How Do Your Genes Affect Your Health?

It’s easy to blame genetics for your problems. Overweight? It’s your genes, not your jeans! The truth is, genes do affect our chances of developing certain conditions or diseases, but so do a number of other factors, such as lifestyle and diet. Although research into the role of genetics in our overall longevity and health is extensive and ongoing, there is still no definitive conclusion – no one is exactly sure how much of our health is nature, and how much is nurture.

Genes are, for the most part, perfect copies from the ones our parents have. Problems arise when the copies are not quite so perfect, which we refer to as a genetic mutation. Mutations can be hereditary (from parent to child) or acquired – caused by environmental factors such as overexposure to UV from the sun. Acquired mutations may cause you problems, but they cannot be passed on to your children.

Only a small number of mutations actually go on to cause a genetic disorder. Everyone, for example, has a gene called CFTR, but only those with a mutation in their CFTR gene will develop the genetic disorder, cystic fibrosis. Sometimes, mutations can even have a positive effect - such as immunity or enhanced resistance to disease – but this is very rare.

Genetic disorders are frequently more prevalent within certain ethnic groups. Ashkenazic Jews, for example, are more likely than other groups to carry the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 gene, which increases your risk of breast and ovarian cancer. In general, the gene is found in one in 500 people, but within the Ashkenazic Jewish community, it’s one in every 40 people.

African American people are more likely to develop Sickle Cell Anaemia and cardiovascular disease, Asian and Hispanic people are more prone to a blood disease called thalassemia, while Caucasians have higher rates of cystic fibrosis than other ethnic groups.

A fascinating report from Cornell University states that although all mammalian infants drink their mothers' milk, we humans are the only ones who continue to drink milk as adults. Almost two-thirds of people, however, and predominantly those of Asian and African descent -- stop producing lactase, which is the enzyme required to digest milk, as they mature. This has the knock-on effect of increasing the incidences of osteoporosis in these ethnic groups. People of northern European descent more commonly retain the ability to produce this enzyme, drink milk throughout their lives, and have reduced numbers of osteoporosis sufferers.

Dr Alain Sanua is a qualified Medical Doctor currently practising Integrated Medicine combining Homeopathy, Acupuncture, Nutritional Advice, Mineral and Vitamin supplementation, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Functional Medicine. Contact him today for advice and treatment options for genetic disorders and other illnesses.


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