Are we victims of our genes or can we largely influence our health?

 The debate has been raging all the more since the 38-year-old actress Angelina Jolie went public earlier this year by revealing that she underwent a double masectomy after discovering she had inherited a cancer gene that killed her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.


While it remains a very personal and painful decision to undergo such a radical step, one side of the medical profession is lauding Jolie while others are questioning whether this was really necessary.


For the past decade most research has concluded that genes play a major role on whether we are obese, die of a heart attack or cancer. But this appears to be only half the truth. A new field of research called epigenetics tells us that the choices we make in our daily living and in what environment we live can actually alter our health at the molecular level, even if we are born with genes that give us a predisposition of contracting certain types of disease.


The good news here is that we have the choice. We have the freedom to decide how healthy our lives are going to be. The amount of exercise we get, the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe has a huge effect on our health.


According to the research, exercise may well alter the expression of our genes in a positive way, preventing a variety of disease such as Alzheimer, heart and circulatory problems.


Certain types of stem cells appear to determine their direction at an early stage, depending on how well we exercise and what food we eat. Using treadmill-conditioned mice, a team of researchers from McMaster University, United States, led by the Department of Kinesiology’s Gianni Parise has shown that exercise triggers those cells to become bone more often than fat. In sedentary mice, the same stem cells were more likely to become fat, impairing blood production in the marrow cavities of bones.


 “The interesting thing was that a modest exercise program was able to significantly increase blood cells in the marrow and in circulation. What we are suggesting is that exercise is a potent stimulus, enough of a stimulus to actually trigger a switch in these mesenchymal stem cells,” according to Parise

The research appeared in a paper published by the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.