Before I begin, let me say that the following explanation is in very simple form. Genes, genetics, genome, epigenome, epigenetics.. all of it is very complex. In order to increase awareness of hereditary diseases, I felt it was necessary for me to break it down into terms anyone could understand (me included).
What Exactly Does Hereditary Mean?
Every person is a compilation of genes that they “inherit” from their mother and father. These genes determine everything about us:
The traits we can see – Height, Weight, Eye Color, Hair Color
The traits we cannot see -Likelihood of Certain Diseases, Body Functions, Chemical Production
Which Gene Dominates – Mother or Father?
In a normal world, every cell in our body contains two copies of each gene, one from our mother and one from our father. These two copies normally have slight differences, they are not exactly alike and this is why children have some characteristics from Mom and some from Dad, but never are the children identical to either parent.
Defective genes are the cause of hereditary illnesses. Let’s say that Alzheimer’s is hereditary in a family. When we are being formed and we are getting copies of genes from our mother and father, if one of the genes that is responsible for preventing Alzheimer’s is defective and the other copy is normal, you will probably not get Alzheimer’s (not from a genetic defect). The gene that is not defective will compensate and the defective gene will not be noticed. However, if both copies of the gene were defective, you will suffer from Alzheimer’s. This explains how in some cases a child can be born with a genetic disease that the parents do not suffer from.
Heredity or Environment? (Nature or Nurture)
In the paragraph above I used Alzheimer’s as my example for a reason. According to Oxford’s pharmacology department, only 1% of those with Alzheimer’s developed the condition because of gene mutations. That means that the other 99% do not have a genetic mutation but still developed the disease.
What does that mean?
It means that a lot of people try to blame illness on their ancestors and this is not the case. Heart disease, diabetes, cancer and obesity can be hereditary diseases but in most cases they are not inherited. According to scientists, less than 10% of human disease is a result of genetics, meaning that about 95% of human disease is NOT genetically determined.
If Not Inherited – Why Do We Get Sick?
Think of your genetic makeup as a blueprint, this blueprint is your DNA. “Architects” read and implement certain parts of the blueprint based on the tools that are available.
The blueprint (your DNA) remains the same, but based on factors such as nutrition (what, when, how you eat and drink), you can change the way certain parts of your blueprint are read and implemented.
“Your genetic makeup (DNA) is your blueprint. What you eat and drink influences how the blueprint is read and implemented.”
Our genes cannot turn themselves on and off. Today’s research shows that nutrition (whether it is good or bad) turns our genes on and off. Over 2000 years ago Hippocrates said:
“Let Food Be Your Medicine”
The science of studying how environmental signals select, modify, and regulate gene activity is called Epigenetics. The activity of your genes is constantly being changed in response to your unique environment and food choices.
So are we doomed by our heredity? No! The days of believing that genes control your health are long gone. Epigenetics is one of the most extraordinary and active areas of scientific research. It provides a new model of health, one in which we are not victims of heredity. You can improve your cellular activity through nutrition. Epigenetic activity is not just modified by the foods you eat, but also how and when you eat, what you drink, and which food supplements you take.
Let’s take care of those genes, we don’t have any more copies 🙂
Click here if you are interested in reading more about hereditary diseases and Epigenetics.