functional medicine and genetics

I learned several days ago that my mother’s sister has been officially diagnosed with RA. My mother’s side of my genetic tree is an absolute minefield. It’s where I get all of my lung issues and allergies. I would bet if I could get my mother tested, I’d find it is also where I get the HLA-DQ2 I carry which has the highest association of any HLA serotype with autoimmune disease.

I was able to convince both of my parents to go paleo so I won’t demand her blood to prove my suspicions. 🙂

My mother has ulcerative colitis and Hashimoto’s. Her only sister has Hashimoto’s and now RA. One of her brothers has what I believe to be sero-negative RA like me. He and I spent a great deal of time on the phone comparing notes when I was trying to get someone to officially diagnose me with what I suspected. He was never diagnosed because his tests results returned negative, but I always think about the “Looks like a duck, quacks like a duck…it’s a duck” statement from my rheumatologist. My aunt, his wife, has kept their diet clean, full of vegetables and meat, and very low on sugar. It’s not paleo, but it seems to keep his problem in check.

I know a fair number of people with auto-immune issues. The great majority of them have family members who also have similar problems (e.g. asthma, allergies, MS, lupus, Type 2 diabetes). That’s why a functional medicine MD looks at your history, your family history. What are the genetics, and what are we likely to be dealing with? That information plus the blood work and genetic testing paint a picture of how to repair things.

To understand more about functional medicine, I submit the following TedMed talk:

When I read of someone trying paleo but saying it doesn’t work, I wonder what else might be going on. We’re all different. I understand that. I’m certainly NOT going to claim that paleo works for everyone, for all things. Possibly, however, they have a genetic makeup that they are unaware of. Possibly that occasional cheat (oh come on, I pretty much think that everyone does the occasional cheat—we’re human, after all) of croutons on the salad, for instance, is exactly the wrong thing to cheat with. Maybe they are gluten-sensitive and don’t even know it. Case in point: when my MD looked over my test results she said, “ You may occasionally eat this or that, but you must never again have gluten.” Wow. Really? Never have a pancake again? A piece of cake? This, however, did make an impression on me. She acknowledges that people will be people and cheat, but THIS item, for me, is VERY bad.

Soon after receiving the MS diagnosis, I found myself at the Jimmy Heuga Center for MS at a meeting in Beaver Creek, CO. The Jimmy Heuga Center for MS is now MScando .

I was sitting in the back of a lecture filled with people with MS and their families listening to someone talk about MS. I don’t recall who he was. Someone from the audience raised their hand and asked if MS was genetic. The lecturer actually scoffed, said no, and then asked the audience members to raise their hands if they had a family member with MS. A few people raised their hands, and he said, “see”. I raised my hand. I told him I thought he was asking the wrong question. OK, I confess. I probably told him he WAS asking the wrong question. I was young, and confidence has never been one of my deficiencies. I stood up and said, “How many people have a family member with asthma, allergies, MS, RA, psoriasis, Crohn’s, or any other immune disorder?” The landscape of raised hands looked quite different. I sat down without comment. I didn’t know HOW all of these things were related, but it just made sense to me that they were. Little did I suspect that the culprit was food.

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