When it comes to wellness, there is an overload of information out there. There are hacks and products for anything and everything, and when it comes to the journey, we love to explore. But it’s important to understand on the deepest level that our unique genetic makeup determines our own personal mode of optimal function, and exploring ourselves is the key to unlocking total wellness.
When we think about diet, for example, there is a multitude of trends and modalities that have been successful for thousands, and harmful to others. Where keto and vegan may make someone thrive, they may cause others to fail.
Research shows that genetic variation is known to affect food tolerances, in which heritage could be key. If dairy is something your ancestors didn’t eat and you struggle to digest it, that may be a clear indicator. What foods dominated their diet? Do you feel better when you eat a similar diet? Knowing more about our genetic history can help shape not just how we eat, but how we move through life on a daily basis, and what diseases we are at risk of so that we can live preventatively.
Genetic counselor and host of the podcast DNA Today, Kira Dineen, explains, “Genetic counselors will ask about your family health history because it can be helpful in identifying conditions you are at higher risk to develop, compared to the general population. For some conditions, there are preventive measures people can take to reduce their risk of developing the condition.”
This can apply to digestive diseases, autoimmune proclivities, and even cancer. Dineen shares, “In the cancer realm, people can have additional screening or preventive surgeries.” But it’s not all cancer, heart attacks, and food limitations. Dineen also addresses that while our genes are a given, we do have some agency.
“Our genetic code, the spelling of all our genes, is inherited and doesn’t change; however, we can influence our gene expression, meaning which genes are turned on and off. This is called epigenetics and is also shaped by our ancestors,” Dineen shares.
She explains that our gene expression is dynamic, and continues to change throughout our lives because our environment directly affects which genes are expressed. The things we eat, weight we gain or lose, drug and alcohol usage, and amount of stress can play a role in the regulation of the genes that are expressed.
So while it’s important to understand, embrace, and accept our genetic code in order to truly reside in our bodies as we are, we can always be striving for better. Our genes are what make us unique, but also give us major health cues so that we can understand our strengths and weaknesses, building on those strengths and preventing those weaknesses from deteriorating us.
Dineen leaves us with this: “The more we understand about epigenetics, the better we can positively impact our genes. We all know it’s important to eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and reduce consumption of alcohol and drugs; however, knowing how these factors directly impact our genetics may offer us an extra boost of motivation. Our lifestyle decisions do play a major role in our overall health. Not everything is predetermined in our genes; rather, our environment alters our genes. It’s about the combination of nature and nurture.”