The human genome project was a huge undertaking. Researchers set about labeling and identifying all the genes of the human body which number in the billions. The genome project started in 1984, and it was completed in 2003. But the story of genetics research does not end there. We were able to map out the genes, but we are only beginning to understand what they do and how they affect our health and our personality. Data is being collected at an unprecedented rate, including studies that correlate certain genetic variants, disease processes, and susceptibility to disease. For as we have discovered, it turns out that genes do not cause disease. They only have the potential to cause disease. They are expressed at the mercy of our environment, diets, toxic exposures, and thoughts. All of these factors can impact the way our genes are expressed.
My father embodies an example of the way genes express themselves. My father died of lung cancer when I was 20 years old. While we now know that there is a direct correlation between smoking and lung cancer, it was not as well established at the time of his death. He was a very heavy smoker, not unlike a large majority of people at the time. Smoking was a very cool thing to do. It was very sexy. Doctors recommended smoking to their patients to calm down and enjoy life. Heck, even Santa smoked. That’s how cool it was.
So, it was really no surprise that he got lung cancer and eventually died of it. The confusing thing to me was the fact that my stepdad (my father’s best friend, George) also smoked heavily, drank heavily, never exercised, and ate a poor diet. He lived another 30 years after my father died. The only real difference I could make sense of was that there must have been a genetic difference between my father and stepdad.
In the past, determining one’s genetic makeup by testing your genes was a very expensive prospect. It cost thousands of dollars, and we really didn’t know much about what we were looking at when we got the results. In our minds, this whole concept of genetic causes of disease was a mystery. We simply didn’t know how to wrap our heads around finding or understanding genetic variations that lead to disease. We knew the variations were there; we just didn’t know what to do with that information.
Recently, several different companies have begun offering inexpensive ways to get your genes tested. These companies generally test a person’s saliva, although some companies test the blood. These tests examine a small percentage of our genes called the exome. The exome gives us information about our enzymes, which, as noted above, are important in many of the biological activities that make our bodies function correctly. Enzymes help the body detox and repair; make energy out of our food and make neurotransmitters; make, transport, receive, and break down hormones and break down histamine; and perform many other important functions in the body. When genetic variants are present in these biochemical processes, the ability of the body to function optimally is compromised. Compromised processes mean that we may have trouble with such things as digesting, detoxifying, and balancing our brain chemistry and hormones. In effect, genetic variants make us susceptible to disease and dysfunction.
When I began my study of genetic mutations and their effects on the body and mind, I decided to get my genes tested. When I did so, I was shocked by the information that I received from the results. One of the first genetic variants I discovered that I had the VDR gene. VDR stands for Vitamin D Receptor. I have a homozygous SNP in this gene. This means that my father and my mother both contributed to my having the genetic variant. Both my genes were variations from the normal code. Having a homozygous variation in this gene, as I do, means that the gene is reduced in its ability to function by about 70%. This variation means that my ability to absorb vitamin D is greatly reduced.
I began to research the importance of this gene by “googling” it. I ran across a website called SNPedia.com, which is a database of information on what genes do in the body and what effect genetic variants can have on health risks. The information was mind-blowing to me. The data presented there has been collected from peer-reviewed studies in qualified journals.
The studies are completed using what is called GWAS, or genome-wide association studies. These studies present data noting an association between a genetic variant and a medical condition. In other words, GWAS studies compare genetic data from a large group of people who have a medical condition, such as Alzheimer’s disease, and notice when these people tend to have the same genetic variant. The conclusion may then be made that genetic variants in a particular gene present a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.
When I researched the disease risks for VDR genetic variants, I found a study that linked cigarette smoking to lung cancer in those people who have the VDR variant. This link likely explained why my father died of cancer while my stepfather lived much longer, even when their lifestyles were so similar. This correlation got my attention. The same VDR gene is involved in the proper functioning of the immune system and in the production of brain neurochemicals. Variants in this gene can lead to immune system challenges, chronic infections, and depression. All of these conditions were what I had been dealing with my entire life. The information I was learning all started making more sense to me.
In her book, Dr. J. Dunn explores issues into why you are the way you are and how you can make changes. It’s a whole new paradigm in understanding what causes disease and mental health issues. The basis of the book talks about how to bypass your genetic makeup to help change destructive behaviors such as overeating, substance abuse, and anger.
Dr. J. Dunn explains how her research was motivated because of her personal struggles to feel healthy. She had a case of mono when she was sixteen years old and suffered from lifelong depression. Since then she has battled chronic fatigue syndrome caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). Looking into the history of the virus she found that 90 percent or more people have antibodies to the virus and yet don’t necessarily have an issue with it for the rest of their lives. She was also looking for true answers to her own depression. These were missing pieces in the puzzle of health, and she began her quest to search for why and how to fix them. She approached her research with a compassionate point of view, knowing that some types of behavior and health problems are caused by inherited biochemical imbalances and are not personal failings. Things such as:
- Focusing Issues such as ADD and ADHD
- Chronic Fatigue
Genetic testing can identify potential health problems and give you another tool to make informed decisions about managing your health care. Dr. J. Dunn explores how to obtain correct results and what to do with the results. She also talks about compassion for yourself and others when it comes to problems beyond our control. Her book – Genetic Compassion – will help you to understand how genes play a very important role in how we feel.