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Genetics – The Deciding Factor?

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It was a monk by the name of Gregor Mendel who discovered that by breeding different pea plants in specific ways, he could make the plants’ subsequent offspring express different traits. His studies, somewhat accidentally, birthed an entire new field of study known as genetics. This was in the mid nineteenth century. It wasn’t until the twentieth century that the double helix would be discovered by James Watson and Francis Crick. Since that time, great strides have been taken in the field of genetics; much of the most cutting edge research being done in medical science has to do with the way the genes you inherit affect every detail of your life.

The physical traits that you have – your eye and hair color, your nose length, your height, etc. – are the result of the genes that you inherited from your parents. My blonde hair and blue green eyes are the summation of the genes I got from mom and dear old dad. To a large extent, I have very little control over these certain aspects of my physical appearance. I can’t, for instance, really make myself get any taller (no matter how much I’d like that extra inch to take me from five feet eleven inches to that coveted height of six feet).

Much of the research over the last few decades has centered around what role genetics plays in in disease, or the inevitability thereof, in a given person. The conclusion that seems to be the consensus in medicine is that if your genes predict it, it is only a matter of time before you develop it. Your genes are the primary factor in deciding your good or poor health.

However, this article on Slate centers around a very different conclusion that is being reached; often, the results that genetic mapping predicts turns out to be inaccurate. Consider the case of James Watson, one of the discoverers of the double helix. According to his genetics, he should be blind and deaf with a small head. He is (and has) none of these.

There is no doubt that the genes you inherit put you at risk for certain things. Your genetics have a role in determining what you might have a propensity to develop, whether it be heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc. Whether your genes are the determining factor on whether you will develop these things is highly debatable. This, of course, is in stark contrast to the message delivered by mainstream medicine.

The influence of lifestyle simply cannot be ignored when it comes to the “inevitability” of disease. An entire new approach to genetics as it relates to human illness is being developed; this approach centers on the way environment affects the expression of certain genes. In other words, what effect does the environment (or lifestyle) people subject themselves to have on their health? In time, it may be revealed that the habits and lifestyles of humans are much better indicators as to whether they will enjoy good health or not.

The field of genetics will continue grow, and our knowledge of the role our genes play in our life will only deepen in the coming years. But it is foolish to assume that your genes are the only factors deciding your good or poor health. Much better is it to assume that lifestyle, particularly diet and exercise play critical roles, if not the deciding roles in the quality of life you will experience.


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