Genetics: The Universe Within — Introduction — Can knowing more about your genes help you eat, move, and live better?
The human body is made up of more than 100 trillion cells, crafted from billions of atoms. Each of those atoms is itself made up of subatomic particles, which themselves are made up of other particles. And on and on it goes, with each part forming the building blocks for the next. It’s a lot to think about, but don’t worry—the pieces of the human body are usually easier to understand than they are to describe.
We all know what our DNA is and what it does. But what can it tell us about our health? And how can it help us live longer and healthier lives? This introduction gives you the basics of genetics and what it can tell you about your own body. If you’re interested, check out the Food Journal where I share my own research on food and health.
What if you discovered that you could actually control your genes—and make them do things like make you gain weight or lose weight, and make you age more or less quickly? This is a fascinating idea—and it’s happening right now. We’re on the verge of having the ability to see, control, and modify our own genes in our own bodies.
“No one can take our destiny away from us. It’s a present.”
– Inferno, Dante Alighieri (1472)
“Oh, I am fortune’s fool!” exclaims the narrator.
— Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare (1595)
What if you knew what your future held?
What would you do if you knew how you would live? How do you think you’ll die? In the meanwhile, where do you think your journey will lead you?
Would you do anything differently if you had the chance?
Would you attempt to defy fate? Or simply let yourself be carried along in the river that leads to your eventual final waterfall?
For a long time, people have pondered their fate.
Is our path in life predetermined? Is there a strategy in place?
Is it true that humans have free will? Can we do anything we want? Or are there any restrictions?
Who or what develops a plan, if one exists?
The gods, we could have said in 2017 BC. The celestial bodies. The spirits, that is. The same strong, unseen forces that cause wind gusts also push and pull us down our life’s course.
Today, we could refer to it as genetics.
Humans have also pondered who they are and why they are the way they are.
Why is it that one person is tall and the other is short? Why is one individual prone to rage while the other remains calm? Why did this individual get ill when the epidemic struck, but not the other?
Why is it that we keep so much of ourselves concealed from ourselves?
Why don’t we understand why we do what we do?
Is it true that we are “just like” our dads, mothers, and second cousins? Are we essentially carbon copies of our forefathers and mothers, or are we a clean slate?
Today, we often attempt to address these questions with the word “genetics.”
“Genetics” seems to be the panacea for all problems.
Is it, however, true?
Consider the following example:
- What can we actually learn about ourselves using genetic analysis techniques, and what is simply wishful thinking and guessing?
- What level of confidence can we get from knowing our genome? Is genetic data a “sure thing,” a “maybe,” or a “I don’t know”?
- How much can we alter if we discover something we don’t like? How malleable is our genetic expression?
- What matters and what doesn’t? Our DNA contains a wealth of data. Is everything relevant to our issues and goals? Do we really care about the genetic pathway that produces the left-hand third eyelash?
- What should we do with all of our knowledge, even if we can acquire it?
Genetics is a fascinating field of study.
Scientists drew out a “rough draft” of the human genome — our “genetic code” — in the year 2000.
In 2003, the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) in the United States declared that the Human Genome Project had been completed successfully.
We now had a blueprint of ourselves — and, in principle, the code for all humans on the planet.
Not just people, either. Every living creature on the planet carries some version of this code.
The microorganisms that reside on your body have a direct relationship with you.
Yes, you and them split a billion years ago and don’t intend to get together for Thanksgiving, but there’s a piece of your DNA that originated from the same location as theirs.
All life arose from this coding system, from mushrooms to dolphins to oak trees to humans.
23andMe, a commercial genetic testing service, became accessible to the general public in 2007. Anyone’s genome may be scanned and read.
Since then, the area of genetic testing and counseling has grown tremendously. Getting your genome analyzed is now less expensive, quicker, and simpler.
The goal of genetic testing is to find answers to big questions like:
- What if we could know for sure — not simply conjecture, guess, or wonder — how we function at our most fundamental level? What precisely are our bodies up to?
- Which key is used to unlock which lock? What specific collection of genetic instructions causes us to be a sprinter, have heart problems, or have a peculiarly shaped baby toe?
- What does the future hold for us? What illnesses are we likely to acquire (or avoid)? What is the best way for us to grow and develop?
- What can we do to improve? Is there something in our DNA that can teach us what to eat and how to exercise? What supplements should we use to improve our performance or reduce our risk of disease?
Some proponents of genetic testing claim to have the Big Answers as well.
“Take this DNA test, and we’ll tell you precisely what fitness, diet, and health plan you need.”
It’s a promising prospect.
What if we had a comprehensive strategy for everything we intended to do, alter, or improve?
A strategy based on our one-of-a-kind blueprint? A one-in-seven-billion scheme designed just for us?
Wow. That would be incredible. Isn’t that the case?
“Horoscopes, take a back seat! Until next time, metabolic typing! After that, it’ll be trial and error!”
“In town, there’s a fresh idea! And it’ll give me all I need to know about what I should do!”
We’re still a long way off.
But, in terms of human knowledge and awareness, we are at a fascinating fork in the road.
Assume you’re standing in front of a toy shop. There is a tiny window in it.
In the window, you can see. You get a sneak peek at what the business has to offer.
However, the window is insufficient to show you everything.
You can see small bits and fragments if you squint and look inside while craneing your neck. Here’s an action figure. There was a railway station there.
You already know that the toy shop is brimming with fascinating, entertaining, and interesting toys to play with.
You just can’t see everything…
That’s where we are in terms of genetics and how we could use it.
We’ll take a look inside a toy shop in this book.
Here’s what we’ll tell you:
- What is genetic testing and how does it work?
- What genetic testing is capable of… and what it is not capable of.
- What genetic testing may reveal… and what it cannot.
- What genetic testing may tell you about your health, fitness, and diet.
- Which tests are more effective, accurate, or helpful than others?
- What you may do with the results of your DNA testing.
- Why we believe this is interesting, cool, and promising… But it’s still not a miraculous answer to anything.
All of this is happening “right now.”
As in, this is the best we can do or know right now. Here are the tools that are currently accessible.
Of course, “right now” is a relative term.
We want to be scientists as well as dreamers.
We’ll explain what genetic testing can do for you, as well as what the science indicates.
We recommend that you approach this book with the following attitude:
There is information that we are aware of and information that we are unaware of.
That is how science works.
This is very awesome.
Consider all of the options. It’s not quite magic yet… However, it’s possible.
This is a difficult situation.
There are no easy solutions. There are no “hacks,” as tempting as the concept may seem.
Get enthusiastic, but stay grounded.
As knowledge and research advance, we may all seem to be stupid fools in 200 years. (That is, if we haven’t set the world ablaze by then.)
As a result, keep in mind that every scientific assertion is open to examination and modification. Also, don’t write a check that your science won’t be able to cash.
We’ve put our money where our mouths are.
Individual geniuses working alone in a lab do not constitute science.
Science is a cooperative effort.
This project is no exception.
We exchanged our genetic information.
For this research, 18 members of the team, as well as 15 members of their families and friends, consented to contribute their genetic data.
We’ll look at what they found in their DNA and what it means for them — and you — throughout this book.
We disclose certain personal information about individuals with their permission at times. (You’ll learn who’s a “sugar monster,” who’s the most Neanderthal, and who had an ancestry surprise, for example.)
At other times, we’ll provide their information in aggregate form.
This is our group.
See 15th Chapter: Contributors and Acknowledgements for additional information on the individuals who authored and reviewed this book.
Thank you to everyone who gave a bit of themselves in exchange for their openness and commitment to scientific research.
We need to consider this from a variety of perspectives.
For example, we must comprehend the following:
- the biology of genes and how they function at the molecular level;
- how genetic data is collected, processed, and stored by scientists;
- the relationship between genetic testing and diet and exercise physiology;
- how probability and risk are calculated;
- how we may react to the findings of whatever genetic tests we get; and
- if learning about our DNA will motivate us to make changes… Is it the case, and if so, how?
As a result, we’ll examine the subject from several perspectives in order to provide you with more depth and context.
The science is fascinating. This isn’t just about science, however.
Bio-hacking, customized medicine, and gene editing aren’t simply buzzwords.
It also has to do with psychology and human behavior. What we conceive of ourselves as. What we’re willing to go through in order to alter our destiny.
Keep in mind the following warning while you read this book:
There are numerous complicated, interconnected variables in most preferences, health risks, and hereditary characteristics.
There is virtually never a single gene that causes a certain outcome.
Any genetic information we provide is just a starting point for further investigation.
This is what the remainder of the book will be about.
Starting with the basics is a good place to start.
The fundamentals of genetics
An introduction to some of the essential concepts you’ll need to comprehend genetic testing and its consequences, as well as an explanation of how genetics works.
Testing for genetic mutations
An overview of genetic testing
What exactly does genetic testing entail? What are some of the basic considerations to keep in mind while choosing whether or not genetic testing is appropriate for you?
Topics of particular interest
What we discovered: Heredity.
What is the mechanism of heredity? Why aren’t we all born with the same genetic variants? What role does our ethnicity and heritage have in our general health?
What we discovered was metabolism.
In this chapter, we look at some of the most fundamental metabolic processes, such as blood sugar regulation and thyroid output, and how genetic factors may influence them.
We discovered the following: body weight and body composition
We’ll look at several hereditary variables that affect energy balance, as well as what makes our bodies “naturally” larger or smaller and how much lean or fat mass we’re likely to have in this chapter.
What we discovered was that people had different food preferences.
Why do we hate certain meals, like others, and adore others? In this chapter, we’ll look at how heredity affects how we perceive food’s flavor.
What we discovered was that exercise and muscle performance go hand in hand.
We’ll look at some of the genetic variables that may influence our reaction to (and recovery from) exercise and training, as well as whether we have a “natural athletic type” in this chapter.
What does it all imply, and what should I do next?
What does this imply for you personally?
What should you do now that you’ve learnt more about genetic testing or even collected your own data?
Codons have you stumped? Are you perplexed by mutations? We’ve included a helpful glossary for all the technical terminology we’ve used in this book, so don’t worry.
Still don’t trust us? Do you want to know more? Take use of the hundreds of references we’ve gathered.
Acknowledgements and contributors
Science is a cooperative effort. All of those who provided data and skills to assist us create this book are much appreciated.
Think of it as a smorgasbord.
Take what you want and leave what you don’t.
Chapters should be skimmed and scanned. Alternatively, dig in.
Even if it’s a little heavy-duty, we recommend you have a look at Chapter 2. If you don’t understand a scientific word, look it up in the glossary in Chapter 13.
Consider what you want to gain from this book and read it appropriately.
In each chapter, look for the “What this Means for You” sections.
We’ll offer you some pointers on how to think about a subject and/or what to do next there.
Also, see Chapter 12 for a summary of our general suggestions.
Allow for questions to arise.
We have some answers for you, but perhaps not as many as you’d want.
Learn to ask questions since that is how science works.
(Give me questions I can’t answer, not answers I can’t question, as physicist Richard Feynman put it.)
At least one in five Americans has chronic health problems that are not caused by diet or lifestyle, and that number is as high as one in two for African Americans. But the reason for this is not as obvious as you might think, if you only consider the way we are born and raised. For example, there’s a one in ten chance of a child in the U.S. being born with a heart defect or genetic disease, such as cystic fibrosis or sickle cell disease. Most of these genetic diseases can be treated, but they’re very serious.. Read more about precision nutrition food sensitivities and let us know what you think.
Frequently Asked Questions
How does genetics help you in understanding the varied traits of humans?
Genetics is the study of heredity, or the passing on of traits from parents to their offspring. It is a scientific discipline that deals with the variation and transmission of hereditary traits from one generation to the next.
Can your genes really tell you what to eat?
Yes, your genes can tell you what to eat.
What are the benefits of knowing your genetic profile?
Knowing your genetic profile can be beneficial for a number of reasons. It can help you understand the risk factors associated with certain diseases, and it can also help you make more informed decisions about your health.
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