You get that from your mother. Surely you’ve heard that one before. Or, maybe that you’ve inherited Aunt Helen’s love of baking. Or Grandpa’s propensity to ‘collect things’, aka his pack-rat tendencies. Chances are, your family likes to point out genetic similarities (both the good and the bad!) among its members. Our DNA is responsible for a lot of who we are, from physical appearance to genetic diseases.
One Bad Egg
Most of the time, the genes that we get from our parents do the work they should, the way they should. However, a gene mutation, or change in the gene, can sometimes lead to a genetic disorder. When the genes that instruct the body to make proteins have mutations, you may have problems with certain systems in your body. Conditions caused by mutations in mitochondrial DNA often involve multiple organ systems and are most pronounced in organs and tissues that use a lot of energy.
Many times, you are at risk for diseases from environmental or behavioral factors, however, some diseases are purely genetic. For example, Huntington’s disease, cystic fibrosis, and Downs Syndrome are strictly genetic. Some diseases have an important genetic factor, such as Type 2 diabetes, but a person can prevent it behaviorally.
You’re Looking…well…Kinda Old
DNA is also prone to mutations that are not inherited, or somatic mutations. While DNA has a limited ability to repair itself when damaged, these mutations add up over time. These somatic mutations can lead to an increased risk of cancer, heart disease, and Parkinson’s disease. The buildup of these mutations might also age a person more quickly. And, no one wants to hear they look old before their time.
The Not ‘Green’ Genes
The environment, usually referring to air pollution or radiation exposure is not the only way that genes can be influenced. Genes can be altered by other things the body is exposed to: diet, exercise, UV light, or drugs to name a few. Research is being done to see how much genes are affected by a person’s behavior and if the genetic pattern varies according to environmental exposures. More evidence is suggesting that genes work with other genes to affect the chance that, with certain environmental factors, a person that has the genes will or will not develop a disease.
Some of the most apparent examples of the gene and environment relationship can be seen with medications. A patient’s genetic profile can indicate if he or she will respond to certain medications, or if that drug will be ineffective. A more customized approach to healthcare and medicine will develop with further research on this relationship.
A Stitch in Time Saves Nine
Since many disorders are a combination of genetic and environmental issues, changing your behavior can help your overall health. For example, there are at least a dozen genes that contribute to Type 2 diabetes. But, behavioral aspects can contribute to a person developing the disease sooner in life or more severely. Being obese, eating unhealthy foods, and not exercising can contribute to developing this disease. Preventative medicine is always the least expensive and best way to treat diseases.
If a person realizes that they have the genes that make them more likely to get a disease, they can take steps in their lifestyle and health care to prevent the disease or lessen the symptoms. Still, leading an overall healthy lifestyle will decrease the chances for contracting certain diseases.