It has been known for many decades that the primary factor in determining our potential lifespan is heredity, the information
contained in the chromosomes contributed to us by our parents' sperm and egg. These instructions specify how we function, the
basic chemical and structural makeup of our minds and bodies, the diseases to which we may be susceptible, the basics of our
personality and mental attributes, and how long we might possibly live. However, no human attribute is entirely controlled by
heredity. Inherited tendencies always interact with out environment. For example, a child "programmed" to be tall must still
get adequate nutrients or he/she will never become tall.
Recently, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated that obesity is hereditary, thus ending long years of debate. Scientists compared the bodyweights of Danish adoptees to their natural parents and to their adopted parents and found that the correlation between their bodyweight (whether thin, average, or fat) and that of their natural parents was very high, whereas there was no correlation with that of their adopted parents.
Fat storage is a survival mechanism that has enabled people to live through long famines. It doesn't make any sense in advanced societies with large supplies of food, however. The existence of "fat genes" does not mean those who inherit them are doomed to obesity. Scientists have also studied the body mechanisms involved in producing obesity and have found many new techniques that stimulate natural weight-control processes to reduce bodyfat without dieting hunger, or even exercise.
Because important aspects of life such as bodyweight and longevity are inherited, it is important to know as much as possible about the predispositions of your relations. If they are particularly susceptible to certain diseases, such as diabetes, you may be susceptible, too, but you can take steps to ensure that you don't get them or they are treated properly before extensive damage takes place. Nowadays, you can at least partially compensate for physical, mental and emotional weaknesses with nutrient supplementation. The risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease can be reduced even in those predisposed to them. Initiative can be increased even in those who are naturally shy and retiring. Muscle-building capabilities can be increased with growth hormone-releasing nutrients, such as the amino acid arginine, even in those who find it difficult to add muscle.
Even memory and intelligence can be improved with certain nutrients. Choline, a nutrient available at health-food stores, has been shown to increase memory and the ability to learn a list of words in MIT students at 3 grams a day. The choline is even more effective with pantothenic acid (Vitamin B5) added because the B5 is needed in order for the brain to use the choline to make acetylcholine, a natural memory chemical. In some studies of Alzheimer's disease patients, who have a severe dementia and damaged ability to remember, a small percentage were helped with choline supplements. (An additional benefit of choline supplementation is improved muscle tone, since acetylcholine is the natural chemical that controls muscle tone. When there is too little, your midsection can sag even if you aren't fat).
Niacin (Vitamin B3) was recently shown to improve short-term memory in young and middle-aged subjects when 141.7 mg was taken three times a day. In inner-city children, a simple multivitamin-multimineral tablet led to a few points increase in IQ, probably by providing nutrients in which the children were deficient. Improvement of mental abilities is a hot new area of pharmaceutical research.
Scientists are studying how to augment the natural results of exercise. One way is with the use of growth hormone releasers. Releasing teenaged levels of growth hormone when you exercise by using arginine supplements can enable you to build muscle like a teenager, even if you're middle-aged. Even though people are programmed to stop releasing so much growth hormone in later life (to accumulate fat, needed to survive famines), we don't have to go along with that fate. We can reprogram ourselves to look younger. Scientists have even been able to induce some physical conditioning by giving subjects a drug that mimics part of the effect of exercise. One big problem for bedridden patients and for astronauts is loss of conditioning and loss of muscle mass that result from inactivity. The drug dobutamine pre-vented this in hospitalized patients. In another study, dobutamine increased conditioning in unexercised dogs. The drug, a synthetic version of the natural adrenaline and noradrenaline released during exercise and responsible for many of exercise's benefits, has fewer side effects than the "real stuff."
In the future, the new science of genetic engineering could, theoretically, give us all the ability to build the muscle of an Arnold Schwarzenegger - and the will to do so. However, we can be sure that the Arnold's of that time will not be sitting around waiting for everybody to catch up with them. Perhaps we will then also be seeing results of studies of the phenomenal ability of people to put out incredible amounts of muscular energy under conditions of stress, such as when a small woman lifts a car under which her son is pinned. Sometimes these emergency lifts involve much more weight than the current world's lifting record! Nobody can explain how this is done. But we can be sure that somebody will find out eventually! Keep yourself in good shape and we'll see you then.