DNA & Genetics
Human beings are 99.5% the same and 0.5% different. It’s that 0.5% difference that’s really important; that’s the 30 million letters in our genetic code that make each one of us unique. Within the 30 million letters, there are Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs, pronounced ‘SNIPS’), which are a common form of sequence variation on the human genome. It is SNPs that determine our genetic differences.
How our genes shape who we are
We’ve known for a while now that our DNA is determined at birth based on the genes of our mother and father, but that’s not the full picture. Our DNA can be influenced by interaction between our genes and the environment. Things like exercise and activity; toxins such as pollution; circadian rhythms such as sleep; alcohol and drugs; food and nutrients; bacteria and viruses, sunlight and vitamin D3 all affect our genes. In addition, what forms our genetic make-up doesn’t just start from the moment we’re conceived; it starts well before that, with our mothers. An experiment was done with animals to explore whether it was possible to make genes in an embryo more active (or even turn them off) by varying the mother’s diet. It turns out it was possible, but ethics prevent us from conducting a similar experiment on humans.
And it starts before we are born…
However, a recent study in The Gambia discovered that babies conceived in the wet season had different levels of activity for a gene that affected the immune system (you might have heard about this in a recent programme by Michael Mosley called ‘Countdown to Life’). So it seems likely that epigenetic changes can occur even in the womb. The Dutch Famine Study took place on a group of 2,414 subjects between 1943 and 1947 in German-occupied Amsterdam. The study was conducted to look at pre-natal exposure to famine on later health. What they discovered was if you were a young embryo at the time of the famine, you were twice as likely to develop heart disease later in life, and more prone to schizophrenia, obesity, diabetes, cancer and other stress-related illnesses. There was also evidence to suggest that the genetic changes were passed onto the next generation as well.
Personalisation based on your genes
Our understanding of genetics has progressed a long way since 1947, and it is now accepted that understanding our genetic make-up now allows us to positively influence our DNA, to optimise our health and minimise risk of serious disease or even injury. It’s also shaped contemporary thinking about how to use this knowledge to personalise what we do rather than following general advice which offers a one-size-fits-all approach. Appreciating that we’re all different allows us to take more personal responsibility for our health, fitness and wellbeing.
Leanne Spencer is a Fitness Entrepreneur, Author of the Amazon Bestselling book Rise and Shine: Recover from burnout and get back to your best and Founder of Bodyshot Performance Limited. Bodyshot specialises in bringing the science of genetics to the world of fitness. Connect with the team @BodyshotPT or Facebook or visit our website at https://www.bodyshotperformance.com/.