Your Genes Are Not Your Health Destiny!4 months ago | Genomics
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
Insight into my DNA has been made possible by personal genomics. Now, I am able to know whether I have cancer-causing or other alterations in my genes. However, you might be someone who adamantly refuses to learn about your genes and whether you are at risk for certain diseases. Avoiding information that threatens happiness or health is not abnormal and is sometimes referred to as information avoidance.
Perhaps no health problem causes as much anxiety as the threat of a heart attack or cancer. Knowing you are likely to have a heart attack or a cancer gene may cause feelings of panic and regret. This is perhaps partly due to the perceived finality of these diseases or how the media reports about cancer and its victims.
But in reality, you should have more anxiety if you don’t take the time to learn about your genes and what diseases you may be prone to. Why? Because in many instances, this knowledge may allow you to make lifestyle changes which could better control the activity of these defective genes. You may not be able to change your DNA, but you may be able to help control the activity of your genes.
Environmental influences like nutrition, cigarette smoke as well as our hormones have strong influences and affect how active our genes are and how they behave. The activity of ‘normal’ genes may be regulated to express themselves in an abnormal way through tobacco smoke, pesticides and other agents and even nutrition. If you are exposed to tobacco smoke, it may drive a process which changes your gene functions, and those changes could be passed down from generation to generation. This may help explain why, for example, diabetes is hereditary in some families.
Similarly, these so-called ‘defective genes’ may be regulated to express themselves in a normal way. So a gene is still a gene, and our environment determines how the genes behave. Chemical modifications may switch genes on or off with no change in the DNA sequence.
Take heart attacks as an example. As mentioned, genetics testing can reveal if you have a defective gene associated with a high risk for a heart attack (the representative gene is MTAP). With this information, you can be proactive and reduce your risk by various activities such as the following:
- Eating a healthy diet consisting primarily of fresh foods that do not contain preservatives or flavor enhancers.
- Eating foods with omega 3 and other essential fatty acids.
- Avoiding smoking (including e-cigarettes) and consuming minimal alcohol.
- Engaging in appropriate exercise. Follow the recommendations outlined in peer-reviewed studies. Treat such studies as facts and not promotional information designed to sell any particular activity. Since the human body is comprised entirely of cells, their health and well-being is crucial. We are constantly gaining knowledge about the levels of exercise cells need to remain healthy.
- Reducing stress through yoga, mindfulness or another form of cognitive behavioral therapy.
- Being vigilant in treating existing conditions like hypertension and high cholesterol.
The ability to control the activity of our genes as opposed to changing the DNA itself is called epigenetics. It’s probably an unfamiliar term to most Americans, but it’s an important one. Normally, changes in gene function occur when there’s a change in DNA sequence. However, epigenetics is the study into how gene functions can change independently. According to the World Health Organization, “[t]he epigenetic code does not affect the information contained in DNA sequence, but controls when and where this information is available to cells.
What does all this mean?
Many researchers believe we may be able to use epigenetics to prevent diseases in the future, though the science behind it is limited right now. Epigenetics may also be relevant for cancer therapy like colon cancer.
Experts also agree epigenetics can be used to explain “health disparities in the burden of various diseases among disadvantaged populations.”
But for now, more research is needed. According to the CDC, “effective prevention and treatment await a more complete understanding of the causes of human disease and the role that epigenetic modifications can play in improving the health of individuals and populations.”
What is apparent is that your genes are not a concrete blueprint for your current and future state of health. Other factors including environment and lifestyle may alter the way your gene express themselves. So it is more important to know about your genes as opposed to practice information avoidance.
Your DNA does not have to be your health destiny.
Stay tuned for more information about how you may be able to change the way your genes express themselves.
Enjoy your healthy life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, health care attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. To learn more about the pH Health Care Team, click here.