Good News, Bad News on Health Outcomes


“When it comes to genetics, it’s not the cards you are dealt; it’s how you play them.”

– Dr. Walter Bortz II, M.D., Clinical Professor of Medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine, longevity & healthy aging expert, author of numerous books, >130 articles, and a regular Huffington Post contributor. (Disclosure: Dr. Bortz is a strategic advisor.)

Usually I want to be given the bad news first, but this time I want to flip it because I am so excited to share the good news.

My husband and I recently attended a lecture series called “Dare to be 100,” given by a man who is clearly living up to his book title’s challenge: 85-year-old Stanford professor emeritus, Dr. Walter Bortz II.  He and his wife have completed 43 marathons, the latest one in 2013.


Dr. Bortz started the presentation with an apology to the audience. “I came into medicine, like my father before me, to heal people. But in medical school we didn’t learn how to heal people. We learned which drugs could be given to address any number of health problems…. So, I’m apologizing to you all for the state of our medical system today. And today I want to share good news about what you can do to heal yourself….”

With that humble opening from a credible doctor and professor, the audience was his. He put up a slide called “Determinants of Health” and revealed the good news: when it comes to genetics, it’s not the cards you are dealt; it’s how you play them.

Dr. Bortz said, Genes represent only up to 15% of our health outcomes and our behavior represents more than 55%. The rest of the contributors include things largely outside of our control: social circumstances (i.e., where you are born), accidents, health care (i.e., medical mistakes) and environmental exposure (i.e., polluted air).

You’re in the Driver’s Seat

Think about that. What your mom or dad or great aunt or grandmother had is not your destiny after all? What about all the talk that autoimmune diseases run in families? Well, there is a genetic link, that’s true. But what’s also true and so exciting to me is that whether or not the genes get expressed is up to us individually.

And that brings me to the bad news. You are responsible, even if you don’t want to be. You can no longer blame your heredity on your health outcomes. The cards you are dealt represent only a possible outcome, and a minor one at that. You are mostly in control of whether or not those genes get expressed.

And let’s say you already have a fully expressed autoimmune disease. Are you doomed to follow your mother or your aunt’s footsteps and get progressively worse? No, not necessarily. What is true is that you will always have the genes for MS or Hashimoto’s, etc.; but your lifestyle choices are like having your hand on the dimmer switch for the genetic expression. You can dim or brighten the genes’ expression.

Everyday Choices

Everyday you have behavioral choices that have direct impact on the expression of your genes. You can take pro-health action like exercising, eating an anti-inflammatory diet, removing toxins, and practicing stress reduction; or you can create a pro-disease state by eating processed foods, GMO or pesticide-laden produce, and having unchecked inflammatory stress reactions.

The emerging science of epigenetics (which literally means “on top of,” or “above the” gene) is unfolding to make you the CEO of your health outcomes. And, while it may be a little scary to be in charge, to me it’s enormously hopeful. Because it means with the right information, motivation and action, we have the power to dim down autoimmune conditions … and Alzheimer’s and heart disease and type 2 diabetes, etc., etc.

To me that makes both the good news and bad news great news. How about you?

Take good care!

p.s. Before you go, please accept our FREE gift: Your Optimal Food Guide ebook, which can help you figure out which foods can help you reverse autoimmune conditions or just optimize your health.

p.s.s. And, if you are proactively seeking to heal from any autoimmune condition and want community, support and valuable information, please join our free, private Facebook group: Transcend Autoimmune.

For more on healthy choices, check out Top Immune Triggers: Start with Food. 



  1. Hi Carol,

    Thank you for your question.

    In general, I advocate: Eat organic, unprocessed food. Emphasize vegetables and healthy fats.*
    *My riff on Michael Pollan’s “Eat food, mostly plants, not too much.”

    Top 5 inflammatory foods to eliminate (in no particular order):
    1. Processed food (anything made with flours, high fructose corn syrup, white table salt…)
    2. Added refined sugar and artificial sweeteners
    3. Gluten & grains
    4. Anything with added chemicals: MSG, conventional milk/meat which is loaded with hormones & antibiotics, conventional “dirty dozen” produce which may be pesticide-laden
    5. Bad fats (most vegetable oils & hydrogenated a.k.a. trans-fats)

    Top anti-inflammatory foods to add are nourishing and help heal a leaky gut:
    1. Vegetables, especially above ground, leafy greens & sprouts, plus allium veggies (e.g., garlic, onion, leeks, etc.)
    2. Ample healthy fats: e.g., avocado, coconut, olive oil, tree nuts, seeds, pastured butter & ghee, omega 3 fats from small fish (e.g., sardines, sable, and wild salmon), pasture raised organic meats & eggs
    3. Low blood sugar spiking fruits: e.g., berries, apples, grapefruit, pears
    4. Fermented foods: e.g., plain goat or coconut yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, tempeh, etc.
    5. Herbs & spices: e.g., ginger, turmeric (use with some black pepper for best absorption), cinnamon, saffron, rosemary, etc

    One of my favorite “teas” is turmeric — either grate your own from organic roots which you can find in some natural food stores — or add a tsp of powder (to taste) to simmering coconut or almond milk, add a dash of cinnamon & pinch of black pepper, plus a drop or 2 of organic stevia to taste.

    Let me know how this helps.

    Take good care!


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