For every physical trait or personality of ours, we have our genes to credit or blame upon. We might be our parents’, grandparents’ or forefathers’ replica or possess traits resembling them, but each of us have something unique to us and only us, and this is personal choice. With sheer willpower and effort, we can overpower most of these traits (except for physical traits and there is no need as well to change one’s physical self just for the sake of beauty!) to become a better person, health-wise and personality-wise, in life.
Scientists made wonderful progress studying the human genome more than a decade ago. This helps us relate genetics to certain diseases and disorders. Subsequent research proved further links between genetics and our increased risk of health problems such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease, breast cancer, depression and obesity too! Many over-smart individuals now use this theory to mint unethical money by luring people to take up genetic tests for obesity. These individuals overcharge common man for the test and come up with fancy terms and high-profile words to provide justification for the high cost. But finally, the solution provided by them is the same-work out, eat smart and live healthy. What is the need for genetic testing in this case? Genes do play a role, but we have a long way to go before we can provide substantial solutions to obesity problems using gene knowledge. At the same time, Angelina Jolie took a bold decision of getting her ovaries removed and saving herself from ovarian cancer (unlike her mom who succumbed to death at the age of 56) after witnessing more than a couple of her family members die due to cancer. Genes have indeed saved Angelina Jolie her precious life! There is a gene named after her, ‘The Angelina Jolie Gene’, information about which is available at www.firsteatright.com.
On the brighter note, it is becoming more and more clear that genetics is only 50% of the cause for various ailments and it is our lifestyle that plays the hero role in reducing our risks of various diseases. We can never rewrite our genotype, but it is always possible to alter our phenotype. Epigenetics is the study of heritable changes in gene expression that don’t involve any changes to the underlying DNA sequence. Ongoing research is favorable to human species as we are finding that epigenetic changes are affected by our lifestyle choices, food habits, chemicals that we are exposed to and even our social environments. All these can modify our health at the level of the gene.
Inherited Heart Disease
Different types of heart disease can be passed down through families. Some are caused just by one or two genetic changes that have a powerful effect in causing the disease. But mostly, it is the result of multiple gene changes that result in coronary artery disease. Greater the number of gene variants, higher is your risk of disease as every variant increases your risk by 10%.
Exercise Vs Genetics
New research proposes that exercise, specifically cardio fitness, can outweigh genetics in affecting the risk of heart disease irrespective of the risk potential.
The study included almost a half-million participants who were between 40 and 69 years old from 2006-2010. Researchers followed up on individuals who did not show any signs of heart disease for about a decade tracking their activities and exercise patterns. They investigated the genetic profile of those participants who were at the greatest risk of heart disease and atrial fibrillation. These participants were put on a rigorous cardiorespiratory fitness routine that decreased their risk of coronary heart disease by 49% and AFib risk by 60%. This proves three important facts:
Save Your Gene
The fact that lifestyle affects genes to a great extent is good or bad depending on how we process this information. Those blessed with a genetic advantage against heart disease risk can revoke all these benefits by pursuing an unhealthy lifestyle. At the same time, genetics can even demotivate the most physically fit person when results show that the person is at the greatest risk of heart disease due to genetics. It can make the person feel doomed, negative and helpless. He/she completely forgets about his/her fitness level and focuses only on the gene results right then. This can cause stress, anxiety and ultimately raise blood pressure which is a major cause for heart disease.
We sometimes complicate our simple lives by introducing unwanted elements into it. Understanding that genes depend on our activities and reminding that we don’t rely on genes for survival is the basis for a stress-free and healthy life. Family history is definitely a primary factor to consider but we can overpower it with significant lifestyle modifications. We live in such a modern world that individuals can actually get to know their risk status which is both a blessing and a curse. It solely depends on us to raise our blessings by taking appropriate actions to move forward in life (in terms of health), decrease our curse by using the results in a positive way to become better and stay balanced between both.
AVOID FRAUD. EAT SMART.
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Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.