In an interview, James D. Watson, co-discovery of the structure of DNA, said
Some day a child is going to sue its parents for being born. They will say, My life is so awful with these terrible genetic defects.
(Quoted by Richard Bentall in Doctoring the Mind.) Watson is implying that genetic defects matter in the big picture of human impairment. They don’t. Changes over time in disease incidence, migration studies (in all instances I know of, the disease profile of the migrating group changes to match the place where they live), powerful nutritional effects (e.g., Weston Price) and other evidence of environmental potency show that all major diseases (heart disease, cancer, depression, obesity, plague, tuberculosis, smallpox, etc.) are mostly caused by the environment, in the sense that environmental changes could greatly reduce their incidence. Genes are a distraction. (To say that major diseases are also “caused” by genes in the sense that genes affect environmental potency is to miss the point that we want to reduce the diseases — want to reduce obesity for example — so it is the environmental lever that matters. If a child could eliminate its obesity by changing its environment, it would not sue its parents.) If Watson was unaware of that, okay. But for him to claim the opposite is a great — and I am afraid profoundly self-serving — delusion.
As I blogged, Aaron Blaisdell had a certifiably “genetic” disease. The chromosome involved had been identified. It turned out to be under nutritional control. When he improved his diet, it vanished. Calling it “genetic” seriously distracted from learning how to eliminate it, it turned out. Another example of how “genetic” problems are not what they seem — impossible to change — is provided by lactose intolerance. The rate of lactose intolerance varies greatly from group to group. (I thank Phil Price for the link.) It is rare in Sweden, common in Asia, including China. I assume these differences reflect genetic differences. Yet Beijing supermarkets have aisles full of milk products. How can that be? Because the aisles are full of yogurt. Yogurt bacteria digest the lactose. So lactose intolerance is not a big deal. You can still drink milk, after it has been predigested by bacteria.