Traditionally, the achievement and maintenance of overall health has included exercise, eating right, and mental health awareness. Children in the United States are provided school breakfasts and lunches that adhere to the official nutritional pyramid. Many children are required to attend gym class every day of the week, beginning in Grade one through twelve. Additionally, stress management and suicide prevention are routinely taught in school. After the high school years, colleges offer classes in nutrition, exercise, as well as breathing and relaxation. One important facet missing in this overall picture, however, is genetic health, or even the awareness of it. As a result, many children go on to suffer disastrous problems, fundamentally unaware that solutions exist for these various issues
The completion of the human genome project in 2003 set the stage for a health revolution. But this revolution would take time, and is still taking time. While researchers successfully mapped every gene in the human body, they needed to conduct additional research in order to understand the function of each gene. This research is still ongoing. Furthermore, the medical field is arguably traditionally conservative, so any significant changes to the health field would likely require a changing of the guard, or introduction of a new generation of more open-minded physicians.
The availability of tests such as 23andme to the masses is slowly and quietly creating an impact on the American populous. Founded by Anne Wojcicki, the ex-wife of one of the founders of Google, 23andme.com, coupled with sites such as geneticlifehack.com, squarely puts the power of genetic awareness, understanding, assistance, and treatment into the hands of the common person. Today more and more people are taking the test, yet many are still unaware that the results also contain their raw genetic data. Caught up in the findings related to their ethnicity, the health ramifications of their genetics is often forgotten. This overlooking of something so fundamental to one’s health has, inevitably, led to further delays in our popular understanding of the importance of one’s genetic health.
It can be argued, that for the American populous truly to be healthy, genetic health must be incorporated into the already existing health paradigm of exercise, healthy eating, and mental health awareness. In order for us to reach successfully the next level in our overall health, we must all be aware of our genomes, and what they specifically contain. By doing so, we can then not only be aware of our ethnicities, but also have an awareness of our genetic predispositions, sensitivities, mutations, and polymorphisms. One can argue that without the integration of genetic health into our public consciousness, many preventable, curable, and/or treatable conditions will be misdiagnosed, mistreated or overlooked.
My life has been directly impacted by awareness of my genetic health. As an American child in elementary school, I suffered from crippling anxiety that only exacerbated over time. Eventually diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, my life became of a regimen of counseling and pills. Doctors blamed my disorder on “a chemical imbalance” coupled with a range of emotional issues merely caused by life itself. Eventually, I came to completely blame myself and tried to tackle the OCD on my own. The sheer terror of living with this disorder ultimately led to TMJ disorder, muscle problems, and migraines.
It is better to discover one’s genetic health later rather than never. After exercising vigorously for years, eating according to the official health pyramid, and attending counseling with certified individuals, I received a referral that would change my entire game plan. At the age of 40, a physician’s assistant referred me to, what she called, a non-traditional MD, outside of Chattanooga. This physician sat and listened to my ailments, as well as my original diagnoses of OCD, and proclaimed he needed a blood sample. This physician also indicated he would be checking the levels of vitamins in my system. A few weeks later the results arrived, and his staff summoned me back to his office. Subsequently, a medical assistant informed me that I have a genetic polymorphism called MTHFR C677t. She also explained that as a result of this polymorphism, my Vitamin B levels fell to a critically low level of 13%. These factors led to my plethora of symptoms, but could easily be treated with Vitamin B pills, creams, and shots. The medical assistant than indicated to me that within six months of Vitamin B treatment, I would begin feeling better, and indeed I did. Today, my OCD symptoms are kept under control through this treatment of weekly Vitamin B shots, a diet high in Vitamin B, and exercise with a personal trainer. Additionally, I drink little to no alcohol, because I now understand that my genetic polymorphism makes me more susceptible to inebriation. Other factors include not drinking tap water, and the removal of mercury fillings from my mouth, because I am unable to push toxins out of my body like other individuals without this genetic polymorphism. My efforts have resulted in a quieted mind and a much happier life. At one point, I mentioned to a physician at an urgent care clinic that I had the MTHFR C677t polymorphism, and he looked at me in bewilderment. At that point, I understood that, while I had worked to become aware of the root causes of my issue, the medical profession, in many ways, had not kept up with this health revolution.
In order for the American populace to experience true overall health, genetic health must be incorporated into the basics. While exercise, eating right, and mental health awareness are important, there are a multiplicity of other issues that simply cannot be treated according to traditional medical methods. Without this shift in public consciousness, various conditions will remain mistreated, misdiagnosed, or undiagnosed. As a young woman growing up in the United States, my youth came before the completion of the human genome project. However, today, armed with my raw genetic data, I am free to interpret it, understand it, and treat it accordingly. As time goes on, I can only hope that others chose to do the same and that the medical professional ultimately catches up with these truly revolutionary health innovations.