Book review: “Dirty Genes”
“DIRTY GENES: A Breakthrough Program to
Treat the Root Causes of Illness and
Optimize Your Health”
by Ben Lynch, ND
Published by Harper One, 2018
First, I wish to take exception with the name of this book. As many of you know, I am extremely sensitive to the use (or misuse) of language when it is applied in the service of health and healing. When you are dealing with patients who are already ill, adding any negative conceptualization is, in my opinion, moving in the wrong direction and runs the risk of doing as much harm as good. An example of this is my dislike of Dr. Shoemaker’s term applied to HLA-DR testing which describes certain genes, e.g. 4-3-53, as “dreaded”. Countless patients have taken that word to heart and are under the impression that they will be unable to heal from mold toxicity because they have that genetic marker and become, understandably, distraught. Here, by starting this book by describing SNPs as “dirty” and providing a program for “cleaning” them, the message that is being sent to all people is that there is something defective about them and that they must be vigilant to delve into their defectiveness so that they can do something about it. This bothers me. While I have no intention of putting my head in the sand about accepting medical information, how you present that information can be critical to the healing process. Even though Ben goes to some length to explain what can be done to make his patients better, to start that journey by implying that patients are “dirty” sends the message that basically, there is something wrong with you.
We all have myriad SNPs, and viewed this way, are we are all “dirty”? Really, this is the message, here?
Having said this, there is some good information in this book and it may be worthwhile reviewing. Having attended some of Ben’s excellent SHEICON meetings, in which cutting-edge speakers provided really good information, I know that he is a leader in attempting to understand how our knowledge of SNPs can impact our health, and how we can use that knowledge to improve it. So I admit to being disappointed to discover that he only discusses seven SNPs, MTHFR, COMT, DAO, MAOA, GST/GPX, NOS3, and PEMT here. Even when reviewing COMT, he delineates “slow” and “fast” SNPs but does not specifically state what those are. When patients obtain their own genetic profiles, they will not be able to immediately know how what they are looking at fits those descriptions.
Another area of concern for me is that although Ben goes to some effort to discuss how some of these genes interact with each other, the way in which this information is presented will leave, I fear, many readers with an over-simplified view of their symptoms. “Ah, I have trouble winding down, difficulty sleeping and I tend to be a workaholic and I have a “slow” COMT. That explains it!” There is the underlying thread here is that you can’t help being what you are, because you have a gene that predisposes you to it. I really have problems with that message. In this day and age when we are trying to learn to take responsibility for our actions, I find this way of looking at behaviors and health a step in the wrong direction. Admittedly, Ben goes on to say with each SNP, how treatable it is, but I fear that before readers get that far, they now have a way to rationalize the things in their lives that are difficult for them.
He does have an excellent section on how to prepare to get healthy, by cleaning up one’s diet and environment, becoming more aware of and dealing with issues of stress and sleep, which everyone can benefit from. If patients can do that program, many will improve. However, to put this in the context of getting well by using these strategies to simply “clean” up your “dirty” genes does a disservice to our current understandings about the complexities of chronic illness. I am afraid that patients will become obsessed about their genetic profiles (I am already seeing this in many patients) and not be able to place that information in the greater context required to psychologically approach this with the positivity and understanding necessary for healing.
I suspect that Ben’s editor strongly encouraged providing as many charts and checklists as possible, because each section has them. For me, it provides the same information in only slightly different form and makes it harder to read, as the way my mind works, I keep hoping for some new information, but just get a reiteration of the same oversimplified material. Knowing that Ben utilizes wonderful biochemical diagrams that clearly show how these SNPs are related to each other, it was disappointing to see none of that here.
While there is some useful information here, I was hoping for a breakthrough book that helped us to begin to learn to sort out the genetic information given by SNP testing. Perhaps this book was written solely for the general public (even so, I fear that they will start their learning with some incorrect perspectives that will be hard to “unlearn” later) and he can write another volume for physicians, soon. Come on, Ben, you are an excellent physician….you can do better.
I have great respect for Ben and really like him, so I am sorry that this review has been so harsh. If readers disagree or have other opinions, please email me and I will be happy to include those opinions in future newsletters.