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According to a recent study, persons with specific hereditary issues might strive to alter their lifestyle to live as healthy a life as possible.
More than one in seven people (14%) have a gene issue that could contribute to future health problems or illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and excessive cholesterol, according to researchers at the University of Leicester.
BRCA1/BRCA2 – breast cancer susceptibility gene; FTO – body fat mass regulator gene; MTHFR 677T/1298C – homocysteine metabolism; ACE DD and APOE 4 – blood lipid levels are the most common ‘problem’ genes.
In this section, we’ll look at how to analyse your risks and whether you should be concerned.
What exactly is a gene?
A gene transfers from father to child and determines-
How we appear, how our bodies function, and even certain behavioural traits.
The Human Genome Project marked the beginning of gene research when scientists discovered that we all have approximately 25,000 genes on 23 pairs of chromosomes in each cell of our body. The task was so large that it took 13 years to complete!
External influences such as environmental contaminants or smoking (which causes DNA damage in cells) can harm genes, as can ageing processes, resulting in little alterations known as “mutations.” These alterations are normally not dangerous, but they can play a role later in life if you have certain conditions.
How are genes examined for potential health risks?
Genes can be tested to identify whether they have any risk factors. This is due to the fact that some diseases, such as Huntington’s disease (a brain disorder that causes uncontrollable movements), cystic fibrosis (a lung ailment), and sickle cell anaemia (in which red blood cells become crescent-shaped), are caused by specific gene flaws.
Testing can tell you if you are at risk of passing these conditions on to your children, or if you are likely to develop Huntington’s disease at a young age.
A genetic counsellor, on the other hand, will go over your family history with you and prescribe tests based on it.
For example, if your mother and sister have diabetes, you should request a glucose tolerance test, which measures your blood sugar levels. If your findings suggest that you are at high risk of developing diabetes, you may be prescribed medication or put on a restricted diet to prevent it.
Genetic testing typically costs roughly $500 (£304), but this can increase if a complex study is required. It’s also worth checking with your insurance company to see whether they’ll cover the expense.
How do genes cause issues?
Genes are in charge of producing proteins (the building blocks of life), which produce enzymes and hormones – such as insulin, hormones, and collagen – all of which are important aspects of our bodily processes and contribute to how our body performs and looks.
Genes can be faulty for a variety of causes, most of which are related to our environment, such as exposure to radiation or toxins, high blood pressure, or diabetes. This indicates that genetic disorders are frequently associated with lifestyle concerns.
What effect do specific genes have on our health?
Breast cancer susceptibility gene BRCA1/BRCA2: Women who possess these genes are more likely to develop ovarian and breast cancer (the two most frequent forms). If you are diagnosed with breast cancer at an early age, you have a one in four risk that it is hereditary. It is believed that 5% of all women may possess this gene flaw, compared to 10-15% of those with a family history of breast cancer.
The gene is also responsible for male breast cancer, however it is far less common. Males are at a greater risk of acquiring prostate and bowel cancers due to the gene.
FTO body fat mass regulator: This gene controls our metabolism, which determines how quickly or slowly we burn calories and stored energy from eating. Even in normal-weight persons, it has been related to obesity and excess weight gain, which can increase your risk of diabetes, heart disease, or stroke. It is now strongly linked to some mental health conditions such as schizophrenia. According to research, it impacts up to 70% of us genetically!
MTHFR 677T/1298C gene: People who carry this gene are more likely to have high amounts of homocysteine, a chemical formed in the body during protein breakdown. They’ve been related to inflammation, heart disease, and stroke, and they can combine with medicines and alcohol, generating negative side effects.
P53 genes (note: not all p53 genes are harmful!):
These genes regulate proteins that, if damaged or out of order, halt cell development. Damage or flaws cause them to malfunction, making it more difficult for cells to heal themselves and increasing the risk of cancer. The most well-known ‘bad’ variations are found in skin malignancies such as melanoma, but there are other types as well, including thyroid cancer.
The APOE 4 gene is a cholesterol transport system gene that influences how well our cholesterol is absorbed by the liver. It is significantly connected with an elevated risk of heart attacks, strokes, and Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
The APOE gene has three variants: E2, E3, and E4. It is estimated that approximately 25% of us have at least one copy of gene E4. The more copies you have, the more likely you are to acquire Alzheimer’s disease or cognitive impairment early in life (around the age of 50-60).
How widespread are harmful genes?
The existence of a faulty gene can occur by chance in some circumstances. This is why genetics isn’t an exact science; there’s still a lot we don’t know about how they work.
For example, around 600 to 700 of the 1,000 patients administered the BRCA1 genetic test will be carriers. The remaining individuals are devoid of the disease-causing gene. Unfortunately, since they have another kind of protection, such as regular mammograms or other genes that help restrict cell growth, the majority of women in this category will not acquire breast cancer.
In other circumstances, there is a more extensive family history that can help you anticipate the possibilities with greater precision. If your mother had breast cancer, you have a 3% risk of carrying BRCA1 and a 6% chance of carrying BRCA2, instead of 0.5%-3% depending on your ethnicity. Having a brother, sister, or both with the illness increases your chances.
Inherited diseases can also afflict non-carriers. For example, research have shown that persons who carry extra weight around their midsection are much more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than people who are average weight and do not have the gene. This is because there is substantial genetic evidence associating extra fat in this location to decreased glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity even if you do not have a defective variant of APOE4 for dementia. The same holds true for heart disease risk, which has been shown to rise in tandem with waist size, whether caused by genes or lifestyle (being obese increases heart disease risk by 74%!).
What effect do genes have on harmful habits?
As previously stated, genetic heredity influences how unhealthy habits effect your health. Some genes can help you recover faster, while others increase your chances of developing an addiction or continuing a habit even when your body says no!
For example, there is some evidence that alcohol and drug addictions are at least partially genetic. The DRD2 gene is important in this case; if you have particular forms of this’reward gene,’ you are 55% more likely to use drugs or alcohol to get high.
In other circumstances, smoking can be activated by specific nicotine receptors in the brain that control pleasure and reward centres. It is believed that 25%-50% of smokers have a gene mutation that renders them more receptive to smoking despite the negative consequences.
In other circumstances, whether you have a faulty gene or not, your body reacts differently. This can cause certain addictive habits to begin earlier, end sooner, or simply make you more prone to become addicted in the first place! For example, studies have shown that people with low dopamine levels are more inclined to use tobacco. That means it’s actually simpler to become addicted if you don’t have enough dopamine receptors from birth.
While genes govern everything from the number of brain cells we have and how well they function to our general tolerance for danger and stress, how we interact with them decides whether they make us healthy or sicker. You may be born with a negative gene in some circumstances, but if you put yourself in an environment where it is likely to develop, chances are you will as well.
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