Genetic testing helps explain the strengths and weaknesses of each person’s immune system

If you, like many people are wondering whether you are susceptible to the coronavirus, you are not alone. It is normal to assume that everyone who is exposed to a particular virus catches the disease. However, did you know that your genes play a large role in whether or not you will get sick?

Scientists study the connection between a person’s DNA and their viral immunity. “We all carry genetic variants that have been passed down from our ancestors who lived through diseases and epidemics. Throughout history, humanity’s biggest threats to survival have been the microscopic pathogens that we now combat successfully with antibiotics, vaccines and hygiene. All of the genetic variants that gave your ancestors a survival advantage in the past are still written in your unique genome today” explains dietician and Geneway practitioner Dr Christa North.

“Viruses must penetrate a cellular organism in order to reproduce. They infect your cells and use your cellular processes to replicate themselves. After replication, they spread to other cells, causing more replication and cell death. Your body has multiple ways of defending itself against viral or bacterial invaders. Just like the military has multiple branches, such as the army, navy and air force, and specialized teams within those branches, your immune system has several ways of detecting, isolating, defending and killing against pathogens” explains Dr North.

For viral infections, interferons are the first line of protectors. Interferons produce a kind of firewall around the cell that contains the virus/es. White blood cells produce cytokines to act against viruses and alert the immune system to attack the invaders.

“Genes are the blueprint that code the different parts of the immune system. You have genes that code to act as receptors of the virus, detecting them, to activate the production of cytokines to destroy them and more. Genetic variants can cause differences in how any single part of the immune system works. Some people are genetically more able to easily fight off certain pathogens while others more susceptible to others” Dr North explains. 

For example, if you have an overactive immune response (meaning your genes are switched on all the time), you are likely more susceptible to become ill, or for the particular virus to manifest. However, also bear in mind that it may be the same genetic variant that helped an ancient ancestor to survive a leprosy outbreak in a previous generation.

It is way too soon to know which genetic variants protect against the coronavirus. However, you can test your DNA’s particular make up that is driving your immune system. South African genetic testing company Geneway tests for twenty particular SNP’s (Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms) that determine your immunity to particular conditions. 

There are particular genetic variants that protect against the flu. Influenza – the flu – can be caused by several different strains of the (flu) virus. Interestingly, studies show that most people exposed to a new flu strain don’t get the flu – they remain asymptomatic. Certain genes put people at risk of joint issues, however that same gene protects people against getting the flu. At the same time, there is a gene that determines an increased risk of complications related to the flu, while other genes play important roles in the development of adaptive immune responses. In this case, the person’s adaptive immune response is much slower to respond to threats and infections.

The body’s DNA also has particular genes that determine whether bacteria can bind itself to dead cells, marking them to be cleared away by the immune system, and other genes associated with an increase in chronic inflammation and in combination, with other genes, make the person more vulnerable when exposed to certain viruses.

Our immune system’s response varies over the course of 24-hours. At certain times, we may be more resilient to fighting off viruses and at other times of the day, we may be more susceptible to pathogens. Sleep is vital for your body’s immune function the next day. There is an innate circadian rhythm to the production of macrophages (white blood cells), B-cells and T-cells. Additionally, genetic markers determine the body’s cortisol sensitivity and melatonin production, both of which are critical to the immune system.

The Geneway DNA test tests for twenty genetic markers that help decode each person’s genetic make-up regarding their immune system. To find an accredited Geneway healthcare practitioner, or for more information, visit  www.geneway.co.za

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