DNA is the abbreviation for deoxyribonucleic acid, a self-replicating material which is present in nearly all living organisms as the main constituent of chromosomes. It is the carrier of genetic information.
What is DNA
An exact determination of the laws of heredity will probably work more change in man’s outlook on the world, and in his power over nature, than any other advance in natural knowledge that can be foreseen.
- William Bateson – Founder of Genetic Science
What is DNA and How Does it Work?
DNA Can Change the Way You Think About Your Mental Health
Did you know that we humans are approximately 2.5 million light years 15,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles) away from the nearest galaxy outside the Milky Way? Did you know the earth is 4.5 billion years old? Can you imagine that each of your 37.2 trillion cells contains 5 million to 2 trillion molecules? Or, what if I told you that your body contains 39 trillion bacterial cells? Let me get to the point, in case you haven’t guessed it already: From the vastness of the sky to the multitude of microscopic organisms crawling on the inside and outside of our bodies, some of the mysteries of the universe are simply beyond our comprehension. Many of you may also consider the inner workings of our very own bodies to be within that realm—even in this information age, the things that make us sleepy, or make us fall in love, or make us depressed, anxious, or joyous, seem more within the realm of magic than science. Like the universe, the human genome is truly awesome and complex, but, understanding your DNA is not just possible it can change the way you think about your mental health.
Humanity shares 99.6% of its genetic code! Our individuality comes from just 0.4% of that code.
DNA is made up of four nucleotides arranged in pairs. Each of our cells contains 3 billion pairs of nucleotides!
Can I Change My Genetic Destiny?
The numbers above hopefully feel somewhat comprehensible. But to truly comprehend this process, I encourage you to watch the video below, which does an excellent job of visualizing the inner workings of our cells. As you’ll see, genes are sections of DNA that contain instructions for building proteins. Those proteins—made up of amino acids—will eventually determine everything from the color of your eyes to whether you might suffer from anxiety, depression, or other mental illness. As you watch and listen to this video, you might think that such a beautiful, mechanical process might point to a genetic predeterminism—that our fates are sealed in each of those genes (our cellular “code”) that get read and do their work.
20 seconds into the video, the narrator speaks a line that makes a different case. Did you catch it? “When the gene is switched on…”. Now, re-watch the video and consider those mechanical processes in a different light: like any good computer, the process of reading our genes in order to create the proteins that build and rebuild our very selves is one of inputs and outputs. You have a big say over those inputs. Isn’t that exciting! While you may be genetically predisposed to certain mental health conditions, there are innumerable inputs that can tell your body to switch “on” or “off” certain genes. These inputs include everything from vitamins and supplements to targeted medications to a simple run in the morning.
Now, watch the video one more time and consider: your pattern of getting stressed out, your craving for just one more glass of wine, even your puzzlement over your own serious PTSD symptoms as opposed to friends who lack these traits—all of these personality characteristics are rooted in those proteins floating in your cell’s cytoplasm. And armed with the knowledge of your personal genome to select the inputs that drive healthier genetic outputs, you may just be able to alter those traits over time. Pretty amazing, isn’t it?
The next time you look up at the stars, I hope the incomprehensible immensity of our universe takes your breath away. The next time you look at yourself in the mirror, I hope you realize that when it comes to the immensity of your “inner universe,” you have the tools to understand your own infinite complexity a little bit better—gene by gene.
- Learn about your mental health genes
- Learn about your physical health genes
- Get more information about the benefits of genetic testing
- Discover how Potomac Psychiatry’s second opinion program uses genetic testing to accelerate positive treatment outcomes
Would you like to make an appointment with Potomac Psychiatry?
Please call 301.984.9791 to discuss your needs and schedule an appointment. Our experienced professionals look forward to meeting you.