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Genetics 101

General, Immune | October 11, 2017 | Author: Naturopath

general, autoimmune

Genetics 101

Genes are part of our cells that contain biological information which control cellular growth and development. Genetics is the study of these genes—identifying what they are, how they work and what they do. Genes are made of a substance called deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) which is found inside the centre (nucleus) of cells. A DNA strand resembles a twisted ladder— containing genes which are a series of letters along each rung. The sequence of these letters is used as an instruction book to build certain proteins or hormones – essential for growth and maintenance of the human body. While we can’t alter the structure of our genes or the sequence of our DNA, we can influence their activity to create good health and wellbeing.

Inheriting genes

Inheriting genesWe inherit half of our genetic information from our mother and the other half from our father. Each variation of a gene is called an allele. This determines what features we inherit, including hair and eye colour, height, intelligence and blood type. It can also determine other characteristics such as our susceptibility to developing certain diseases and conditions. Some characteristics are more dominant than others. 

For example, the coded message from the genes that tells the hair cells to make a brown colour is dominant over red colour. This is also the case for eye colour, with brown eyes being more dominant over coloured eyes.


A chromosome contains thousands of hereditary units called genes which form a thread-like structure. A human contains 46 (23 pairs) of chromosomes. A sperm and egg each contain one copy of every gene needed to make a person. During fertilisation, two copies of each gene are present so that a new life is created. Sex chromosomes (X & Y), determines your sex. For example, females must inherit an X chromosome from each parent (XX). Males on the other hand, must inherit an X chromosome from his mother and a Y chromosome from his father (XY). Genetic disorders can arise when all or part of a chromosome is missing or when an extra chromosome or fragment is present. Variations can occur spontaneously with no known cause and are called mutations.

Autosomal recessive genes

If parents have a copy of the same altered gene they can pass this on to their offspring. As the child does not have a normal copy of the gene, they will develop the disorder. This process is called autosomal recessive inheritance. The parents are ‘carriers’ of faulty genes but are unaffected by the condition themselves. This is more likely to occur if the parents are related. Cystic fibrosis and phenylketonia (PKU) are examples of autosomal recessive genetic disorders.

Genes and disease

While 95 percent of disease-related gene mutations increase your risk factors for disease, they don’t predict the disease. This means that just because you carry a genetic mutation that predisposes you to heart disease, you are not necessarily going to develop it. Only 5 percent of disease-related gene mutations are fully penetrant, which means that the gene directly causes a disorder. The good news is: You have the ability to influence the expression of 95 percent of disease-related gene mutations, including genes for Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and many types of cancer.

Protecting our genes

There are many things we can do to protect our genes and optimize how they behave. What we eat, our lifestyle habits and environment are all responsible. Here are some ways in which we can assist our body in “turning on” our good genes and “turning off” the bad ones.


Sleep is essential for the body to self-regulate and repair. If you suffer from chronic lack of sleep, you are more likely to have a weakened immune system and chronic inflammation which is associated with many diseases and some forms of cancer. Recent studies of sleep and genes have unveiled that even a few days of sleep deprivation can have a profound effect on our genes. For example, one study by U.K. researchers found that after only one week of getting fewer than six hours of sleep a night, study participants experienced changes in more than 700 genes, including genes that affect metabolism and inflammatory, immune, and stress responses. Most adults require between 7 to 9 hours of good quality sleep each night. Developing a healthy sleep routine can involve relaxation techniques and avoiding alcohol and drugs to induce sleep.


What we eat plays a huge role in the health of our DNA. Certain nutrients are critical for healthy DNA repair, replication and to prevent damage. 

This includes carotenoids, B vitamins, vitamin D and vitamin E, as well as other antioxidants. Eating a balanced diet, with plenty of plant foods and moderate amounts of animal food sources ensures that all our nutrient requirements should be met. Avoiding food laden with chemicals, sugar and fat are foods that are detrimental to the health of our DNA.


Certain chemicals, can contribute to unhealthy genes and are also implicated in genetic mutations. These chemicals can be found in pesticides, in tobacco smoke and in cleaning and industrial products. Try to eat unprocessed, organic food and avoid harmful chemicals by not smoking and using natural cleaning products.

Exercise and weight

Regular physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight are all key to a long and healthy life. 30 minutes of exercise each day is recommended to reap all the benefits. Exercise can aid in reducing inflammation, removing toxins from our body and help maintain a healthy body mass index. Obesity is related to inflammation and oxidative damage which can affect our DNA.

Summing up our genes

Genetics is the study of genes and hereditary. While we might think our genes determine our biological destiny our environment plays a large role too. Keeping a healthy weight, exercising, having an antioxidant rich diet and avoiding harmful chemicals can help avoid damage to our DNA.

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Möller-Levet CS, et al. Effects of insufficient sleep on circadian rhythmicity and expression amplitude of the human blood transcriptome. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Mar 19;110(12):E1132-41 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23440187

Kim YJ, et al. Daily nutritional dose supplementation with antioxidant nutrients and phytochemicals improves DNA and LDL stability: a double-blind, randomized, and placebo-controlled trial. Nutrients. 2013 Dec 18;5(12):5218-32 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24352096

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