University researchers shed light on genetic predisposition

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University researchers shed light on genetic predisposition

By Yoav Margalit, Staff Writer

The concept of freedom of choice has been debated for much of human history. A frequently asked question is, “How compromised is free will by the presence of factors beyond its control?” Thanks to ever-increasing amounts of research, genetics may provide a scientific answer to this age-old dilemma.

In the University’s Division of Nutritional Sciences, there was recently a study titled “Circulating Triglycerides and the Association of Triglycerides with Dietary Intake Are Altered by Alpha-2-Heremans-Schmid Glycoprotein Polymorphisms.” In this study the risk of increased triglycerides, or blood fats, in people with genetic risk factors was tested.

Examining this area of genetics is crucial. According to the American Heart Association, “the amount of triglycerides in blood are one important barometer of metabolic health; high levels are associated with coronary heart disease, diabetes, and fatty liver disease.”

As the consequences of being saddled with high triglyceride levels from birth can be harsh, patients can fall into despair when told they are at risk. Katie Robinson is a graduate student in Nutritional Sciences who worked on the study. She explained that “some [patients] may have unfavorable reactions to genetic information as it may make certain health issues seem like an unavoidable consequence of biology.”

Robinson’s analysis answered the question of freedom of choice in terms of genetic predisposition. She remarked that “our findings contrast with this perception of genetics by highlighting that biomarkers of health, in this case elevated triglycerides, are modified by both genetics and modifiable risk factors such as weight and dietary intake.”

The study largely found little to no connection between the health of the subjects and their genetic predispositions for elevated triglyceride levels. Furthermore, it proved that the diet and exercise habits of the participants made all the difference.

Bridget Hannon is a graduate student who also works in the University’s Division of Nutritional Sciences. She explained that “the goal of our research is to better understand how these two domains, (genetic and environmental factors) interact with each other, and how this knowledge can be applied to maximize health outcomes.”

Hannon’s perspective seems to move from one concerned for the futility of action to a more pragmatic view. It shifts the question to, “What can we do to be most healthy with what we have?”

This perspective becomes still more important as more methods of cheap genetic testing are popping up all over. Dr. Margarita Teran-Garcia, Ph.D, has been researching the genetics of obesity and other diseases for many years.

In Teran-Garcia’s informed opinion, “the concepts of personalized nutrition and precision medicine are becoming more and more popular, as genetic testing and other tools are becoming less expensive and more readily available to the consumer. However, there is a need to implement more research in this area to evaluate and confirm the long-term impact of genetic associations and the response to dietary modifications and food components.”

It’s no secret that many people, especially in developed countries, love health fads. However, as Teran-Garcia warns, it is important not to become too caught up in genetics. She maintains that it is only through dedicated scientific study that it can be determined how much genetics actually has to do with a person’s body.

In the case of this study, the lifestyle of the person overcomes their genetic predispositions. Scientists like Robinson and Teran-Garcia will continue to research the effects of genetics. In the meantime, it is up to individuals to take care of their bodies and not take their health for granted. 


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