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Genetics and Illness PDF Print E-mail
Written by Allen Lawrence, M.D.   
Genetics and Illness

Right now in Western medicine we have entered the age of genetics. The development of techniques, information and revision of old out dated thought and beliefs are in high gear. With the Human Genome project researchers are looking for genetic markers for many diseases. The tendency in medicine and within the general population is to conclude that most if not all illnesses have a genetic cause or at least a genetic component. Since we are all a product of our genes, this may to some degree be true, but the problem is we still do not really understand or know the relationship between our genetics and the illnesses we suffer. Obviously a complex problem the answer or answers to this question may not be clearly known nor understood for many years to come. Here are some of our thoughts on this matter.

  1. Our genetics do have some control over many aspects of our life. The degree and extent of this control is still unclear. The following are a group of questions which may likely have to be answered before we really can understand the relationship between illness and genetics:

    a. Our genetics appear to control the production of certain chemicals, mediators, enzymes, inhibitors, and cellular stimulators along with the ability for certain types of cells to be created and function normally. Within this complex of idea is the question that if our genetics cause a breakdown or inappropriate chemical or anatomical problem from which a specific disease producing or inhibiting chemical is made or not made correctly, will this always lead to a genetic disease or disease that has its basis in this error? We do not know. In many cases it does but not always. Are our genetic defects the cause of illness or just a potential reason why, if other things do or do not happen illness can occur?

    b. When the body system is created correctly (the genetics were initially correct) and then later on in life certain genetic elements mutate or activate and cause illness such as with cancer, is this is a genetic mediated condition? That is, is the illness directly caused by a flaw in the healthy genetics, by the mutation or corruption of genetic material accidental or was their a “genetic” reason this happened to begin with? Can we consider this individuals genetically “weak” or “at risk”? How can we protect such people from this happening to them?

    c. When an individual is basically healthy and his genes are functioning normally, and illness occurs, can this illness occur because the individual does not have a specific gene or a correct gene to inhibit, protect, stop or protect against this condition or against the external insult or injuries that cause this illness? Can illness occur because there is an absence of a protective gene?

    d.    Finally, when an individual is basically healthy and his or her genes are functioning normally and illness still occurs, can this be because external elements overwhelmed the genetics and or the defensive systems of the body? In this case could it be that the illness has no relationship to the genetic make up of the individual?

  2. Is it all about the genes or are they just where our attention is focused rightly or wrongly today?

    a.    In the situations such as described in 1a. above, we can consider that many people have a “known” gene or genes for diabetes. We know that certain genes and combination of genes are needed to ensure an appropriate production of insulin. Yet, we also know that the individual’s weight, and diet are key factors. Therefore if the individual’s body is stressed by external factors such as a improper diet, too much sugar, injury, obesity, then the individual may not be able to produce sufficient insulin to maintain normal sugar metabolism therefore he becomes a type II diabetic. This means the gene is not directly causing diabetes, it does so only when other negative life or environmental factors are involved. If the gene is not everything, is it merely a part of a total picture and a part of the process of illness as well.

    b. In 1d. above one can consider a situation where there is an accidental exposure to radiation or toxic chemicals which may insult or injure a specific fragile but otherwise normal gene, or group of genes, and triggering one or more mutations which may lead to production of cancer like cells. Once again the gene is not the key factor the external triggers are also of significant importance.

  3. Lock and Key Construct:

    a. What if we thought of our genetic system as a lock, a solid object that has a very specific purpose, then we must consider that certain “keys” may be necessary to create both health and illness. These keys are generally chemical and join with the lock at certain receptor sites or “key holes.” Once joined to the lock the key triggers very specific actions. For any one gene there may be one specific key or dozens of keys, possibly hundreds of keys, that might “turn it on” or activated it both positively and negatively, creating wellness and illness. But what happens if the wrong key enters into a key hole? It might have no affect at all or it might trigger a change in the genetic material or in its function different from what might be expected. This can then lead to what we consider to be illness.

    b.    What happens if the key is a neurochemical created by the brain in response to a “thought,” or a “complex of thoughts” or if a faulty belief system creates certain “negative” or “destructive” neurochemicals that are similar, but not the same, as the normal “key” and when they enter into the “lock” they then trigger a negative action of the gene?


Summation

In the end it is very safe to say that these questions tell us we are only in the infancy of understanding the roll of genetics and its relationship to illness and disease. It will likely be many, possibly even hundreds, of years before the picture is complete and we fully understand the relationship of genetics to illness, to our environment, to the food we eat, the stresses of life, and the thoughts we think. What we believe and how we live our life.

Until we know all of the necessary answers we should not assume that the key factor in creation or control of illness is our genetics. If we do we are left out in the cold with no solutions except to “change our genetics” which is at this moment appears to be impossible. It is smarter, we think to look at the relationship of the factors under our control: how we live our life, our thoughts, actions, diet, environment and work, and then to control them in order to protect our genetics and heal illness based on prevention and not gene therapy which may not be commercially available for many, many years.