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Reported May 3, 2010

Age Wave: Beating Your Genes

PHILADELPHIA (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- The obesity spike is expected to double the number of people with diabetes in the next 25 years. At the same time, the number of people with Alzheimer's disease will nearly quadruple. Science can't eliminate chance, bad choices or bad luck … but can science change your genes or your DNA destiny? Taking control of your genetic fate may be simpler than you think.

Shannon Seitz is trying to stay ahead of a disease that could slowly steal her memory and take her life.

"You know exactly what you are going to lose," Seitz told Ivanhoe. "You know, step-by-step, so that's very frightening."

Seitz watched Alzheimer's ravage her 50-year-old mother's mind and body.

"The darkest moment was when we had to place her into a facility and just walk away for the first time, and the Alzheimer's facilities are locked from the inside because a lot of patients wander," Seitz said. "Just knowing that my mother was locked behind this door…"

Seitz could not save her mom. Now she's focused on saving herself, but wonders if everything she's doing -- training for a marathon, eating right, staying stress-free and playing brain games -- will actually change what she was born with.

"Actually, you can beat your genes," says Emile Mohler, III, M.D., director of vascular medicine at the University of Pennsylvania Health System in Philadelphia.

Whether it's Alzheimer's or heart disease, doctors say do you have control. New research shows something called the epigenome makes it possible. It's a complex network of chemical switches that surround your DNA and turn genes on or off. Your epigenome interacts everyday with the environment. That means everything you come into contact with or put into your body has the power to turn genes on or off.

"There are secrets to success to prevent heart attack and stroke," Dr. Mohler said.

We know smoking takes 10 years off your life. Even inhaling secondhand smoke on a regular basis will damage cells.

"Even one cigarette causes the platelets to stick in the artery and can cause a clot and heart attack, and it also raises blood pressure," Dr. Mohler said.

The American Institute of Cancer Research reports that even with a family history, 45 percent of colon cancers, 38 percent of breast cancers, 69 percent of esophageal cancers would never occur if Americans ate better, weighed less and exercised more.
"It may sound trite, but my advice to everybody is use it or lose it," Lewis Lipsitz, M.D., director of the Institute for Aging Research at Hebrew SeniorLife in Boston, Mass., told Ivanhoe. "If you're sitting in front of your television watching this, get up afterwards and exercise."

Although Seitz is doing everything right, she still worries.

"Every time I forget someone's name, or if I change rooms and I forget where I was going, I'm terrified for an instant that I have Alzheimer's."

A woman taking action so her family's past doesn't become her future.

The FDA already approved the first drug that acts on the epigenome. Called azacitidine, it treats leukemia by activating tumor-suppressing genes. While scientists are still learning more about the epigenome, about 30 other epigenetic drugs are in development around the world.

More Information


Click here for additional research on Beating Your Genes

Click here for Ivanhoe's full-length interview with Dr. Lipsitz

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Melissa Medalie at mmedalie@ivanhoe.com

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