Sunday, January 29, 2012

Genetic Healthicine

If you want to live a long, healthy life - choose your parents well.

How can we tell if we have healthy genes?  Can we measure the health of our genes? Can we affect our healthiness through choices related to our genes?

You have probably seen reports of diseases that are caused by genetic defects, or genetic tendencies towards disease.

A Search for the Healthy Genes, an article from Wired magazine, suggests that maybe we should search for, in the words of Maynard Olsen "mutated genes that make people healthier."

What is healthier? Should we search for genes that 'make people healthier'?  Or search for genes that make us healthy. Maynard goes on with an important observation:

"This is what physicians have always done: find sick people and find out why they're sick," he said. "It can't be emphasized enough how embedded that (mindset) is. "Studying healthy people is an essentially unexplored approach, and healthy genes are probably plentiful."

The field of genetic health is virtually unexplored in humans.  We have some research into genetic illness, and genetic dispositions for illness, but virtually no research into healthiness genes. 

We do know some complexities.  Many genetic factors that we know about can be good and bad.  Is there a  word for something that is good and bad? The genetic tendency for sickle cell anaemia, for example protects against malaria, but when the gene occurs twice, it cause the disease sickle cell anaemia. 

Many genetic factors are good for some aspects of health - and  not good for other aspects.  

When we look at the other layers in the hierarchy of health - it gets more complex.  How do our genes affect our nutritional health?  How do they affect our cellular health, our tissue health, our organ health, system health, body health, mind health, spirit health and community healthiness? 

We do know some simple things - most adult Asians, for example, are lactose intolerant. Is lactose intolerance healthy? or unhealthy?  It's not that simple. People who are lactose intolerant as adults should not consume milk. Most adult mammals are lactose intolerant, presumably an adaptation to ensure that the young animals get the milk.  We humans have adapted and take milk from cows (sheep, goats, etc.), so milk shortage is not an issue.  As a result, some humans can consume milk as adults.  This might be a healthy adaptation - but it's moot.  If you are, or are not - you can't choose lactose tolerance. You can only choose to drink, or not to drink milk. Or maybe you can.  Genes are 'activated'.  The gene for lactose intolerance appears to be activated by weaning - up to that time, it is dormant. Maybe if Asians don't stop drinking milk - then won't become lactose intolerant?  Maybe we have more genetic choices than think.

Each of us is an alphabet soup of genetics, with random genes chosen from each of our parents, and random (or not) genes activated by our environments. Genes can be activated, modulated or silenced. 

Genetics and Nutritional Health:  How do our genes affect our nutrition?  How does the activation of our genes affect our nutrition? Can we learn about our individual genetics to improve our personal nutrition health?  For example, we can find people proposing a "body type diet", a 'blood type diet", "nutritional typing".  Is there any scientific research to support any of these dietary approaches?  If so, can these diets be linked to genetic factors?  Do our nutritional needs change as genes are activated and modulated?

Genetics and Cellular Health:  do genes affect the health of our cells?  In fact, the activation of genes determines what types of cells develop in each part of our body.  Can we choose to influence these genes?  Scientists are starting to learn.  Sickle cell anaemia is a direct link from genetics to cells. 

There is another important genetic component of cellular health.  Many of the functioning cells in our bodies are foreign.  Our mouth, stomach, intestines and bowels have a very active group of healthy foreign cells to aid our digestion. It is estimated that the average healthy person harbours 500 different species of healthy bacteria cells. What do we know about the genetics of the healthy bacteria we harbour?  And what about the unhealthy bacteria?   Are some bacteria healthy sometimes - and unhealthy in other situations? 

Genetics and Tissue Health: is the health of our muscular tissues, our connective tissues, other tissues affected by our genes and by our genetic healthiness - the activation of our genes? There are, for example, connective tissue illnesses that are linked to genetics.  How about connective tissue healthiness that is linked to genetics? How much control might we have over this aspect or our health as we learn to understand genetic healthiness? 

Genetics and Organ Health: can we influence the health of our organs by making decisions about our genetics?   As we move through the Hierarchy of Health it becomes apparent that our current studies of health and healthiness are very shallow. Will we learn to regenerate damaged organs through studies of genetic healthiness? 

Genetics and Body Health: We tend to think of diet and exercise as the ways to improve the health of our bodies.   Those are the easiest to control directly and see positive or negative results. What types of exercise, for example are best for your body?  Can clues be found in your genetics?  What diets are best for your body?  What clues lie in your genes? 

Genetics and Mind Health: do your genes make your mind more active?  Less active? More fragile? Less fragile?  More prone to illness?  Less prone to illness? than someone else's genes?  Studies of twins suggest that tendencies to be introverted, or extroverted are linked to genetics.  Is it healthier to be introverted? Or Extroverted?  Probably neither is healthier - but it may help us improve our health, or take healthier actions if we understand our genetic mind tendencies. 

Genetics and Spiritual Health: It is interesting that the Catholic church expects priests to not have children. If the spirituality in the priest is not passed to a child - does the Catholic religion tend to 'breed out' spirituality?  Spirituality and spiritual healthiness is very poorly understood. We do not have any effective way to measure spiritual health - certainly not a way that would be accepted by all religions.  If we cannot measure spiritual healthiness - how can we expect to improve it?  Is genetics linked to spiritual health? 

Genetics and Community Health: An interesting concept.  Is community health learned?  Or genetic?  We can understand that community health of bees, wasps and ants is a result of their unique genetics.  What about people?  Measurement of community health is also a challenge we have not attempted to study.  We have many measures of the illnesses - but not the health -- of individuals in different communities.  Is that community health?  We need distinct measurements to determine and compare the health of different communities. Once we learn to effectively measure the health of communities - we will be able to start the analysis of how genetics and gene activation of individuals affect the health of the community. 

I'm not suggesting we try to change the world by controlling genetics through controlled reproduction.  The concepts of eugenics directly conflict with the goals of this blog - Personal Health Freedom

We need to study genetics from a health point of view.  And health from a genetics point of view.  At present, most 'scientific studies' of genetics seem to be done by drug companies, looking for ways to cure illness.  

We need to find ways to find and to create healthiness in and through our genes.

To your health,  tracy   

Tracy is the author of two book about healthicine: