Which is more impactful to your health: DNA genetics or your environment and behavior?
When we talk about how people act and make decisions, we often frame it in the terms, “nature or nurture?”
In both cases, the answer is “both,” with scientists and laypeople haggling over the details of “how much?”
This article will explore eight ways DNA genetics have a huge impact on your well-being as well as how your behavior can affect your genes.
1. Poor Sleep? Could Be Your Genes
Ever look on in envy at those people who can function at their best on less than six hours of sleep? Blame a rare gene mutation.
Likewise, getting poor sleep is linked to a number of genetic factors. A mutation on the PERIOD3 gene may be responsible for waking earlier, sleeping less, and disrupted sleep patterns.
Similarly, insomnia may be caused by an overactive Neuromedin U gene, researchers from Northwestern University in Illinois found in a 2016 study.
Finally, the DEC2 gene could be the primary gene for sleep modulation-a.k.a. length of sleep nightly-research from the University of California at San Francisco in 2009 shows.
2. Genes Can Make You More Prone to Addictive Behavior
Your DNA genetics have a lot to say about your susceptibility to addiction.
A number of alternate gene expressions have been linked to a person’s susceptibility to alcohol and cocaine addiction, smoking habits, and even likeliness to overeat.
This is a big one to know ahead of time, since as genes are responsible for as much as 50 percent of a person’s chances of abusing alcohol or other drugs, according to the American Psychological Association.
The co-interactions of gene mutations and addiction are many, and complex. That’s one reason DNA screenings should be part of new wellness programs in the workplace.
3. Changing Medication’s Impacts
DNA genetics also change how you respond to medication.
Gene mutations can change how much relief you get from pain medication, how effective certain anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds are, or make you metabolize drugs too quickly.
Generally, if someone is allergic to common painkillers or antibiotic, they find out the first time they break a bone or get an infection. But who wants to find this out the hard way? DNA screenings can give advance warning to how medications might affect you.
DNA screenings can give advance warning to how medications might affect you.
4. Genes Signal Your Risk of Chronic Conditions
Your genes also have a part to play in your likelihood of developing chronic heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, research shows.
DNA screening can also help tell you your risk of degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, according to the National Council on Aging.
Ultimately, environmental factors play the biggest role in your likelihood of developing a chronic illness, most studies have found. But knowing your risks ahead of time can help guide you to better healthy behaviors to mitigate risks on the horizon.
5. Changing Your Risk of Skin Cancer
Genetics also play a big role in your chances of developing skin cancer.
The most obvious signal is fairness of your skin and how well you treat it when you go out in the sun, but how a whole host of genetic mutations also have some say in whether or not you’re likely to get a dangerous melanoma.
One gene in particular, CDKN2A, is the main tumor suppressor gene for skin cancer. When this gene gets an unfavorable mutation, however, risks of skin cancer rise 35 to 40 percent, according to the National Cancer Institute.
In other words, if you screen positive for a negative variant of this gene, it’s time to pay special attention to lathering on the sunscreen.
6. How Much (And What) You Eat
Love to eat? Can’t stop overeating? Hate eating certain things?
All of these are tied to genetics to a greater or lesser extent. Some of the same genes that predispose a person to addictive behaviors can likewise lead to a greater likelihood of chronically binge-eating, for instance. Research has even shown that some people are simply born to eat too much.
In fact, up to half of all dietary preferences are inherited, researchers from the University of Copenhagen Hospital in Denmark found in 2008.
Now you know why you and your dad both can’t stand the taste of cilantro.
7. DNA Genetics and Longevity
Want to live forever? Better hope your genetics are in ship-shape.
Okay, this isn’t sci-fi, so no one lives forever, but DNA genetics do play a role in your chances of living to a ripe old age.
DNA may account for as much as 30 percent of a person’s likelihood of making it to age 85, scientists from Boston University found. (They don’t say anything about living beyond that. C’mon 105!)
The good news? The other 70 percent are still environmental and behavioral factors, so keep eating healthy and taking those early morning runs at the gym.
8. Behaviors Today Can Affect Yours and Your Children’s Genes
Your DNA genetics isn’t just about your health, however. They’re about the health of future generations.
Heck, even your grandparents’ genes are still calling the shots, to some extent, in your current health. And you will have an impact on your children and grandchildren.
A smoking habit, for instance, is known to damage your DNA in the here and now, but it can also cause trouble for the next generation. Even after you’ve quit.
That said, even if you take great care of your body before having kids, your children can still inherit personality and temperament traits. So you’re not off the hook.
Let Your Genes Inform Your Health Plan
No matter how much you think you know about your personal health and family health history, a full workup of your DNA genetics is the only way to get the whole story.
DNA screenings aren’t scary, either. A simple test is all it takes. They’re simply a new way to help you understand the big picture of your health and wellness risks now and in the future.
Take complete control of your health today. Learn more about our Proactive Health Management Plan.