Why Genes are Important When Thinking About Your Health


Introduction

Your genetic information is a living blueprint or footprint that reveals a lot about your body, health, and risk of disease. Research suggests that 99.6% of the human genome is identical in all individuals, regardless of race or ethnicity. Your genes reveal your past, your future, and carries genetic information passed down from your ancestors. It is what makes you who you are. This article highlights the importance of learning about your genes as it relates to your health.


What are genes?

Genes are short sections of DNA, a chemical inside the cell, which contains instructions for performing various functions within your body including how your body responds to specific foods, pathogens, pollutants and other environmental elements. Scientists have discovered that almost every cell in the body contains about 20,000 genes which are the same in all people, but less than 1% are different. This small percentage is what makes each of us unique, for example height, hair color, eye color, and nutrition needs. These differences between individuals are called genetic variations, or a SNP (Single Nucleotide Polymorphism). Genetic variations can result in either a risk of a disease or a benefit. Genes that are not functioning properly can cause problems. For example, a genetic variation can indicate that an individual has a better than average response to a medication, or a lower risk of a health problem.



How can I benefit from knowing about my genes?

Here are 3 important benefits:

  1. PROVIDE insight into why you may feel the way you do. Sometimes you may feel like you have good health habits and lifestyle behaviors, but you still don’t feel well. Perhaps knowing your genetic makeup could help you find answers to an unresolved health issue.

  2. PREVENT or delay chronic related diseases, such as prediabetes or Type 2 diabetes. Variations in your gene data may reflect an increased risk of a specific disease. However, being predisposed to a disease does not mean that it will definitely develop into a disease or that the symptoms will manifest. Knowing about your genetic variations within the genes can provide you with the information required to support the action of the genes before the disease takes place.

  3. ENCOURAGE you to get more proactive about your health or motivate behavior changes. For example, if you found that you were at risk for obesity and you are carefully watching your diet and keeping your weight at a healthy level, then this finding might reinforce your present actions. However, if you are overweight and at risk for obesity, then you should be motivated to make positive lifestyle changes.


Examples:

Researchers know that genetic variations in specific genes will result in reduced activity of an enzyme used to convert the vitamin B9 (also called folate) from the foods we consume into a usable form to be used immediately by the body. Reduction in folate production can lead to various health conditions such as Alzheimer’s, depression, colon cancer, stroke, and chronic fatigue (1).


Variations in the genes can cause the vitamin D receptors (VDR) in the body to not work properly. Vitamin D influences numerous processes in the body, such as activating genes to make proteins that enable the absorption of calcium from the foods you eat. With a defect in the VDR, the absorption of vitamin D can be impaired. This may lead to lower vitamin D level, which has been associated with low bone mineral density and osteoporosis in post-menopausal women (2), and other conditions.


Vitamin D and vitamin B9 are only two examples of how an individual’s need for a specific nutrient is based on their unique genes. Your genes can tell you how well you are absorbing and utilizing these nutrients. These benefits are all useful for achieving healthy eating for life.


Summary

Genetics plays a major role in our health. The effects of genetic variations are very complex, and it is just one of the many factors that determines how you metabolize and utilize nutrients, and what foods are good for you. Your genes can also tell you your risk of developing various diseases and conditions. There is nothing more powerful than having the knowledge of your own genetic blueprint to help you take control of your health.

Sources:

1. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.114.013311

2. https://genesandnutrition.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12263-020-00679-9

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