An Introduction to Genetics

An Introduction to Genetics

I’m so happy now that I’m an accredited Smart DNA practitioner and able to send off DNA samples for analysis and interpretation. What I love about this is being able to help my clients maximise their genetic potential and be as healthy as they can be. This article is to help give you a basic understanding of genetics, and some of the terms used with DNA profiling.

Our DNA is housed in the nucleus of our cells. It’s the genetic blueprint from which every protein and enzyme in our body is created, and every cellular function regulated.  Our DNA is packaged up into chromosomes, and as humans we have 23 pairs giving us a total of 46. We inherit 23 chromosomes from our mother and 23 from our father, so we’re a genetic mix of our parents, grandparents and so on.

A gene is a sequence of DNA that encodes a specific protein, enzyme, or cellular function, and is often termed a ‘unit of inheritance’. Variations in our genes contributes to our genetic diversity. Some genetic traits are governed by a single gene e.g. whether or not you can curl your tongue, whereas most genetic traits are more variable and have a number of genes contributing e.g. height, weight and skin colour.

We have two copies of each gene – one inherited from each parent. These may be the same (homozygous) or different (heterozygous). An allele is the term given to alternative forms of the same gene. Different alleles can result in different observable phenotypic traits, such as eye colour or hair colour. In some genes, one allele may be dominant over the other; in other cases the characteristic expressed in heterozygotes may be intermediate between the two alleles. Genotype refers to the combination of alleles inherited for a particular gene.

DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is composed of subunits called nucleotides – adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G), and thymine (T), arranged in double strands that form a helix. The adenine on one strand binds with a thymine on the opposite strand, and similarly cytosine binds with guanine.  To describe this process in a very simple way, each three bases on the DNA sequence codes for an amino acid, and the chain of amino acids produced makes up a protein.

A variation or mutation in a gene may change the amino acid in the sequence, which will then alter the function of the protein being produced in some way. The alteration could make the protein or enzyme more efficient, less efficient, or defunct. By knowing your genetics, and knowing your potential weaknesses or vulnerabilities, you can then be empowered to make appropriate changes to your diet or lifestyle to counter their effects.

Our phenotype for any given trait is a combination of the genes we inherit from our parents, and the environment in which we are nurtured. The degree to which our traits are governed by our genetics is termed heritability. Some genetic traits have a higher heritability factor than others.

Environmental factors contribute to the expression of our DNA. Given optimal nutrition, a nurturing and supportive environment, and access to quality learning materials, a child will be more likely to reach his or her educational or sporting potential. However, if the child has poor nutrition, is raised in a stressful environment, and is not given access to learning opportunities he or she will not thrive nearly as well. This may seem obvious, but even as adults if we are not supporting our health by optimising our nutrition or lifestyle to maximise our genetic profile, we could be leaving ourselves vulnerable to illnesses such as heart disease, cancer or dementia, which we could otherwise avoid.

An example of this from my DNA profile is in the FADS2 gene, which codes for an enzyme delta-5-desaturase involved in omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acid metabolism. The gene variation I carry means that this enzyme is ineffective so I cannot manufacture long chain omega 3 or omega 6 fatty acids from the essential fatty acids alpha linolenic and linoleic acid, and therefore must eat them in my diet. Knowing my genetics has made me more aware of eating fish and seafood, and taking fish oil supplements regularly to ensure I have sufficient long chain omega 3 fatty acids for effective brain function and prostaglandin (hormone) synthesis. I also know that becoming completely vegetarian and especially vegan would not be wise for me, if I want to stay completely healthy.

For the Smart DNA analysis, your DNA from a saliva sample is analysed for 90 different single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) within known genes. These variations have been scientifically and statistically analysed for their effects on health and wellbeing. With this information, we can provide nutritional and lifestyle advice to optimise your genetics in the best way possible. For example, from your DNA profile we can determine whether you’re more likely to benefit from a higher or lower fat diet, and what types of fats or oils are you best able to metabolise for optimal cardiovascular and general health. We can determine your vulnerability to diabetes or metabolic syndrome, and advise how to alter your diet to minimise this risk.  Even the best type of exercise, and how well you’re likely to respond to exercise is determined to some degree by your genetics.

What this all means is that by knowing your genetics, and the implications of your vulnerabilities, you can start making appropriate adjustments to your diet or lifestyle now before any of these genetic weaknesses become a problem. It also means that despite the advice your doctor may give you based on current ‘best practice’, or the trends in ‘new age’ nutrition, you can be confident in knowing what’s right for you. This certainty enables you to focus much more of your attention on other things in life that matter to you – your relationships, your career, or other hobbies and interests. Figuring out your health no longer needs to take up as much space in your brain, because once you know what to do for yourself, the rest is relatively easy.

To find out how DNA profiling can help you, fill out the form below, and I’ll be in touch to discuss this with you.

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Helen is a registered medical herbalist and naturopath with 15 years clinical and teaching experience. She aims to help her clients to create vibrant health through improved nutrition and better lifestyle practices, and uses herbal medicines to support healing processes. Her philosophy on health is to keep it simple and find easy ways to fit 'being healthy' into your life.

Helen is passionate about health and wellbeing, and understands metabolism and weight management as a holistic practice - working with physical, mental and emotional aspects of health, weight and body image.

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