Destined for dis-ease? Let's talk about your "mommy genes"...

As I write this, I’m looking out at an incredible view of rural southern Oregon in one of the best times of the year in this area.

Me + my Earthrunners enjoying a hike in southern Oregon

Rolling mountains, lush green forest, and life budding everywhere - I’m soaking up this magical energy before packing up my laptop and heading back home to Chicago. I was so happy to spend Mother’s Day celebrating the mothers of the world and Mother Earth dipping into the expansive, unapologetic (and freezing!) Pacific ocean... a reminder of how exhilarating it is to be alive and just feel, no?

Mother’s day is always a bittersweet time for me since my mom’s passing from breast cancer. It’s filled with a mix of beauty, sadness, deep appreciation, reflection and gratitude. Lately, I’ve been reflecting on the things that are passed on to us by our mothers, and mothers' mothers and so on. No matter what kind of relationship you may have with your mom (or if there is one at all), there is something that has been passed on to you - whether we wanted it or not.

There are a lot of myths and misconceptions out there when it comes to inheritance and “genetic fate.” Today I wanted to share some radical findings about our genes, examine the things that we don’t want to inherit or pass on, and how you can step in and out of your “mommy genes.”

I’m so grateful for everything my mom has passed on to me, and what I have learned from her journey with illness. But one of the biggest lessons I walk with is that while my biology and experiences have been greatly influenced by my mom and ancestors, I am ultimately the creator of my own destiny.  

And guess what? You are too.

Conventional wisdom would tell you that I’m “destined” for cancer. I’m my mother’s daughter - I look like her, we share the same blood type, I suffered from many of the same ailments as she did, I mean, half my genes came from mom! And yet, with some key shifts, so far I’ve been able to overcome a lot of the things that I thought would plague me for the rest of my life.

When a client tells me there is nothing we can do about their poor cholesterol/ weight/allergies/skin disorder/autoimmune disease/{insert challenge here} because it “runs in the family,” I honestly get pumped because it’s a chance to show them how shifting some key things in their life can lead to changes previously thought impossible.

So let’s take a look at some ways our genes are impacted and what we can do about it.


There are a lot of things your mom gave you. Maybe your hair + eye color, bone structure and stature, perhaps your predisposition for allergies or addiction to chocolate may have even come from mom. But just because your mom had asthma, hypertension and poor comedic timing doesn’t mean that you are destined to have them too. New science has blown that old model out of the water, and made way for new and empowering ways of looking at our so called “genetic fate.”

Genes are blueprints. They are not self-actualizing - meaning they don’t control anything, they are simply a blueprint for life very much like the kind of blueprint an architect creates for a building. That building doesn’t go up by itself, and the blueprint can be changed or revised. The same goes for our genes - their activity can be altered by the information in the environment. This changing of the readout of the blueprint is called epigenetics. You may start off with a “healthy” gene, but epigenetic factors can rewrite the gene and mutate it. You can also start with a mutated gene but food, lifestyle and other environmental factors can “downregulate” the gene so that it goes unexpressed.

At first, this may seem scary and overwhelming... but it’s actually pretty frikin empowering. To put this into perspective, let’s take a look at how epigenetics relates to cancer.

Did you know that only 10% of cancer is actually involved with genes being the core problem - and that up to 90% has to do with environment & lifestyle?


But what about that 10% though... what if you’re one of the ones who have a “cancer gene” - are you doomed? To examine this question, let’s take a look at breast cancer since it’s one of the leading cancers for women and highly researched as it relates to its genetic associations.

According to latest research, up to 50% - 65% of women born with a deleterious mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2 (known genetic changes that increase one’s risk for developing breast cancer) will statistically develop breast cancer by age 70.

Let’s flip this, shall we?

That means that about 50% of women with these gene mutations WILL NOT develop cancer by age 70.

So what is it with the women who have the BRCA gene but didn’t get the cancer?

Scientists believe it has to do with the environment that their genes are exposed to - the so called “ecology” they’re swimming in... diet, lifestyle, beliefs, stress.



Food matters. Your food, your mama’s food, your grandmama’s food. It all matters. There’s even a science for it - nutrigenomics is the science of how nutrients affect your genome, so literally how food “talks” to your genes.


Graham Greene's Thrillers and the 1930s

You are what you eat your mom ate {insert “yo mama” joke here}.

It turns out that not only does food, thru nutrigenomics, change gene expression... but the food your mom ate can change your gene expression.

Maternal nutrition at conception - not just pregnancy - was found to affect persistent and epigenetic changes in offspring’s DNA methylation and genetic variability. Translation: Whatever mom was eating around baby makin’ time was a big factor in deciding which of your genes were expressed, which were not, and which were changed - totally unique from any of your siblings.

Planning on having a baby anytime soon? You might want to consider what’s on your plate now rather than later.

Alright, so some of you might be thinking “Great. Knowing my mom... my genes were screwed from Day 0.”

But all's not lost! You actually have a great amount of power at your fingertips to change your biology, and food is one way of doing that.

For example, researchers in Norway

Behavioral Finance and Investor Types: Managing Behavior to Make Better Investment Decisions (Wiley Finance)

found that genes involved in type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some forms of cancer are upregulated/activated by a carbohydrate-rich diet for the folks in their study. They also found it took just 6 days to change gene expression of each volunteer.


So in less than a week you can literally change how some of your genes are being expressed by simply minding what you put into your mouth. While this study is not saying a lower carb diet will work for everyone, it IS saying that changing your food changes your genes.

Bugs - The Mommy Microbiome

We have just 22,000 human genes to work with, half of them coming from your mom. But now we know that there is SO much more to the genome story... You might have heard that our bacteria inside and outside of our bodies outnumber our cells 10-1, which means that not only are we working with our human genes, we are working with bacterial genes too - an estimated 8 million of them interacting with our biology, development and health.

Mom’s microbes (or lack of them) affect your health in various ways that we are just beginning to discover...

It turns out mom’s womb is not sterile like previously thought, so you’re getting a dose of bacterial genes in-utero.

Whether or not she had a C-section could impact chronic disease in her children. That first baby meal of bacteria-rich fluids swallowed during a vaginal birth appears to be protective since children born via C-section are significantly more likely to develop things like allergic diseases, autoimmune disorders, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Breastmilk is not just a concoction of macronutrients that can be mimicked by a formula. It also has microbes that are involved in the development of your immune system, protects against infection and the development of allergies and asthma later in childhood.

Recent evidence points to our microbiome, which is initially impacted by our mom’s microbiome, as a big factor in obesity - since the bacterial composition of your gut can alter weight gain and metabolism.

So quite literally, your mommy’s microbiome impacts your health and evolution as a human being.

There is still so much more that we don’t know and yet continuously discovering, but I think the take away lesson here this:

Our choices today have a profound impact on our genes and the genes of our children (and future generations).

What we choose to put on our plate and our bodies, where and how we choose to give birth, even what we choose to believe all influence the expression of our genes and ultimately our well-being.

Biology of Belief

There is so much more that we receive outside of our parents nuclear DNA, even beyond the microbiome mentioned above. We inherit patterns and imprints that have been passed down through our ancestral lineage as well as from the stress, beliefs and behaviors of our moms, grandmothers, etc. These can have a profound impact on our biology and the way we choose to live our lives.  But I'm saving this topic for next time ;)

Until then, I wanna hear from you! Tell me in the comments below - what is (1) one thing you got from your mama that you’re grateful for, and (2) one thing you’re going to try this week that could alter your “genetic fate”.