Genetics plays an essential role in the lifetime of an individual’s health and wellness. Though genetics cannot answer all medical mysteries and are not a predictor of disease in our future, genes offer us insights into our susceptibility to illness and clues to how the body may react to certain medications or treatments. The more we understand our genetic makeup, the better we can develop treatments for individuals or anticipate disease development over time. Here’s a closer look at how genetics can be used for healthcare and improving quality of life.
Many Medical Conditions Have a Genetic Component
Genetic testing can help you understand your risk for health issues like heart disease and cancer. Your family history and age are essential factors in determining your overall risk of certain conditions. But genetics can also play a role in what you may be facing in the future. Genetic tests can diagnose certain diseases, determine if you’re a carrier of certain conditions, or help determine whether you’re at high risk for passing on certain inherited traits.
It’s impossible to know your complete health risk without genetics testing. But here are some things to keep in mind:
You don’t have to be a geneticist or a science major to understand genetics; it can help you make better decisions about your health. Genetic testing can reveal your predisposition toward certain diseases, which will help you make better lifestyle choices. For example, suppose you know that your family members have an increased risk of heart disease. In that case, you may be encouraged to take better care of yourself now and adjust your lifestyle appropriately to avoid long-term adverse health effects that might increase your risk of heart disease.
That said, genes aren’t destiny. Genetics merely gives us information about our risk factors; they do not determine whether or not an individual will get sick. Your environment dramatically affects how genes express themselves (or don’t).
Common Disease-Common Variant Hypothesis
We’ve all heard about rare genetic diseases like cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease, and Huntington’s. But did you know that most common conditions are actually caused by a combination of rare and common genetic variants?
This idea is known as the “common disease-common variant hypothesis.” It states that “multiple rare DNA sequence variations, each with relatively high penetrance, are the major contributors to genetic susceptibility to common diseases.” In other words, it takes at least two types of genetic variants to cause most disorders.
The complexity of these disorders means there isn’t just one way to prevent or treat them; people may need different treatments depending on their unique genetic makeups. These genetic insights have helped healthcare professionals develop genetic therapies and other individualized treatments for unique DNA anomalies they observe in their patients. Healthcare professionals work alongside trusted manufacturers like Avantor to create “gene therapies that can provide significant- and possible curative- benefits to patients with genetic or acquired diseases.” As we learn more about how our genomes affect health outcomes beyond our DNA sequence itself, we’ll be able to develop targeted therapies for those who need them most, improving the quality of life for millions of patients.
Family history is essential. Family members can help you understand your risks and explain what the condition is like for them. They may also have had a similar condition or know someone who has it. The more information you have about your family’s health, the better prepared you’ll be to make decisions about your own health care. Though it may be difficult to talk to your family about medical issues, you may learn some critical information that can help you improve your health.
If you want to know more about your health, or the health of your family members, genetic testing is an option. It’s a way to look at the risks you face to take steps toward prevention or early detection. While preventing all of life’s challenges and diseases may not be possible, understanding what lies ahead can help us make good decisions about our lives.