Dr. Mitchell Gaynor's The Gene Therapy Plan Teaches You to Heal Yourself With Food

Dr. Mitchell Gaynor
Dr. Mitchell Gaynor
Photo by Paul Hameline

There is a school of thought in some cancer treatment circles that genes and gene expression can be manipulated with diet in order to prevent or mitigate the effects of disease. Dr. Mitchell Gaynor, a leading New York City oncologist, was one of the leading proponents of this treatment philosophy until he died recently at his home in upstate New York.

His last book, The Gene Therapy Plan: Taking Control of Your Genetic Destiny with Diet and Lifestyle, aims to teach readers how to use food as medicine. While there is no way to completely change your genetics, Dr. Gaynor's book attempts to arm you with the knowledge to control how they are expressed through an evidence-based approach to diet.

In a recent interview, Dr. Gaynor discussed the research connected to his approach, the best foods to combat prevalent illnesses of Western civilization, and how this plan helps to improve your health. 

New Times: How long did it take you to develop this unique approach of healing illness through diet?
Dr. Mitchell Gaynor: It all started when I did my training at NYP/Weill Cornell Medical Center, where I specialized in internal medicine, medical hematology, and medical oncology. I'm board certified in all three of those specialties. As part of my fellowship at Rockefeller University, I did research on epigenetics. Epigenetics is all about gene expression, and I was doing research on immune system genes as they relate to cancer. I was literally flabbergasted to see that there were nutrients that could increase tumor promoter genes, along with many things that make up the average American's diet, such as white sugar, white flour, heat damaged vegetable oils, processed grains, pesticide residues, and herbicide residues. 

I used to think that our genetic destiny was mostly fixed. For instance, if a person has a strong family history of diabetes, then they were very likely to get diabetes — it was their destiny. Epigenetics really turned things around because it showed that our genes are dynamic. They can be changed throughout our lifetime by what we put into our bodies, either for good or for worse. 

What are the best foods to combat obesity, premature aging, and cancer while preserving brain function?
When we talk about the best foods for our bodies, it's important to know that many of these foods and nutrients are going to affect more than one illness. A good example is Vitamin D3. It's absolutely critical for anyone who is concerned about cancer prevention, memory maintenance, heart health, diabetes, and obesity. I have blood tests at the back of the book that everyone should ask their doctor to do. 25-hydroxy is a standard one because it's the metabolite of Vitamin D3. All of tumor suppressor genes are dependent on D3. We know that people with the lowest levels of D3 have the highest incidences of developing cancer, everything from breast cancer to prostate cancer. That's even true of pancreatic and colon cancer. 

If you eat the perfect diet, the most you can receive of Vitamin D3 is 350 units. The least you need if you live in a very sunny climate, like Southern California or Southern Florida, is 1,000 units. People absorb it quite variably. But you shouldn't guess. You should know your level and have it checked several times a year. Virtually everyone needs this supplement. 

While we're talking about cancer, we need to discuss garlic. You want to consume things that are proapoptotic. Apoptosis is normal cell death, so when a normal cell gets old and dies, it will make room for new cells. Cancer cells become immortal. That's a big problem for everyone because we all have at least pre-cancerous or dormant cancer cells in our body by the time we are in our twenties. We know this from autopsy studies, where people died in wars or car accidents. These studies show precancerous lesions in the thyroid, breasts, pancreas, prostate, lungs, and colon, often in more than one place. We're living in a country where 1 in 3 Americans will be diagnosed with cancer. Over the next five years, that's going to become 1 in 2 Americans. The goal with your diet is to induce apoptosis or normal cell depth so you can keep cancer cells dormant. Garlic is apoptotic and so is black seeds and black seed oil. It's also known as black Cuban seed. That contains a nutrient that has one of the most proapoptotic nutrients ever discovered. The last nutrient that you should incorporate into your diet is turmeric. If you're not going to be cooking with curry, you can get curry root from an Indian market and make a tea out of it, or you can use it in rice dishes and smoothies. It prohibits cancer cell development in about 25 different ways. 

What's your biggest gripe with conventional medicine?
It's too much of a symptom band-aid approach. We wait for symptoms to develop in order to treat a patient. In other words, stomach ulcers are a lot more than a deficiency of antacids or acid blockers. Headaches are a lot more than a deficiency of pain medication. Being unable to concentrate isn't an amphetamine deficiency. It's more effective to look at the underlying causes, which is mostly our gene expression. Modern medicine has only just discovered this. 

My book starts with a lesson in the Rule of Thirds. My diet is the first diet ever developed that addresses the fundamentals of what makes you sick or healthy, which is gene expression. A third of your calories should come from healthy protein such as lean meat, eggs and/or egg whites, raw vegetables, and lentils. The other third should come from healthy carbs such as whole grains, fruit, swiss cheese, and then the last third should come from healthy fat, which will include both Omega 3 fatty acids that are found in cold, deep water fish, coconut oil, olive oil, and certain seeds like chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, and flax seeds. Chia seeds are loaded with Omega 3s and have eight times more than salmon, and they decrease inflammation. It can be added to your favorite smoothie, oatmeal, or cereal. 

I also think a lot of these fad diets, as well as modern medicine, have caused people to become frustrated. Humans evolved eating a remarkable mixture of foods available at different times and at different quantities, so there's no reason for any one group of nutrients to be favored or marginalized. I believe all fad diets lead to deficiencies. When we have the wrong bacteria in our gut, our gut is literally churning out all of these inflammatory mediators and that can cause heart disease. We used to think cholesterol was the leading cause of heart disease, but it's not — it's inflammation. And that's caused by too much white sugar, flour, heat damaged oils, and a lack of probiotic bacteria. Processed foods cannot be digested well. It's a good idea to consume Greek yogurt with added cultures but no processed sugar  and fermented foods like miso and sauerkraut, along with taking a probiotic supplement every day. We also need to consume prebiotics, which are good nutrients for the probiotic bacteria in your gut. One of the best ones is whole grains, but, unfortunately, there's been too much emphasis on removing gluten from our diets. Most people are not sensitive to gluten. Other good prebiotics includes beets, mushrooms, and green leafy vegetables. 

How long does it take to see results from your plan?
You see results right away. People start to feel better, have more energy, are not feeling hungry all the time, sleep better, and handle stress better, because the plan affects so many areas of the brain. Taking Vitamin D3 helps your brain function dramatically, and taking a probiotic supplement while adding certain foods changes how you feel because you're preventing inflammatory chemicals from being released.

The consequence of having those inflammatory chemicals in your body is what they do. They bind to two things. They bind to insulin receptor substrates, which is what lets insulin does its job. Inflammation and bad bacteria in the gut prevent this from happening. The same thing also happens with a hormone called leptin. Leptin is made by your fat cells, but a lot of people don't have a deficiency of fat cells — they're making enough leptin — but the leptin can't bind to the leptin receptors in the cells because of inflammation. In turn, many people feel hungry all the time and it makes them want to eat the wrong foods, which turns into a vicious cycle.

People should also talk their doctor about taking a baby aspirin or two baby aspirin every day if they don't have any bleeding risk. This has been found to not only lower your risk of heart disease, but also remarkably lowers your risk of breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, and endometrial cancer. These are all these simple things people can do.

Cinnamon Peach PancakesEXPAND
Cinnamon Peach Pancakes
Photo by Emily Kessler

Cinnamon Peach Pancakes
Serves 4

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon organic cinnamon
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups low-fat buttermilk
  • 3 tablespoons ghee butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • Coconut oil, ghee, or butter for greasing pan
  • 1 ½ cups finely chopped peaches
  • Organic maple syrup for serving


In a large bowl, whisk to combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, beat eggs, buttermilk, and butter. Pour egg mixture into dry ingredients, mix, and let sit for 5 minutes (to allow baking soda and powder to create bubbles). Stir in 1 cup of the chopped peaches.

Heat the griddle and lightly grease. Pour batter and flip pancakes when bubbles form. Remove when golden brown. Serve topped with remaining peaches and organic maple syrup. Makes about 8 pancakes.

From The Gene Therapy Plan by Mitchell L. Gaynor, M.D., published on April 21, 2015, by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright by Mitchell L. Gaynor, M.D., 2015.

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