Rootstohealth's Blog

Nature vs Nurture
October 17, 2013, 9:32 am
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Reblogged from my tumblr

We do a lot of studies in nutrition epidemiology about gene environment interactions, the general hypothesis that some individuals have a genetic predisposition towards a certain health outcome, but that certain behaviors may enhance or diminish the effects of this genetic disposition (and thus, are good targets for public health policy).

I’ve been reading Health Wars by Richard Horton, which is full of beautiful gems and new thoughts about health issues that I had taken for granted as fixed and known. He includes a discussion of our approach to genetic research, and he mentions an interesting book by scientist Matthew Ridley called Nature via Nurture, saying

“he argues that…it is nurture that is less amenable to change than nature….it is our environment that governs which genes are switched on and when, and so ‘genes are at the mercy of our behavior’. They exist simply to extract information from our surroundings.”

In a world that love quick fixes and easy answers, we want to believe that we are not in control of our destiny, that we are fighting an impossible fight, and we allay our fears by convincing ourselves that a doctor or science will be able to provide a quick fix. Thus far, genetic answers to complex diseases have not come. Obviously, it would be great to find genetic explanations for diseases, but we also seem to find it easier to address issues of biology than to address issues related to environment, social structure, nutrition, infrastructure.

The biologic and social sciences are both needed, but competitive quests to find social solutions to health issues are not popularized and publicized on the scale of the excitement surrounding the Human Genome Project. Sometimes  I wonder if our social environment may actually be more complex than our genome.