Preventive Medicine

Healthy Food? Maybe Not for You!

The compatibility of superfoods with your genetic makeup

By Richard Labaki


An adage you would always hear me say is, “one person’s food is another person’s poison.”  It is a conviction I have been upholding for years – verified by both continuous research and helping others through holistic therapy.  And this is mainly the reason why you never see me blindly following a certain health doctrine or an alleged “healthy diet.”  Various elements need to be factored in before deciding if a specific food is good for you or not – allergies, digestive capabilities and drawbacks, genetic predispositions and others. 

As more and more people are trying to reclaim their wellbeing through fixing their lifestyle and dietary habits, it could get confusing sifting through the influx of information and making sense of it all.  Moreover, we are bombarded daily with articles written by professionals, amateurs and marketers (each harboring his or her own agenda) in which traditional and exotic food items are praised. 

Turmeric, coconut oil and other so-called “superfoods” have been receiving their fair share of glorification within the natural health community – and for very good reason.  Several of these foods have been under investigation by scientists for a while now.  And in many instances, the results have been impressive in terms of balancing the human body and inducing vitality. 

Turmeric, for example, continues to baffle researchers.  Its ability to reduce inflammation (arguably the strongest root cause for many of today’s diseases) is simply remarkable.  Additionally, turmeric has demonstrated an impressive ability to make several types of cancer cells commit suicide – a process scientifically called apoptosis.  

Given the health benefits of such amazing foods, your tendency to incorporate them into your diet becomes overwhelmingly strong. And this is simply a major mistake!

Another superfood with an impressive array of health benefits is extra virgin coconut oil, which is one of the few types of dietary fats that actually help in burning body-fat!  This healthy fat is rich in the energizing medium chain triglycerides (MCT), has a favorable impact upon the thyroid gland and is rich in caprylic acid, which is capable of killing off bad bugs (bacteria, viruses, fungi, etc.) in the body. 

Given the health benefits of such amazing foods, your tendency to incorporate them into your diet becomes overwhelmingly strong.  And this is simply a major mistake!  Thanks to the relatively new but solid science of genetic testing, I have been able to ascertain what I have suspected all along: Some foods, despite their positive impact on health in general, could spell disaster for some individuals.  And to make my point, I will share with you two separate cases I have been working on for a while now. 

The dark side of superfoods

The first case is a man in his fifties suffering from high toxicity in the body.  Toxic heavy metals like mercury, cadmium and aluminum appeared in high levels in his tissues.  Despite having him follow a detoxification plan, the toxic values in his system were coming down at a snail pace.  And so the next logical step for me was to request a genetic test specifically designed to assess the detoxification capabilities.  As expected, this man had several genetic disadvantages that made his body weak in terms of excreting the various toxins and heavy metals that enter our body via polluted air, water and food supply.  

But what was most intriguing is how turmeric (mainly its active ingredient curcumin) negatively affected a chemical reaction in his detoxification process called acetylation!  He had a genetic variation that is potentially causing a reduced activity of N-acetyl Transferase 2 (NAT2) resulting in slowed acetylation.  As it turned out, turmeric could further reduce the activity of NAT2 enzyme, which is bad news for him.  Had we not done this test, he could have possibly continued supplementing with turmeric on the presumption that it is helping improve his overall health. 

Another intriguing case is that of a 34-year-old woman who had been battling with weight issues despite her health-inducing efforts in terms of exercising, eating clean and adopting good habits.  A genetic testing for body-weight issues determined that she has a tendency that renders her body inefficient in terms of handling dietary fat in general and saturated fat in specific.  Too much saturated fat in her diet could potentially sabotage her efforts to lose weight (even if the saturated fat is derived from a healthy source.)  This was further validated via a stool test, which revealed an inability on her part to digest lipids properly.  And so while coconut oil could help heal, energize and burn body-fat for many individuals, my client was genetically predisposed to have an opposite reaction to it. 

Guided healing

Your decision to take matters into your own hands when it comes to health is praiseworthy.  After all, your body is the one entity that you could never replace if it ever breaks down totally (unlike material possessions such as cars, clothes, homes and others.)  However, and given the complexity of the human body and how each person reacts differently to similar elements, treading the path to a healthier life could be very confusing and replete with traps.  Therefore, a good strategy is to seek the guidance of a functional medicine doctor or holistic therapist who could help you in pinpointing your specific problems and determining the best course of action.  Bear in mind though that the good therapist/doctor is one who will not dispense the same general recommendations to everyone in a copy-paste fashion!  He or she should have the skills/knowledge to determine which superfoods and supplements work best for you.  And while there is no unique diet that works for everyone, there is, however, a unique diet for each individual waiting to be uncovered.

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Confessions of an Incurable Health Addict

By Richard Labaki


“I would not be recommending to you this nutritional supplement had I not personally used it and thoroughly researched its therapeutic benefits,” is a phrase I often repeat to clients who are hesitant about taking vitamins, minerals or herbal extracts.  Though more and more people are becoming aware of the efficacy and relative safety of many nutritional supplements, some remain uncomfortable about popping pills on daily basis.  And I am always allaying their concerns by explaining that the right nutritional supplements (made by reputable companies) are worth ingesting and are not to be equated with pharmaceutical drugs. 

Health by GotCredit, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  GotCredit 

Moreover, seeing how some orthodox medicine doctors are becoming curious about nutritional supplements is intriguing.  But I am not holding my breath that soon they would substitute pharmaceutical drugs with nutritional supplements in helping their patients with health conditions like arthritis, high blood sugar, hypertension and others.  Truth of the matter is many medical doctors – some of whom are good friends of mine – view supplements with suspicion or simple disregard.  Their argument is always the same: Supplements are not scientifically proven to be effective in terms of inducing health and preventing diseases. And they could be potentially dangerous.  Nothing puts a big smile on my face more than hearing this deeply flawed argument, which I easily debunk through a twofold response.

It is funny how we humans have a tendency to reach conclusions about serious issues without even bothering to acquire the necessary facts.  This for me would be labelled as mental laziness.  Thousands of studies regarding various herbs, nutrients, vitamins and minerals have been conducted by renowned scientists, institutes and universities across the world.  For example, the health benefits of vitamin C have been documented in over 18,000 studies!  And as for the “potentially dangerous” part, I say that supplements are very safe – at the very least far safer than pharmaceutical drugs!  I mean, read the pamphlet of any medication and check out the numerous side effects that it could cause.  

In contrast, I challenge anyone to prove to me that someone died or went to hospital due to a complication caused by vitamin C  or Omega 3 supplementation.  That is not to say that the administration of supplements should not be organized and that any supplement brand will do.  Yes, there are lousy brands out there that do not employ proper manufacturing practices and do not test their raw material for contamination.  And yes, some people might not react well to a specific herb or nutrient – especially if used wrongly or randomly.  But at the end of the day, the side effects are usually light and go away the moment one stops using the supplement.  The complications caused by pharmaceutical drugs, on the other hand, are usually far more severe (many of which are often irreversible.) 

Take for example acetaminophen, which is marketed under various names.  Sold as over-the-counter medication (meaning no doctor’s prescription is needed) as a pain reliever, acetaminophen is known to cause serious liver problems.  Sometimes, and if taken in high dosages, the damage is so severe that death may occur or a liver transplantation becomes necessary!  And guess what doctors at the emergency room administer when someone is admitted due to acetaminophen poisoning?  They use N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine or NAC.  This is a natural compound sold as a nutritional supplement to boost liver function and help the body in the detoxification process.  Ironic, don’t you think! 

And this brings me to another equally important point.  Most medical doctors frown upon nutritional supplements and herbal extracts.  Yet, most of them fail to realize that there are more than 110 prescription drugs based purely on plant and herbal extracts!  Below is a small sample:

·         Sisal: Steroids and cortisone were first isolated from this plant

·         Meadow Saffron: The source of colchicine, which is used to treat gout and cancer

·         Foxglove: The source of heart disease medications

·         Woolly Foxglove: Used in treating cerebral malaria

·         Melilot: Anti-coagulant drugs used to control thrombosis are developed from this plant

·         Opium Poppy: Produces narcotic painkillers, including common codeine

·         Thorn Apple: Used for asthma and Parkinson’s disease

·         Belladonna: Used to dilate pupils in sight-saving eye surgery

·         Feverfew: Used in the treatment of migraine

·         Ginger: Relieves the symptoms of nausea, especially morning sickness

·         Evening Primrose Oil: Used to alleviate PMS and eczema

·         Meadowsweet: The aspirin compound “acetyl-salicylic acid” was isolated from this plant in 1827.

So as you can see, modern medicine owes a lot to Mother Nature.  Our health owes a lot to the various plants, vegetables, fruits, roots, seeds and nuts that the Earth provides.  And by adopting the natural approach to health (eating the right food and taking the right herbs), one could work on healing the body in a more holistic fashion – instead of simply trying to mask the symptoms.  It is my humble belief that all the cures for our modern day diseases could be found in healthy food and herbal remedies.  And ongoing scientific research is making this conviction more solid every day.  I sometimes ponder the notion that only five percent of the plant species have actually been examined for pharmacological activity – imagine that!  And so I will continue recommending nutritional supplements that are backed by extensive research and manufactured by reputable companies.  Actually, I have a confession to make.  I personally use anywhere from six to eight different supplements every day for better energy, mood, focus and overall well-being.  I am addicted to being healthy and some addictions are just worth keeping! 

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Defusing your Genetic Bombs

By Richard Labaki


“It runs in the family” is an expression I often hear from clients when the diagnostic phase uncovers a certain imbalance, such as elevated cholesterol, triglycerides or other biomarkers.  And this expression is normally conveyed with a sense of surrender to the genetic fate.  After all, there is no point in struggling against something over which they have no control – or so they believe!  Yes, we come to this life with a determined set of genes that define our physical looks, metabolic capacity, fitness levels, susceptibility to certain health conditions, and even our mental and psychological tendencies (the latter is debatable on the premise of nature vs. nurture theory.)  However, and while our looks and height are unchangeable genetic expressions, not all of the genes that we have inherited (whether the good or the bad) are bound to be expressed at one point in our lives. 

So let’s assume that comprising your genetic makeup is a bad gene that predisposes you to a certain type of cancer.  This does not mean that you will be hit by this cancer at one point in your life.  Surely, you have a greater tendency to develop this disease than someone who does not have the specific gene for it.  Yet, what is becoming apparent today, as our understanding of genetics deepens, is that a bad gene could be switched on or remain switched off based on a series of elements – many of which we can certainly control! 

An example I have personally witnessed is a dear friend who developed a tumor in the thyroid gland a couple of years back.  Her twin sister did not suffer the same ordeal.  And we all know that identical twins share similar genetic makeup, so surely this tells us something highly intriguing about gene expression.  If bad genes were ticking bombs that are set to “explode” at a predetermined time then twins should likely suffer the same disease and at around the same phase in their lives.  However, now we know that the issue is far more complex than previously believed.

Pinpoint and prevent  

The elements that play a crucial role in gene expression include one’s diet, lifestyle (daily habits such as activity and inactivity levels), stress, exposure to environmental pollution and others.  So in essence, how you lead your life and where you live determines whether the bad genes that you have inherited will be expressed in the form of a disease or not.  Consequently, learning about your genetic background goes a long way in helping you implement a customized health plan that reduces the likelihood of developing diseases to which you are genetically susceptible.  Few labs around the world currently provide genetic analysis to determine issues concerning disease disposition and other health-related matters.  

My work with Dermapro Clinics, Detox & Wellness Center got me in contact with a genetic testing lab in Europe with which the center collaborates.  By providing a saliva sample, the lab is able to determine your genetic profile in sub-panels (specific aspects like physical fitness, weight control, skin health, etc.) This way, a person could select matters that are most significant to him or her.  The tests provided by the lab not only pinpoint genetic weaknesses/predispositions but also provides specific preventative recommendations in terms of nutrition and lifestyle.  And this helps tremendously in optimizing your genetic expression in order to improve overall well-being.  Such genetic tests are undoubtedly the next step in the realm of preventive medicine – helping holistic therapists and functional medicine doctors in customizing health plans that consider each person’s unique set of challenges.  

If you found this article interesting, please "share" and "like". And feel free to leave your comments/questions below - I would love to hear your opinion and answer your questions.