It’s all genes: Why hereditary diseases are not a sentence

HUMAN GENOME IS ABOUT TWENTY-FIVE THOUSAND GENES , and each of them encodes information – including eye and hair color, skin type, leg length or shoulder width. There are genes that are responsible for the predisposition to various diseases – that is, a certain variant of such a gene or gene sequence increases the risk. Fortunately, in most cases, the genetic predisposition is not absolute, and everyday habits play an important role in how healthy the body will be. What to do to protect ourselves from diabetes, cancer, allergies, arterial hypertension and even inherited depression, we found out from specialists.

Arterial hypertension is a condition in which blood pressure readings at rest exceed the norm – that is, they become higher than 139/89 mm. rt. Art. The causes can be very different – from congenital heart defects to acquired diseases and excessive stress. Genetic predisposition is not in the first place on this list, although, of course, it does contribute. It is impossible to talk about only one genetics that provokes arterial hypertension – as well as to believe that the absence of heredity will protect against this ailment throughout life.  

It’s not a genetic predisposition to “cheat” here, but a whole range of factors. It is very important to eat less salt, including in the composition of finished products: reducing its amount to 5-7 grams per day already leads to a decrease in blood pressure. It is very important not to smoke (substances contained in cigarette smoke affect vascular tone) and drink alcohol as little as possible. The best solution is to increase your dietary intake of fiber-rich plant foods and unsalted fish, as well as reduce the proportion of animal fats. And do not forget about physical activity (for example, swimming or running) – ideally, at least half an hour a day.  

Symptoms of arterial hypertension are frequent headache, tinnitus, dizziness, nosebleeds, palpitations. However, they may not exist. Therefore, after forty years (and in the case of a hereditary predisposition – after twenty-five to thirty years), pressure should be measured from time to time with a tonometer. If it is constantly increased, you need to consult a doctor: a specialist will offer to undergo an examination and prescribe a suitable treatment.

As a rule, if one of the parents suffers from allergies, then the propensity of the child’s body to allergic reactions is about 50%, and if both parents are allergic, then the probability increases to 80%. If siblings have allergies, the risk is also high. The predisposition can be transmitted through a generation (for example, from grandmother to granddaughter) – in this case, the probability is about 10%. In this case, it is the genes that determine the tendency of the body to develop allergic reactions that are inherited, and not a specific “allergy to oranges”. Whether an allergy occurs or not depends on the characteristics of the organism itself and external factors: ecology, duration of breastfeeding, the frequency of using certain medications, and the level of stress.

In other words, in favorable conditions, the genes that transmit allergies can “sleep” the whole life. And vice versa: with an unfortunate coincidence of circumstances, allergies can appear already in infancy. There are certain preventive measures that can help reduce the likelihood of allergies in a child. They can be introduced even during pregnancy: give up fast food and sweets with a high content of flavors, emulsifiers and dyes, as well as smoking, including passive smoking (it significantly increases the likelihood of developing allergic diseases in a child). During this period, it is advisable to reduce the use of household chemicals, postpone planned repairs in the apartment and spend more time outdoors. 

After giving birth, it is recommended to breastfeed the baby for at least four months, and if this is not possible, switch to hypoallergenic milk formulas. The first complementary foods should be done from the fourth to the sixth months of the child’s life – this period is called the “window of tolerance”, when the body’s immune system is least susceptible to allergens. In addition, we must not forget that being overweight also increases the risk of developing allergic conditions, so it is important not to overfeed the child, starting from the first months of life. 

Genetic predisposition is more common in type 2, rather than type 1, diabetes mellitus. The reason for the development of this disease is a violation of the sensitivity to insulin, a hormone that controls blood glucose levels. This happens due to overweight, obesity or excess abdominal (abdominal) fat – that is, the key is fat, which is too much in the body. But if a parent suffers from type 2 diabetes, this does not mean that his child is doomed. Moreover, even in a state of so-called prediabetes, there is a chance to prevent the development of the disease in full. The most effective prevention is lifestyle correction: a balanced diet, adequate sleep and rest, regular physical activity and rejection of bad habits (smoking, drinking alcohol).

When building nutrition, it is important to give up fasting and strict diets – it is still difficult to follow them for a long time, and even unsafe. Limiting animal fats and sugars can be beneficial for healthy weight loss, and eating small meals five to six times a day can help cope with persistent hunger. The main benefit of exercise in the prevention of type 2 diabetes is not so much weight loss as it increases tissue sensitivity to insulin. Aerobic exercises of medium intensity give a good effect – they need to be done for thirty to sixty minutes at least three times a week. Patients with prediabetes may benefit from taking additional medications that can delay the onset of the disease, but such medications must be prescribed by a doctor. 

Diabetes mellitus of the second type at the initial stage usually has no symptoms: dry mouth, thirst, weakness, fatigue, dryness and itching of the skin can occur only with a strong jump in blood sugar levels. An easy way to determine if you are at risk is to measure your waist and calculate your body mass index. If the girth is more than 80 cm for women (or 94 cm for men), and the BMI is above 25, it is worth visiting an endocrinologist to discuss the situation in more detail. In case of problems with the cardiovascular system and a predisposition to diabetes mellitus, it is important not to forget to donate blood for sugar at least once a year. If the blood glucose level is higher than normal, an additional examination may be needed – a glucose tolerance test (GTT), in which a second blood sample is taken for analysis a couple of hours after taking glucose.

In the presence of a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, the likelihood of developing breast or ovarian cancer is about 80% in the first case and 50% in the second; the likelihood of other malignant tumors increases . At the same time, treatment carried out on time, in the early stages of the disease, gives good results. If there is a genetic predisposition, then the main thing is to be regularly examined, that is, at least once a year, starting from twenty to twenty-five years, and, if changes are found, to begin treatment. Screening for breast cancer should include mammography or ultrasound of the mammary glands, and for ovarian cancer – MRI or pelvic ultrasound, as well as a blood test for markers CA-125 and HE-4. Colon cancer screening consists of a fecal occult blood test – if blood is found, a colonoscopy should be done.   

Prophylactic mastectomy – surgery to remove the mammary glands – with the highest risk of breast cancer, reduces this risk by 98%. The remaining 2% is accounted for by the additional glandular lobules in the armpit, in which cancer can develop despite a mastectomy. With hereditary polyposis (the appearance of benign lesions) in the large intestine, it is important to regularly do colonoscopy with the removal of polyps. If there are too many of the latter, colectomy is usually prescribed – removal of part or all of the colon, since in the case of a high predisposition to cancer, one of the polyps will sooner or later degenerate into a malignant tumor.  

It is believed that excess visceral fat (that is, fatty tissue inside the abdominal cavity, around internal organs) may contribute to the development of cancer, although fat itself is not a carcinogen. Another thing is that in adipose tissue in women, especially during menopause, female sex hormones are produced. If there is too much fat, estrogen levels rise, which can lead to breast cancer.

In addition, excess weight may indicate a person’s food preferences – overeating, excessive consumption of saturated fats ( red meat , butter) and simple carbohydrates (sweets), and this, in turn, increases the likelihood of developing colon cancer. This disease is often diagnosed in those whose diet is significantly more meat food than vegetable fiber. The fact is that the consumption of red meat increases the concentration of fatty acids, which are converted into carcinogens during digestion. Fiber is able to “bind” these harmful substances, reducing the time of movement of processed food, and hence the contact of the intestinal wall with carcinogens. Therefore, to prevent colon cancer, it is worth eating more plant foods, and less red meat, and it is better to give it up altogether. 

According to the World Health Organization, more than three hundred million people in the world are living with depression; the incidence from 2005 to 2015 increased by more than 18%. The reasons are still being studied: at one time there was a popular theory associated with a lack of neurotransmitters, that is, certain substances that contribute to the transmission of signals in the nervous system. Later, geneticists joined: an international team of researchers identified genetic loci (regions of chromosomes) associated with the risk of developing severe depression – and it was a success. However, even recognizing the role of heredity in the development of depression, other factors cannot be excluded, such as the loss of a loved one or the difficult economic situation in the country. It is not entirely fair to associate depression only with genetics – here the psychological stability or instability of a particular person is much more important.     

Severe forms of depression require specialist attention and long-term treatment. But each person may have a situation when he suddenly begins to feel depressed and “want nothing”. Can this be considered depression or just depressive experiences? If in a person’s life there is no longer what was previously considered valuable for him (what time was given, what inspired him), then these are depressive experiences, the presence of which does not mean illness. In this case, self-esteem goes down, self-accusations appear (“just right for you”), contact with others is broken. If you do not overcome these “symptoms”, new ones may appear: indifference to past successes, a frequent desire to be alone, difficulties in making even the simplest decisions. Of course, each case is individual, but there are general recommendations, if followed, there is a chance to improve the situation for the better.  

First you need to try to reduce the load. Perhaps you are so busy that there is no time left for something that used to give strength and bring joy. To return to this, it is enough to find free time – to the extent of allowing yourself to do nothing at all if you have no strength. It is worth asking yourself the question: “What am I spending most of my strength and energy on now?” The answer “to work” in this case will be of little information. But the answer “to frequent meetings at work” will be more specific. Perhaps, after receiving the answer, it will be possible to arrange meetings less often, saving some time for yourself. If experiences are associated with a difficult life situation, it is useful to recall past experiences and answer the questions: “How did I get out of such situations before?”, “What helped me with this?” Sometimes depressive experiences can be associated with the constant scrolling of social networks. If the answer to the question “Do I enjoy Instagram?” negative, which means it is worth stopping to devote so much time to it.

Another effective way is to turn to bodily practices, such as yoga (focusing on the sensations of the body and breathing reduces anxiety), as well as keep a diary or create a note on your smartphone, noting any positive moments every day – for example, the fact that you drank delicious coffee while break or a colleague shared a funny story with you. Reread your notes often to help you notice that good things are happening in your life. If it is difficult to solve the problem alone, consult a specialist. This will help you find the causes of your worries in time and work them out in a timely manner.

local_offerevent_note July 8, 2021

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