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Genetic and Environmental Factors in Health and Illness

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I am lucky enough to be spending two weeks in California having arrived on Wednesday of this week.  So as a UK resident I had planned to write a blog entry about how the extra daylight hours and sunshine had improved my mood and energy levels as they always do when I visit at this time of year.

 ....the only problem being that as soon as I arrived a major storm system also did so! After weeks of 80 degree temperatures and wall to wall sunshine in California I am yet to see more than a glimpse of the sun. Typical!

So with little time to come up with other blog ideas I thought I'd discuss a subject that I believe is important not just in environmental illnesses but in illness in general.

As part of my degree in nutritional therapy I recently heard a lecture by Khush Mark, Ph.D. Khush is a highly educated individual who now works as a nutrition consultant in New York and London clinics. After completing a Bachelor's Degree in Pharmacology, a Master's Degree in Toxicology and Pathology and finally  a Ph.D. in cancer - she began to meet physicians who were using nutrition both as a means of preventing and treating cancers and other disease. This convinced her that conventional medicine did not hold all the answers, especially when it came to chronic disease.

The concept that struck the strongest chord with me in Khush's lecture was the idea that it is not simply genetics that determine whether an individual will develop an illness but how their genetic makeup interacts with environmental factors.

If the mass media is to be believed with their headlines along the lines of 'New gene cause of autism' - our DNA is a hardwired computer program from which there is no escape. In reality, genes are very rarely the single cause of disease. In most cases a gene or genes only increase the chances of an illness developing.

What is important is the concept of 'gene expression'. A person may have a gene that predisposes them to a develop a certain cancer for example, but without a triggering factor (dietary factors, toxins, pollutant etc), the gene will never be expressed (activated) and the cancer won't develop.

These ideas may be particularly important to the study of environmental illnesses covered on The Environmental Illness Resource. All of these illnesses have a wealth of evidence suggesting increased toxicity, exposure to environmental and dietary pollutants, and/or a decreased ability to neutralise them.

In the case of autism the vast majority of funding is aimed at discovering new genes linked to the developmental disorder. Likewise the media is full of stories about how such discoveries will finally explain the alarming rise in autism rates and lead to preventive measures and more effective treament.

Despite all this a recent large epidemiological study showed that the recent increases in the numbers of children with autism could only be as a result of environmental factors. Greater awareness and better diagnosis were ruled out and the human genome does not change quickly enough to point to genetic causes alone. There has to be environmental factors at work. No question.

There is no doubt that the discovery of DNA by Watson, Crick and others has opened up a brave new world where the genetic basis of life in health and disease can be unravelled. It is becoming increasingly apparent however that life does not live in a vacuum and that it is how our DNA and environment interact that determines whether we are healthy or succumb to illness.

Visit the site of: Khush Mrk, Ph.D. - Consultant in Nutrition & Metabolic Typing


Genetic and Environmental Factors in Health and IllnessDynamic Neural Retraining Program (DNRS)


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People in this conversation

  • Thanks for the welcome Bill. It's still raining (and hailing) up here in LA so I guess my plan for some winter sun hasn't paid off this time! I have to confess to being a bit of a sun worshipper and it definitely makes me feel better. You're right about England though, we do get some impressive skies ;)

    I agree that the tide is turning. As I trawl through the latest research every week I notice more and more papers discussing environmental factors as serious etiological factors in a wide range of diseases. Hopefully the money will begin to flow more in this direction as well...

    Excellent point about the secondhand smoke issue. Those of us affected by environmental illnesses know the unfortunate truth to them so it really is a matter of having patience and waiting for medical science to catch up.

    Just wanted to let you know Bill that you're a real asset to the site so I hope you'll keep visiting and contributing your knowledge ;)

    Comment last edited on about 8 years ago by Maff

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