When we speak about our genes, we’re really referring to our DNA, the hereditary material in humans and almost all other organisms.
DNS is like the blueprint for the human body, dictates how every cell in the body functions and determines such traits as our eye color, hair color, and height.
DNA also factors into our risk for developing certain conditions and/or diseases like osteoporosis, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
DNA is located within every cell in the human body and scientists estimate there are between 10-50 trillion cells in the average human body.
The human body is constantly regenerating to make room for new cells. An estimated 300 million old cells die every minute but before those old cells die, they make a copy of the DNA which is stored within the cell’s nucleus.
Most times these copies are made flawlessly but sometimes there are errors which occur during the copying process.
Most times those copying errors are insignificant and result in no change in how the new cell functions.
Often, even if there is a copying error, it could result in something as mild as a child with two blonde haired parents being born with red hair.
Sometimes, however, the copying error occurs in an area of the DNA which can dramatically affect the structure and function of the new cell and could result in a child being born with a disease like polycystic kidney disease or cystic fibrosis.
For many years, our genes were considered to be the only way biological traits could be passed down through generations of organisms.
We also thought that our future was “predetermined” by our genetic makeup. We thought our genes were a rigid set of blueprints which were unalterable.
Since science cracked the DNA code, we have learned a great deal about our genes but perhaps nothing more important to non-scientists is the fact that our genes are not as rigid as we once thought. Our genes have the ability to respond to the environment we provide them.
We now know that most common diseases we face as humans are the combined result of the interactions between our genes, our lifestyle and the environment. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat and our daily movement habits all influence how our genes function.
Therefore, while our DNA is the master plan for our body, our lifestyle choices can override the master plan by turning certain genes on or off, all of which can have a significant influence, good and bad, on our health and that of our offspring.