Cancer and other bad genes

Did you ever wonder why we have “bad genes”.  I mean, think of it.  If our genetics is supposed to help us survive, why are there such things as bad genes, and more importantly, why do they persist?  If you believe in natural selection and evolution, then only the best of the gene pool should survive and reproduce and this should be mirrored in the survival of the species.

Why should we have oncogenes (genes that code for cancer) that need tumor suppressor genes to fight them?  Why should we have genes for early heart disease, Alzheimer’s and so forth?  Now, I can hear the more scientifically educated among you saying, “SNPS” (pronounced snips). Single nucleotide (DNA) point substitutions are among the more common mutations that cause bad things.  Sometimes, they are clustered in families and sometimes they just seem to happen in the same areas more or less randomly, causing early disease or death.  It seems that certain areas of our DNA are more susceptible to oxidative (free radical) damage than others and are more common areas for SNPS. But this type of mutation is relatively rare compared to more complicated “allelic” variation.  Different “alleles” (these are considered non-mutated “normal” variants, because they make functional proteins) for certain key protein products are the most common form of “bad genes” by far, and are the most common cause of true genetic problems for a fair number of people.

One in particular known as “APOE4” is associated with a 4-fold increase in heart disease, stroke and Alzheimer’s.  So why is this allele still around?

The simple answer is we are stone aged genes in a space age time.  The APOE4 allele is actually the true “human” gene form that can be traced back several million years, to our ape ancestors. It seems to confer resistance to hepatitis and other viral illnesses and allows its holder to reach reproductive age and beyond – something that is the basis of all of our genes.  I have said before that after age 40 Mother Nature doesn’t really care pro or con about you.  Just live long enough to reproduce and rear your young and you’ve made Mother Nature and Darwin happy!  So, something that knocks you off between 40 and 50 does not threaten the overall survival of the species!

Interestingly, the mutated APO alleles, that most of us carry (E2 and E3) are something we acquired later in our evolution. These genes do not code for bad things at an early age, so that allowed us to do two big things that ultimately improved our survival over our ancestors: live longer and eat meat and handle the end glycosylation products associated with cooking*!

Now here is the kicker!  Statistically, far more people will be victims of epigenetics than genetics.  In other words, most of us were dealt a pretty good genetic hand and we’ll mess it up with poor diet, sedentary behavior, stress and lack of sleep compounded by things that shorten our telomeres, lower our vitamin D levels and let inflammation run unchecked, because of low Omega 3 fat intake and excess Omega 6 and saturated fat intake.

The uncovering of our “bad genes” is far more often epigenetically mediated, than genetically mediated. We have control over far more of it than was ever realized before. So, while Mother Nature and Darwin may only care if you make it to 45, you and I have much bigger aspirations!

So, take your fish oil, eat well, sleep enough and get off your arse and move!


*Yeah I know I opened up a can of worms with this statement. Isn’t cooking food bad and doesn’t it caramelize things, making them “sugary”? Well for now you’ll have to settle for the short answer: yes, it does, but it matters far less than other sources of carbs and sugar. More on that later if anyone is interested!

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