The Human Condition

A Generational Saga

My recent book of fiction ‘Ripples in the Generations’ is a generational saga that explores the delicate process of blending the heart-lifting joy of a life-long high school friendship with a soul-searching genetic relationship. Two factions of the Henry family share a common interest; Williams’ indiscretions, yet each is unaware of just how much they have in common. The next generation of William’s family share his DNA, but William has divided his legacy.

Even though this novel recounts the tale of a fictional family, worldwide some interesting and unbelievable results are being revealed with millions of people using commercial DNA tests to trace their family trees. Some results have been life-changing introducing them to relatives they had lost long ago-or never knew existed and some revealing long-held relationship secrets.

Sometimes when we poke our skeletons potential risks and positive responses sit side-by-side.  Taking the chance and checking our DNA makes us fragile, but being fragile also opens the opportunity to be brave and develop new connections.

So, if you’re considering having your DNA tested, make sure that the commercial DNA company is professionally credible and you’re ready for the results; whatever they may be.

Advertisements

Epigenetics and CRISPR

Epigenetics piggybacks with CRISPR.

The addition of methyl groups (methylation) to our (deoxyribonucleic acid) DNA can change rapidly during the life span of a cell or organism, or it can be essentially permanent once set early in the development of the embryo (Epigenetics). (Encyclopeaedia Britannica Inc., 2018. Web. 29 Jul. 2018)

So, what does this mean?

It means what you do in your everyday life or what your ancestors were exposed to can ‘tweak’ your DNA (chemical modification).  Essentially, the experiences you encounter imprint a chemical tag on your DNA which either turns ‘on’ or ‘off’ the potential expression of that particular strand of DNA.   Scary or not,  you can inherit the information in your ancestors DNA.

The study of epigenetics came into general use in the early 1940s when British embryologist Conrad Waddington used it to describe the interactions between genes and gene products. Since then, information revealed by epigenetics studies has revolutionized the fields of genetics and developmental biology.  The chemical tags that associate tightly with the DNA in the cell nucleus determine when or even if a given gene is expressed in a cell or an organism.

An article from “What is Epigenetics” July 30, 2018, outlines epigenetics. Think of the human lifespan as a very long movie.  The calls would be the actors.  DNA would be the script – instructions for all the participants of the movie.  The DNA sequence would be the words on the script, and certain blocks of these words that instruct key actions or events to take place would be the genes.  The concept of genetics would be like screenwriting.

The concept of epigenetics would be the directing. The script can be the same, but the director can choose to eliminate or tweak certain scenes or dialogue, altering the movie.  After all, Steven Spielberg’s finished product would be drastically different than Woody Allen’s for the same movie script.

Imagine, we can direct our DNA.  The research in methylating of DNA is in its infancy.  However, it’s becoming apparent that a decrease in methylation contributes to the expression of the gene while the increase of methylation contributes to the silence of the gene. (Judith L. Fridovich-Keil http://www.britannica.com/science/epigenetics) Epigenetics works by adding or removing small chemical tags to our DNA.

Environmental and lifestyle factors influence cell replication. (Lupus Foundation of America) This ‘damage’ occurs when lupus immune cells accumulate more DNA damage upon exposure to environmental stressors compared to healthy immune cells.  Also, living near a major highway may genetically influence overactive inflammatory conditions.

These same epigenetic changes extend to abuse especially when children are involved.  Some youngsters show symptoms immediately, but others appear asymptomatic until adulthood.  Also, untreated sexual abuse is a time bomb.  It ticks so quietly that even the victim doesn’t hear it.  But if it isn’t defused, eventually there’s an explosion. (You Are Not Alone – Men’s Health, June 2018)

Children who are hit as a form of punishment at a young age have altered stress-hormone profiles, which can make them more vulnerable to stress-related illnesses like heart and respiratory disease later in life. (WebMD.COM May/2018)

The reason that the concept of physical weight is important is that if grandma and grandpa are obese that tendency is imprinted on to their DNA and can be genetically passed on to their descendants. (DiscoverMagazine.com) Epigenetics doesn’t alter the sequence but influences the gene expression.  Childhood obesity rates continue to rise in the U.S. (WebMD July/Aug2018)

CRISPR

Can we require our DNA?

Science is using a new gene-editing technique called CRISPR/Cas9 or simply CRISPR to revise the DNA of animals and plants and even human cells in petri dishes according to Sam Sternberg, Ph.D., a biochemist, and CRISPR expert who completed his doctorate in the lab of Jennifer Doudna at University of California, Berkeley.

Think of your unwound DNA double helix as your very long, personal bar code.

Scientists attach a ‘messenger’ molecule to the section of the DNA that identifies which section to remove.  Then another ‘enzyme’ is sent to the identified section and removes it.  Following this, the cell realizes that the DNA is damaged and repairs it.

This scientific discovery has tremendous discovery for not only epigenetics in repairing gene mutations but for medical treatments.   A recent use is seen in travel to outer space.  The astronaut James Kelly spent an extended period in space and descended with some epigenetic changes to his DNA.  Therefore, he was no longer an identical twin.

However, the space center scientists were not to be disappointed.  CRISPR to the rescue.  Astronaut Kelly is now an identical twin without evident epigenetic changes – amazing.

Imagine if we do the same for diabetes, cancer, children of abuse, sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis, autoimmune conditions, obesity, beta-thalassemia, and alcoholism. The health benefits are amazing not to mention the cost savings.  We would have a healthy, profitable world.

Aspirin

‘Take 2 and call me in the morning.’

Dr. John Whyte Chief Medical Officer at WebMD states that for more than a century aspirin has been considered a wonder drug; treating conditions from heart disease to easing pain.

However, medical providers and scientists are gaining a greater understanding of this ‘wonder drug.’  Even though you can purchase this item over the counter (OTC) without a prescription it may not always be safe.

Aspirin works by inhibiting the blood from clotting which can also increase bleeding.  Through recently well-designed large investigations we now know that if you have already have had a heart attack, the benefits of aspirin to ward future heart attacks and some types of strokes are likely greater than the risk of major bleeding.

However, if you’ve never had a heart attack or stroke age and risk are important factors.

  • Younger than 50 yo, most studies don’t support daily aspirins
  •  If you’re between 50 – 69, calculate your 10-yr. cardiovascular disease risk which increases if you have diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure
  • If you are 70 or older and have never suffered a heart attack or stroke, the benefit of daily aspirin is unclear

Consulting your health care professional always is the best call.  If you have chest pain or any of the known symptoms of a heart attack always call 9-1-1.  According to the European Heart Journal: Acute Cardiovascular Care, heart attacks are just as common for women as men, and fast treatment makes all the difference.  Yet women wait 37 minutes longer to call for help. Even though a pain in the chest and left arm are the most common signs, these symptoms are more common in men.  Women, on the other hand, often feel back, shoulder or stomach pain during a heart attack.

Give It Away

When was the last time you gave something to someone that was good for their health?

We all read information about how to keep ourselves healthy – it’s usually while we’re reading through a magazine article in the waiting room of a doctor’s office or when a friend says to us “Ya just gotta read this great article about vitamins.”

But do we actually sit down with someone we care for and talk about health issues or share our time exploring the plethora of health-related item available for maintaining our health?

If we have the knowledge we should give it awaysomeone’s waiting.

Evidence-based, health-related, tried-and-true information needs to be passed around.

My challenge to you is starting tomorrow select one piece of tried-and-true, health-related information and give it away to someone in your life that makes you happy.

You’ll feel happy too!

Spotlight

You’re in the spotlight every day.

A bright light may not be blinding your eyes or beads of sweat forming on your forehead but a glaring spotlight may be shining right in your direction just the same.

That heat is the glare of potential illness.  Cancer, diabetes, eczema, multiple sclerosis, depression, asthma, psoriasis, deep vein thrombosis, leukemia, lymphoma, allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, meningitis, myocardial infarction are just a few of the potential illnesses that are interrogated under the extreme glow of your potential.

At any moment you can be diagnosed with one or more of these medical conditions. So the key here is to maintain health and wellness in your everyday life so that if or when one of these conditions, unfortunately, is spotlighted on you you’ll be in a position to adequately deal with your diagnosis.

Even though we intrinsically know the basic rules and guidelines of health and wellness adhering to the ‘straight and narrow’ can be a challenge.  Good nutrition, adequate rest, daily exercise, social interactions, and mental stimulation seem to be the nationally accepted requirements.

Your bodies are simultaneously fragile and tough. Therefore, maintaining a delicate balance between the intricate chemical and physical interaction takes conscious attention and devoted effort.  Eating fruits and vegetables, adequate-proteins, complex carbohydrates, and decaffeinated-hydration in your daily diet gives your body the defense it needs to prepare for the potential spotlight glare.

Exercising on a regular basis strengthens and firms your muscles preparing them to withstand any potential hospital stay or unexpected accident.  Your recovery time will be shortened if you’re healthier before you’re injured.  Remember though it’s easier to stay well that to recover after being sick.

Pay attention to your daily diet.  It’s ‘easy’ to eat a couple of extra Oreo’s especially if they are ‘calling your name’ but doing this on a daily basis and adding in some french fries may not be a wise decision – but it’s your decision to make.

If the spotlight shines on you make sure you’re fortified because you have made a good decision about your health.

 

Malleable

Having a capacity for adaptive change is Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary definition for malleable.

This remolding can be accomplished either by beating with a hammer or intentional pressure from an internal force.  However, both of these methods require that the shape being changed is flexible, elastic, fluid, adjustable and adaptable.

Gee!  That sounds like a shapeshifter.

Yet everyone can do it.

It simply takes desire, planning, and routine.

Sounds easy I know but these 3 steps are the basis of any change, such as:

  •  Desire to improve your health
  •  Plan to organize your personal workspace
  •  Establish a routine for your exercise workout

All these changes can be set in motion and you can be malleable quicker than a honey bee finding springs’ first hint of sweet nectar.

 

 

 

 

Customize

Each likes to design their personal space – a comfy chair, pretty flowers, favorite foods.

Often we customize our exercise routine too much and end up with ‘tunnel vision’ when it comes to an expanded viewpoint on alternatives.  Some swear by free weights.  Others use aerobics.  Still, others profess that it’s only truly pure if yoga tops the list.  Possibly, the answer lies in a combination of all.

The key is to get up and move!

Your body has multiple joints – head joints, neck joints, shoulder joints, arm joints, hand joints, finger joints, back joints, hip joints, knee joints, ankle joints, feet joints, and even your tiny toe has joints.

Customize your joints by keeping them healthy and you can show them off just like a shiny red sports car.

NO to Health

Saying NO isn’t easy –  but vitally necessary.

Especially true when someone you care for asks you to postpone your physical workout.  Your workout routine keeps you healthy not only for yourself but your loved ones.

Health, wellness, and vitality is part of being totally present for your family and friends.  Truly, if the people in your life want you to be in their life for a long time they’ll understand your “NO.”

“I love you, but no.”  is a phrase penned by inspirational writer Daniel Potter and used by grandmothers everywhere.  This term gives the recipient a few words to feel good about despite the rejection.

Being candid about “No” also is an option.  “I can’t miss my workout because I missed it yesterday and so I must go to the gym today.”  Even though you don’t need to offer a reason your friend or family may be persistent.

Consideration sometimes means being brusque rather than non-responsive.   Don’t leave people wondering since it makes you appear thoughtless.  Keep your response brief but not too short. “I’m leaving.  I’m late.  Bye.”

Offer a buddy program.  When you meet resistance from friends or family in making time for yourself for maintaining your health offer the “buddy” option.   The situation may look something like this: “Why don’t we work out together and then we can talk about our day while driving home?”

Saying “NO” to health is positive when you shave off the rough corners and shine up the rounded edges.

Celebrating 100 Years

Reaching centenarian status is a real possibility.

A study in PLOS One indicates that adults who perceive aging in a positive light have a nearly 44% lower risk of developing dementia (WebMD.com, Sept./2018).

Extensive studies by WebMD provide interesting statistics:

  • 14 million, # of adults 65 and older with chronic health problems
  • 67%, adults older than 65 with high blood pressure
  • 88%, drop in dementia risk for women who are physically fit in middle age
  • 1 in 4, adults 65 and older who will fall each year

Statistical life expectancy in the U.S. is about 80 years, however living into one’s 90s is a perfectly realistic expectation for many since by 2015 there were approximately 72,000 centenarian Americans.

Sofiya Milman, MD, director of Human Longevity Studies at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, New York indicates that several genes have been identified that foster “long-lived” people.  Many studies are also looking for centenarians who not only live long lives but who also age well.

Emily Rogalski, Ph.D., who leads the SuperAging Study at Northwestern University compares ‘super-agers‘ brains to the brains of ‘average-agers.’  Super-ager brains, look more like the brains of 50-year-olds than like the brains of 80-year-old average-agers.

Living healthier while living longer may be the key to becoming a content centenarian.

Genes play a relatively small part – 25% to 33% in how long you live but you get to play a big part in the rest of the story.  Keeping a sharp mind and a healthy body keeps your positive light burning.

Additional ‘super-ager’ suggestions may be beneficial:

  • a diet high in fruits and vegetables – low in saturated fat – with complex carbs.
  • 30 min. of exercise 3-4 times a week (per tolerance) can reduce the risk of falls
  • Socializing, reading and developing a hobby may delay or starve-off dementia

More than 50% of babies born in the U.S. since 2000 could live to be centenarians.

 

 

In Everyone’s View

While driving I noticed an unattended bicycle lying on a public sidewalk.  The cycle was discarded along the side of a busy public street.  A well-worn black baseball hat hung from the handlebars and the dirty strap of a battered red water bottle languished on the bike’s universal bar.

This bike had a story.

My nursing instinct urged me to approach to see if the rider had fallen and was lying nearby on the pavement in need of help.  But surely on a busy public street like this, someone would have already seen the injured biker and called 9-1-1.

Maybe no one was injured.  Possibly the rider was tired and sitting nearby under a shade tree taking a quick rest before continuing their trip.

So, I looked around.  No one was near the bike.

My next thought was that the bike was stolen and to avoid capture the perpetrator dropped the bicycle and ran away from the police – to be retrieved later.

Another possible option was that the out-of-town rider was taking an off-road biking trail, got lost in the city and needed directions since their cell phone battery lost charge.

Whatever was going on with this bike I decided to quickly drive around the block one more time to view the scene from a different angle which may offer an answer to my many questions.  As I struggled to view the bicycle through my windshield I realized there was no bike in sight.

In the matter of a few minutes, someone retrieved the lonely cycle.

I wonder, should I have been quicker to respond?

I’ll never know the answer.