balance of different foods we eat and that we must base our diet primarily on foods of plant origin – exactly as recommended by Dr Hay many years ago.

The World Cancer Research Fund's report was compiled by one hundred and twenty prominent scientists and other experts who, since 1993, have analysed more than 4,500 of the leading research studies from around the world, in order to develop diet and health recommendations for the prevention of cancer. Thanks to the balanced reporting by many key journalists in specialist journals, radio and television, the message that cancer could be prevented prevailed – and heredity as the genetic cause of cancer was turned on its head.

The gene machine

During the nineties, advances in molecular genetics have been taking place at high speed. Brilliant research by both British and American scientists has now produced a machine with which they claim to predict people's life span and their susceptibility to disease.[6] They also claim they can identify abnormalities in a person's genes which will enable doctors to diagnose and treat illnesses even before they can see the symptoms.

This machine can also identify women who, with a high incidence of cancer in the family tree, are 'predestined' to inherit breast cancer. This has produced the appalling, frightening result that many 'perfectly healthy' young women are now demanding to have their 'perfectly healthy' breasts cut off in advance to prevent this much feared form of cancer. If, on the other hand, they decide against their removal, the remainder of their lives can be overshadowed with fear. A number of such victims claimed it was like living with a Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. Others claimed that their terror was indescribable.

It is a matter for deep thankfulness that a number of well-informed and commonsensical surgeons regard the removal of healthy breasts as far too drastic, and at the end of a two-day conference in 1993 they called for ethical guidelines to be formulated to protect women from the consequences of a gene test, and from the knowledge of 'inherited' illnesses which might otherwise blight the lives of thousands of women.


Social and ethical implications of the gene test

These have been considered 'phenomenal' and the issue termed 'a potential minefield' by a leading member of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund.

These implications could, for example, influence the decision who to marry and have children with; they could decide on abortion to prevent a baby being born which had a genetic susceptibility to Alzheimer's disease at age 60;[7] they could have serious – and very expensive – implications for buying insurance; and they could find it difficult to obtain employment as employers might be reluctant to hire someone at high risk of illness and early death.

The day after the above paragraph was written, huge headlines in the Daily Mail (16.2.98) read: "Insurers demand results of gene tests.

Leading academics were stunned and accused insurers of 'riding roughshod' over official guidelines." These guidelines, set by an advisory commission, had recommended a two-year moratorium. Leading academics are strongly opposing genetic tests, regarding them as "an unnecessary intrusion into personal privacy". Moreover, the concept that our genes are responsible for so-called inherited ailments appears to be a false one: irrefutable evidence recently revealed by cancer specialists world-wide blames unhealthy eating habits as the main environmental cause of our illnesses and not our genes. Insurers who insist on results of gene tests should be sued for doing so.

There are implications and pitfalls even for those who screen negative for cancer; they might become more resistant to advice on healthy lifestyles; they might feel safe continuing to smoke; they could well feel safe continuing their unhealthy eating habits – "deplete diets", as Dr Kenneth Vickery, Vice President of the Royal Institute of Public Health, has termed them.[8] Moreover, his distinguished work over some 50 years in Community Medicine has convinced him that by far and away the most important factor leading to the onset of cancer is "deplete nutrition".

It now appears that the Government's Chief Medical Officer, Sir Kenneth Calman, is likewise convinced: a government study has found that as many as two-thirds of cancer cases are linked to the type of food people eat. This research, approved for publication by Sir Kenneth, is the first officially sanctioned report to make a connection between diet and cancer, the second biggest killer in Britain after heart disease, and affecting one in three people.[9]

New discoveries and morality

Of all the serious implications of this genetic age, by far the most alarming ones are those which threaten to undermine virtually all the morals and the rules that bind society together.

Unfortunately researchers are discovering more and more genes for brain functions: suicides, violence, depression, adultery, infidelity, homosexuality. The latest discovery is the 'promiscuity gene'. According to a remarkable and truly alarming article by Daniel Jeffreys in the Daily Mail of Feb. 16. 1998, this gene apparently encourages men (and probably women) to have sex with a variety of partners. Daniel Jeffreys warns that unless we take urgent precautions we are set to hand out the "ultimate excuse to anyone acting in a criminal, selfish, or anti-social manner." "Don't blame me," they will be able to say – "my actions are predetermined by chemicals in my brain." And Daniel points to the certainty that defence lawyers will ensure that the courts will not be able to ignore the 'genetic excuse'; that lawyers will demand their clients be tested to see if they have genes that can be used in mitigation, when they will demand charges be dropped on the grounds that "their clients are unable to help it when they rob, rape, maim or murder." This, Daniel stresses, is "a nightmare in the making."

It would appear to be highly moral and life saving, therefore, that scientists world wide have found compelling evidence that the most important factors leading to the onset of cancers and of other conditions is not the bogey of genes that have "gone wrong", but unhealthy eating habits and unhealthy lifestyles.

If you are aware therefore of a familial tendency towards cancer, premature heart disease or stroke, healthy ways of living (with as much organic food as the housekeeping purse will allow) have the potential to protect you and give you added years of life despite any genetic "predispositions." On the other hand a poor lifestyle built around refined sugary foods with little or no fresh elements and over-laid with smoking may hasten your falling victim to degenerative disease far too early in life.

But whether or not you are aware of familial tendencies, a healthy lifestyle will not only add years to your life but also add life to your years. Our health lies largely in our own hands – the choice is ours.


1. A New Health Era, New York University, 1981, Harrop & Co. Ltd., London 1933, 34, 36.
2. The Saccharine Disease, John Wright & Sons Ltd., Bristol 1974. (out of print)
3. A personal communication.
4. Vital Food Factors, Julian Press, New York.
5. Food, Nutrition and the Prevention of Cancer, a global perspective, World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research, London and Washington DC, 1997.
6. The Sunday Times, 25 August, 1979.
7. Daily Telegraph, 21 February 1997.
8. Choose Health, Choose Life, Kingsway Publications Ltd., 1986 (out of print).
9. Sunday Times, 8 June 1997. "Bad diet is the biggest cause of cancer."


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About Doris Grant

Doris Grant has been an advocate of healthy eating as a path to good health for more than sixty five years. In 1931 she fell ill with a severe rheumatic condition that failed to respond to conventional treatment but improved dramatically when she began to follow Dr Hay’s system. She is the co-author of the phenomenally successful Food Combining for Health and many other books.

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