It is always the poor who are subjected to the worst health conditions and are likely to have a shorter life expectancy than those who are above them on the socioeconomic ladder. One answer that comes straight to our mind without much thought is the poor living conditions, mental stress and limited access to better health facilities as compared to the rich. However, amongst all of this, there is another factor that could be aiding this process, the DNA.
Previously researches have shown that a low socioeconomic status leaves people more likely to suffer from increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and infections. But now a study led by Professor Thomas McDade at Northwestern University have found out that this might be linked to your socioeconomic status, which might be affecting your genes at the DNA level.
Up till now, it has been a mystery why poor people were more likely to suffer terminal illnesses. Was there a way our bodies could remember the experiences we have had growing up? And how were those affecting our cellular function and physiology?
In this study, they unraveled that lower levels of socioeconomic status were linked with DNA methylation on a large number. This meant that our social status contributed 10 percent to our genes in our bodies and has the potential to affect our DNA’s structure and function.
But before we dive any further, what is DNA methylation?
Our DNA is a series of sequences of bases known as A, G, T, and C.
DNA methylation is a biochemical process where methyl groups are added to particular sites in the DNA sequence called ‘CPG sites.’
To put it simply, the methyl groups can be a part of your DNA and affect the likelihood that a gene will be expressed, meaning that it will use that information and put it into action, which is very important. So you CAN inherit a gene from your parents that can adversely affect your health only it is expressed.
More often than not we tend to view genes as something that is fixed. We get it from our parents and then it is sealed; our fate is fixed. But it is a rather simplistic and outdated idea.
Epigenetics literally means ‘on top of the genomes’ and in this line of study researchers think that genome is part of our biology; needs external factors such as the environment to shape its development and function. It forces us to think about genome as a dynamic substance that changes in relation to experiences that you have while growing up.
Hence, genes cannot function in a vacuum. Environments have effects on our bodies and health independently. It’s not nature vs nurture anymore, it is nature through nurture.
However, the study, as of now, is not able to pinpoint any specific effects that might be a result of this.
What do you think about all of this? Let us know by commenting below!