It’s Not Just the Genes: How Your DNA may be and may not be related to your health

December 6, 2012

Healthy Life

How Your DNA may be related to your health

How Your DNA may be related to your health

The moment man started the laborious process of understanding and eventually decoding the human gene, the hope that human suffering from diseases would be alleviated. But after decades of intensive research of the human gene, the number of people who suffer from diseases continues to rise worldwide. Why? This is because scientists have found out, that except for single gene disorders such as Down syndrome, our genes do not determine our health. Conditions such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, allergies, and autoimmune diseases continue to grow not because they have genes predisposing them to develop these conditions, but because genes are only one of a myriad of possible factors.

What are Genes?

To put it simply, genes are units which carry information essential for the building and the maintenance of an organism and which contain traits that would be passed on to an offspring. Genes dictate cellular functions such as the cell wall formation, reproduction, regeneration, and energy production. These processes are essential to maintain the structure and function of each living cell in the body. Genes also carry traits like a person’s eye color, complexion, height, and hair color which are passed on from parent to offspring.

What is Gene Expression?

To carry out the essential processes stated above, genes undergo another process called gene expression which occurs when information from a gene is used to produce a protein or RNA. RNA and protein production leads to yet another important biological process, protein synthesis, which simply means production of proteins. Proteins are the building blocks of every cell, tissue and organ in the body.

Why Genes Don’t Predict our Health

A genomics review in the New England Journal of Medicine released November last year revealed that there is a little correlation between one’s genes and the development of diabetes and obesity. These associated patterns, however, only reveal a small risk. The authors, saddened by the results, even describe that the connection between genes and the two biggest epidemics in our time is “far from clear.” The results show that human diseases are complex and that the human genome does not provide a single answer or solution.

But DNA Still Play Roles in Disease and Health

Experts may not find a strong correlation between the human genome and the two biggest epidemics which plague our world today, but there is still good news; the year 2011 witnessed the discovery of “omics,” which do, in fact, play a part in health and diseases.

  • First “Omic” : The Epigenome

External and internal factors which affect genes have been found to exert certain importance that goes beyond the manner in which genes are collected and arranged. A person’s health is not only determined by gene arrangement. Factors such as stress, food, level of physical as well as mental activity, our thoughts, exposure to microorganisms, and toxins can control our genes. These internal and external factors can switch a gene on and off and can also determine what proteins would be expressed. The types of proteins that are expressed then determine the health or development of a disease.

Surprisingly, if the gene is tagged or controlled by external or internal factors, then it can be passed on. For example, if your grandfather smoked too much and ate less nutritious foods, then the genetic modifications that occurred in his body can be passed down to yours.

  • Second Omic: The Exposome

The exposome involves the idea that the environment where the genes are exposed is more significant than the genes themselves. This means that almost everything in the environment, including microbes, food, toxins, chemicals, and even molecules that control gut flora, oxidative stress, and inflammation are included in the picture. The implications of these are also important in the field of genomics. If it is the environment and not the genes themselves that play a role in disease formation, then gene treatments have been misguided.

Assessing the changes in our exposome is still now in progress, but emerging technologies may bring us closer to measuring our exposomes, and this can help lower the risks of diseases.

  • Third Omic: The Nutrigenome

Nutrigenome is based on the concept that food and the nutrients within it can turn genes on and off and can signal genes to change in different ways. And there is evidence that proves this concept. One study found out that food, whether it is nutrient-rich, plant-based, processed, nutrient-based, or high in sugar, can alter the genes within just a course of weeks or months in real time. This is even applied in a study involving prostate cancer patients, where over 500 cancer controlling genes were affected when they ate whole foods and plant-based foods.

  • The Fourth Omic: Microbiome

The concept of microbiome revolves around the role of microorganisms and how their DNA role on our own DNA. The molecules produced by the microorganisms’ DNA significantly affect our health.

The genes that emerged from the interaction of our body with microorganisms are found to be related with cancer, obesity, allergic disorders, and autoimmune diseases. The bacteria present in our gut is found to predict if we would become thin or fat, healthy or inflamed. It was also discovered that modern lifestyle and antibacterial overuse significantly affect the health of the microorganisms, which, in turn, affect our health. This discovery shifts the treatment into one that focuses on pre- and probiotics and restoration of normal gut flora to promote health.

This article is written by Don Williams, a web enthusiast and a health and wellness writer. Don Williams has interest in topics involving genetics, human genome, and diseases and writes articles explaining what genes are, what is gene expression, and how genes affect human health and disease development.

It’s Not Just the Genes: How Your DNA may be and may not be related to your health


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