If you are like most people, you have probably been a bit curious about the new genetic tests that are so popular. These tests allow you to mail in a small saliva sample and unravel all of the secrets hidden within the strands of your DNA. These kits are easy to use and promise to produce accurate results.
Many of these tests offer some entertaining or novelty insights, such as whether or not you will inherit your father’s unibrow. While these insights are useful for a sensible chuckle, the real potential of these at-home kits lies in their ability to reveal your likelihood of developing severe and often preventable health conditions.
The process itself is so simple, even a child could do it. Most kits (much like the one available from Genealogy Care) will test a vial of your saliva to screen for genes linked to certain cancers, such as the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which are often linked to certain breast and ovarian cancers, as well as high cholesterol.
Furthermore, the process has become so simplistic that the FDA has recently approved at-home testing kits for ailments such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s, two devastating conditions with no known cure. The FDA has even streamlined its process for approving at-home tests, leading users to explore more healthy lifestyle choices.
The At-home Testing Revolution
In a perfect world, understanding the in’s and out’s of your DNA should give you the motivation to screen for health risks more often. Or it might give you that extra boost you need to exercise each day or take a recommended supplement. Yet, for many of us, life gets in the way of these preventative measures.
People everywhere are particularly interested in genetic testing at the moment. More and more patients are asking their doctor about it, from athletes to soccer moms. With the growing interest in genetic testing comes a fantastic opportunity to educate ordinary people about genomics’ potential benefits. Additionally, the price for these services is gradually decreasing, so they can be utilized by a wider audience. One of the biggest advantages of these screening services is if any additional tests are needed, they are usually covered by insurance.
Genetic testing is an excellent tool for catching genetic conditions that could develop into something more serious. But did you ever wonder what other unique genetic traits are passed down from our parents? Here are a few of the more unusual genetic markers that are handed down from one generation to the next.
You have your parents to thank (or to blame) for typical traits such as your eye or hair color or the size of your nose; however, one of the more strange characteristics passed down from our parents is whether or not looking at the sun will trigger a sneezing reaction. While this might sound like something your grandparents told you as a cautionary tale, this is actually a well-documented syndrome known as “ACHOO Syndrome” or Autosomal Dominant Compelling Heliopathic Outburst.
According to the Center for Biotechnology Information experts, this syndrome affects sufferers by causing them to sneeze any time they see a bright light. That means that any bright light can cause this reaction, whether it is the sun or a well-lit hotel lobby. The aptly named ACHOO Syndrome is a dominant trait. That means that if just one of your parents has it, you are 50% likely to inherit it as well.
Has anyone ever told you that you get that “serious” look from your mom or dad? This might seem like a condition that results from spending too much time around your parents, but surprisingly, that is not the case.
In a comparison compiled by the National Academy of Sciences, a study of blind subjects revealed that even their sighted relatives shared similar facial expressions, without ever having seen them. The study found that this is still the case for relatives separated at birth as well. In the case of facial expressions, it appears to be genuinely nature over nurture.
If you are a natural redhead, you are probably aware that your ginger hair is inherited from your parents. But did you know redheads also tend to inherit the ability to withstand pain better than their blonde or brunette counterparts? As surprising as this sounds, the ability to withstand stinging pain is a trait that is passed down, just like hair color.
In fact, researchers at the Danish Aalborg University conducted a study in which they injected subjects with capsaicin, the component that makes chilis spicy. What they found was that those with red hair were much less sensitive to this pain. This means that redheads are generally better at tolerating the pain from spicy foods or the pain of a needle jab. However, this superpower may come with a price. Studies found that redheads are also less responsive to anesthesia and more sensitive to cold temperatures in related research. Sorry redheads, you can’t have good looks and withstand cold temperatures!
Have you ever experienced a runner’s high or a rush of energy after a good workout? If not, you are not alone. It could very well be in your genes. Geneticists have long been interested in pinpointing a gene responsible for one’s interest in physical activity. One study conducted by the University of Georgia could suggest that certain people have a gene that blocks dopamine release in the brain. Dopamine is the “feel-good” chemical that causes feelings of pleasure and reward. In combination with a person’s natural tendencies, this gene could lessen the urge to be active.
However, these findings shouldn’t be an excuse to stay home or skip leg day. Even if you aren’t lucky enough to have the traits that make you a gym rat, it is still possible to develop a natural passion for working out. The best way to create a love of exercise is to find an activity that you enjoy and do it with someone who gives you positive feedback.
Everyone has heard the age-old adage “early to bed, early to rise,” but this might not be true if your genes say otherwise. Nature Communications conducted a study in 2019 that concluded humans might be genetically hardwired to be either early risers or night owls. This study looked at data from around 700,000 individuals who submitted their DNA to genetic testing companies.
They found that there are over 350 unique spots on the human genome that could influence both our sleeping habits and our waking patterns. It is possible that your “internal clock” could be programmed to reach for the snooze button, which makes it difficult to roll out of bed.
Additionally, your tossing and turning at night could have more to do with your genes than your stressful day at the office. In a different study by Nature, researchers found that there are seven genes that, when present, can put individuals at risk for developing insomnia. These same genes were present in people who are prone to depression, anxiety, and neuroticism. While knowing that your genes are to blame might not help you sleep better at night, it may help you get some peace of mind that it’s your biology to blame, rather than your stressful lifestyle.
To those of us who enjoy a good cup of java a bit too much, this jittery trait inheritance should come as no surprise. Whether you realize it or not, the way your body responds to and metabolizes the caffeine in that cup o’ joe is something that is passed down from your parents.
Scientific Reports published a journal that compared chronic coffee drinkers in the Netherlands to those in Italy. These researchers found that out of those who drank less coffee, the PDSS2 gene was expressed at a higher frequency. The scientists theorized that these people crave coffee less because they metabolize caffeine slower. Therefore, smaller amounts of coffee are needed to produce the same effect as those who do not express the PDSS2 gene. For everyone else, it might be time to put on another pot.
If you have a slippery grip, even in low-pressure situations, it might be more than just your nerves. If it happens often and does not seem to have a trigger, it is most likely your DNA to blame. This clammy reaction occurs when your sympathetic nerve, which is responsible for your fight or flight mechanism, suddenly contracts the nerves in your palms (or your feet).
In a study by UCLA, scientists found that around two-thirds of the people who suffer from “sweaty palms” (hyperhidrosis) also have a family history of the condition. However, there is some good news. If one parent suffers from hyperhidrosis, their offspring only have a 28% chance of inheriting that trait, which proves that other genes need to be present. Only around 5% of the population suffer from “sweaty palms syndrome.”
Do you tend to see the best in people and trust that they are telling the truth? If your answer is “yes,” you might have genetics to thank for your optimistic ideals. In fact, researchers at the University of Arizona found that “trust” is a genetic trait that is 30% inheritable. What about those that have a more suspicious personality? Unfortunately, that is probably due to negative past experiences and can’t be blamed on your genes. The same study found that “distrust” is primarily a socialized trait and is not likely inherited.
However, if you tend to be a little more pessimistic, it is not necessarily because life has given you lemons. Humans have what is known as the OXTR gene, which is a receptor that is responsible for oxytocin, the “love” hormone. In a study produced by PNAS, individuals with a variation of the OXTR gene often had lower self-esteem, were less optimistic, and felt less sense of self-control. No matter what variation of this gene you ended up with, nothing affects your outlook on life quite like your perception, so you might as well make lemonade.
Ability to Diet
How many of us have put great effort into a diet only to lose little to no weight? According to a study published in Genetics, the chances of a diet working might have little to do with the diet itself and more to do with your genetics. The study concluded that the effectiveness of a diet regimen is highly dependent on one’s genetic background.
That means that it may take an individualized diet strategy to bring about weight loss. This approach is called “precision dietetics” and claims that a personalized diet plan based on your DNA is more effective for shedding the pounds. If a particular diet plan isn’t working for you, don’t be discouraged. There’s a plan out there that is just right for your genome.
If you have what is often called a “sweet tooth,” you may actually experience sweet sensations differently than others. This is often why young children crave sweets more than fruits and veggies. A study conducted by the University of Guelph concluded that almost 80% of preschool-aged children exhibited at least one of the genes that made them prefer sweets over other healthier foods.
In a similar study published in Chemosensory Perception, researchers looked for a specific TAS2R38 taste-receptor gene variation. This is the gene variant responsible for causing certain vegetables such as kale or brussels sprouts to taste bitter to some and delicious to others. Interestingly, those who did not experience the bitter sensation ate around 200 more servings of vegetables every year.
While genetic variation can affect everything from the amount of sunshine we prefer to the number of vegetables we eat each year, it is essential to not let that reality affect our lives. No matter what your genome says, there are always ways to make healthy lifestyle choices and become the best version of yourself.
If you would like to learn more about how testing your DNA can help you make better life choices, read our blog posting here.