Q: Many people believe that our genetic makeup determines our susceptibility to chronic illnesses like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, but in your book, The Gene Therapy Plan, you explain that our genetic destinies are not fixed. Can you explain why this is true and what we can do to alter our genetic blueprint?
A: The discovery of DNA over 60 years ago was a major milestone in science. And the notion that DNA—our genetic blueprint—is fixed was widely held for many decades. When I was in medical school, this idea that your health is based on the chromosomes you inherit from your parents was universally accepted. Today, this belief still holds true in most U.S. medical schools where disease states are explained and pharmacological drugs are used to treat these conditions.
The entire scope of disease manifestation, however, is a far more complex issue than diagnosing diseases and treating them with either medication or surgery. Chemotherapy, radiation, and the surgical removal of tumors, if necessary, are not the only ways to manage the disease. This is an important distinction in my treatment of patients, and they understand this.
Another essential key to evaluating the underpinning of chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease is epigenetics. Epigenetics is a revolutionary new field in science, and I discuss it at great length in my book The Gene Therapy Plan. Epigenetics chips away at DNA’s unwavering hold on the theory that our genes predispose us to disease.
Q: What are epigenes?
A: Epigenes are, in fact, chemical tags that lie on top of genes and serve as an interface between your environment and genes. Through its interaction with the outside world, epigenes can either turn on or turn off genes. This epigenetic switch causes modifications in genes that promote health or cultivate disease.
Epigenetic influencers include environmental toxins, stress, and nutrition. They can elicit epigenetic changes to the conformation of our genes. So, the ability of our genes to change makes our DNA a dynamic structure, not a rigid one.
Q: How can the DNA actually change?
A: Because DNA is not static, we can do things to promote robust health or to stop deleterious disease. Nutrition has a huge impact on how we alter our genetic blueprint. The Gene Therapy Plan is an evolutionary approach that I developed on the basis of research and genechanging regimens that I’ve used to treat myriad conditions in my patients. Micronutrients and phytochemicals in food possess the power to prevent, treat, and reverse chronic diseases.
My Gene Therapy Plan, as I outline in my book, isn’t a static regimen of bland, tasteless food. It’s a simple Plan that incorporates organic meats and fish, herbs and spices, and vegetables and fruits. The Western diet is riddled with processed, artificial foods that are bad for your health. Many of the nutrients you need to combat disease aren’t found in processed foods.
Improving your diet to incorporate healthier food options will create those food-epigenetic-gene relationships that cultivate wellness and longevity. If your DNA has you destined for disease, changing your diet to incorporate disease-fighting nutrients will turn your health around for the best. Such a plan can actually prevent disease and reverse disease. And I provide ample recommendations on just how you can do this in The Gene Therapy Plan: Taking Control of Your Genetic Destiny with Diet and Lifestyle.
Q: What inspired you to enter the field of oncology and specifically the study of nutrigenetics?
A: My interest in medicine began in my childhood. When I was 9 years old, my mother developed breast cancer. Although she lived bravely, in spite of the disease, she eventually succumbed to it. That was a defining moment in my life. While my interest in science grew after her death, I was struck more so by what I could do to prevent cancer from invading not only my life but also the lives of others. That’s when I decided to become an oncologist.
Throughout my medical career, my motivations and interests expanded into micronutrients and their influence on our immune system and genes. My interests led me to become a research fellow at Rockefeller University where I studied the gene regulation of the immune system. After completing my fellowship, I decided to work at the Strang Cancer Prevention Center in New York, a pioneering organization in the integration of nutrigenetic therapies and allopathic modalities to treat cancer patients.
Q: What prompted you to write this book?
A: I decided to write The Gene Therapy Plan because I wanted to share with others what my patients have known for years—you can navigate your health. While it’s preferable that people avoid smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol excessively, and eating unhealthily, there’s always hope. I’ve seen many cases in which prescribed drugs add years to people’s lives, but the quality is unbearable and affects the patients and their families. And that’s not the kind of life that anyone should have to live. In my book, I offer recommendations on how to begin living a healthier, joy-filled life.
Q: What do you think readers might be surprised to learn while reading The Gene Therapy Plan?
A: That you are in the driver’s seat and can direct the course of your own health. Western medicine, you see, is all about treating the symptoms of diseases. After you get a prescription, well, that’s pretty much it. But it actually isn’t. Something caused your condition. That incessant cough is something, even if the cultures come back from the lab and show nil.
So, don’t ignore that inner voice or nagging thought to dig deeper. That’s been the case with patients who were told that they had a certain amount of time to live after getting a cancer diagnosis. Rather than accept it as their fate, they came to me for a second opinion. And after undergoing my Gene Therapy Plan, I’m happy to report that they are still cancer-free.
The take-home message in my book is that all roads lead to you. Everyone is in control of their genetic destiny if they choose to be. Health isn’t something that is predestined for some and not others. We all can improve our health. But you have to recognize that what you eat and drink and how you feel make all the difference. And those are things you can control.
Q: You share some truly amazing patient success stories in your book, like that of the high-powered executive who was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer and told she had four to six months to live—and now she is healthy twenty years later as a result of chemotherapy and your targeted diet. What are some other examples of patient recovery that you share?
A: The patients I discuss have all given me permission to use their stories. I have two aspects to my practice. I am a triple board-certified oncologist, hematologist, and internist. I was fortunate enough to have worked with some of the top molecular biologists in the world at Rockefeller and Cornell early in my career. I founded Gaynor Wellness (GW) and Gaynor Integrative Oncology (GIO). GW uses an integrative wellness approach and offers recommendations to prevent diseases such as diabetes and obesity. GIO is involved in prevention and treatment of cancer through a comprehensive, tailored treatment plan.
I have many patients who appear regularly with me at seminars and in the media. These patients were given months to live with cancer and have been living for 10 or more years after their initial diagnosis. I also discuss patients who have reversed diabetes and extreme obesity using my targeted supplements and diet plan, as well as people with serious skin diseases who failed to respond to any medication and were able to have successful resolution by changes in diet and targeted nutrition. I recall one young man who had to drop out of college because of an autoimmune hepatitis and was told by two of the best medical centers in the world that high-dose steroids and liver transplant were his only hope. After three months of taking my targeted supplements, juices, and dietary regimen, he was tapered off the steroids, returned to college, and never needed a liver transplant.
Q: There’s a lot of contradictory information about good and bad foods floating around, but your book is actually based on the science of food. What are some myths about nutrition that you’d like to debunk?
A: As I say in the book repeatedly, “It’s never too late to bring back the balance.”
The first myth is that you can eat an unbalanced diet and stay healthy. These are some of the most pervasive nutritional myths:
High fat is good.
High fat is bad.
High carb is good.
Low carb is good.
High protein is good.
Grains are bad.
Meat is bad.
Dairy is bad.
The fact is that all of these are extremes. What people must understand is that balance is important, choices are important, and distinctions are critical. Some fats are bad; some fats—in the right proportions—are good. Some carbs are actually necessary, but refined carbs are uniformly bad. Protein is good if it comes from the right sources and is not adulterated. Dairy is a good source of calcium and vitamin D, but dairy products should be organic whenever possible.
Q: Supplements are sometimes viewed negatively. Why do you recommend them?
A: Supplements are dangerous is another myth. Some supplements if they are not high quality and taken in the right proportion are hazardous to your health—just as water can be dangerous if consumed in excess or is contaminated. The right supplements can be absolutely critical for maintaining optimal health. They are just that, supplementary to a healthy lifestyle that includes the right nutrition, exercise, and the minimization of stress.
Unfortunately, we no longer live on the planet that our grandparents did. With all of the pollutants, food additives, and other epigenetic toxins, it is no wonder that we are rapidly approaching the time when 50% of people will be developing cancer. This is unacceptable and unnecessary. If people are not given the knowledge to make distinctions between good and bad foods, good and bad supplements, then it will not be possible to reverse this trend.
Q: You call into question some foods that we think of as healthy—like granola bars, store-bought smoothies, and olive oil (as a cooking oil). Conversely, you share some amazing facts about superfoods, like turmeric. How can we cut through the hype at the grocery store and make better purchases?
A: Fancy marketing may reel people in to believing that many foods are healthy when they are anything but. First you need to learn how to read labels, which I discuss in the book in detail. Look for warning signs like “high fructose corn syrup.” Also, look for positive things like the organic symbol. Go with whole grain rather than multigrain. Avoid crunchy foods and packages like chips and crackers, which contain both acrylamide and oils subjected to extremely high heat. Damaged oils are as bad as white sugar and white flour. Olive oil is great to consume every day but not for cooking as it denatures at relatively low heat.
I talk about the best cooking oils in the book too. You should also watch out for chemically processed foods and spices. Cinnamon, for example, should be consumed only when it’s an organic product. Also, grapeseed oil can be pressed naturally; if it’s chemically extracted, hexane residues can result. Store-bought smoothies may not be organic and may contain added sugar. The super nutrients contained in garlic, magnolia bark, turmeric, black raspberries, avocado, pumpkin seeds, and flaxseeds, are just a few of the things to keep in your pantry.
Q: The Gene Therapy Plan is divided into chapters that deal with specific health problems—for example, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Can you give a few examples of how nutrigenetic plans differ for the particular disease you want to target?
A: The diseases that are targeted concern almost everybody today – such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer. I have a chapter on aging which most people do not consider a disease. However, the way we age today actually can be considered a disease.
If you look at the definition of disease, you’ll find “disease dis·ease (d-zz’) n. A pathological condition of a body part, an organ, or a system resulting from various causes, such as infection, genetic defect, or environmental stress, and characterized by an identifiable group of signs or symptoms”
Take aging, for instance: degenerative conditions such as forgetfulness, fatigue, poor eyesight, weight gain, and osteoporosis are associated with aging and occur often and happen much earlier and in a more severe form than is necessary.
Q: How do environmental toxins activate chronic diseases like cancer?
A: For cancer, there are nutrients that target cancer by looking at the causes of cancer. Environmental toxins activate tumor promoter and tumor suppressor genes. This is known as toxicogenomics.
Fortunately, there are beneficial nutrients to counteract on a genetic level the damage done by the toxins. This is known as nutritional genomics. We can positively influence the production of detoxification enzymes and their function by consuming nutrients such as garlic, omega-3 fatty acid, cruciferous vegetables, and certain supplements such as sulforaphane and turmeric.
We can also put foods in our body to ensure that dormant cancer cells stay dormant.
By the time people are in their twenties, they have dormant cancer cells in one or more organ systems of the body. If you have active cancer, the goal is to make these active cancer cells dormant again. If you do not have active cancer, your risk is almost 50% of developing dormant cancer in your lifetime. Therefore, you want to keep dormant cancer cells inactive. I discuss the variety of nutrients to assist with this such as grapeseed extract, flaxseeds, olive oil, and supplements such as magnolia and black raspberry.
Q: What do you recommend for other chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity?
A: For heart disease, good mitochondrial function, healthy blood vessels, and anti-inflammation are essential. And there are targeted nutrients for this, as well. For diabetes, it is essential to optimize sugar metabolism by lowering inflammation and consuming nutrients such as magnesium and alpha lipoic acid, which influences the uptake of glucose by cells. Influencing obesity requires the uptake of leptin and ghrelin. There are nutrients that affect this as well. Also, new fat cells require the growth of new blood vessels and there are anti-angiogenic nutrients that inhibit this such as resveratrol, turmeric, and apigenin.