Vitamin D, Genes and Crohn’s Disease
Have you ever wondered how some people are more likely to have certain diseases than other? Or how come we become more or less tolerant to types of food and food components, such as gluten? And how come, that some have a “hereditary cancer gene”, such as Angelina Jolie?
And there’s some that have the gene, but does not have the disease?
This article intends, as a more introductory way, to clear this story a bit.
Due the complexity of gene build and expression, every one of us have DNA information enough to fill many computer databases. It’s a lot of coding to those genes to determine the color of our hair, skin, eyes, muscle density, disposition for fattening… And vulnerability to certain diseases .
But we don’t use all of our DNA all the time. Mostly, it is condensed in a compact state, spread all over our body, inside our cells. Specific proteins identify what information they need, open the frame of info they require and read, generating the proteins, accordingly. These proteins build various components in our body, from the hair that grows to the skin that regenerates, like a tiny moving ecosystem. This is Gene Expression .
Yes, DNA determines what we look like, our tendencies and various others particularities, from our conception to the way we live our lives. But not only the DNA influences that.
What we eat (Ever heard that we are what we eat?), the weather where we live (The cold changes you), the people we interact (Tell me who you befriend and I tell who you are), the stresses that we have (No pain, no gain), all influences how our genes express.
Also, when the gene expresses, it is “turned on”, and when it does not express, it is “turned off”. Turning “on or off” can be modified by external influences as well. This study is called Epigenetics .
It sounds complex, right? It is. Complex much that, quite often, our own organism gets mistaken and one DNA strand have its proteins mixed up.
When this happens, the proteins produced from this strand might get aberrant, not be produced or get produced in excess. That can lead to high cholesterol, immune deficiency, cancer and chronic diseases related, as well as many other problems. Usually, our immune system gets rid of them. But sometimes, when the immunity is compromised or these mistakes are happening too often, we may feel their effects .
Humanity knows quite a lot already, but there still much to be discovered. For example, we know that all people have, since they’re born, mixed up DNA strands. This may be a morphism or a hereditary DNA trait.
But not all of these mixes are negative. Many are, in fact, very positive – Like Usain Bolt, that have a high capacity for physical prowess, even higher than most athletes, and he have this in his genetic code, allied with a heavy training and diet, became a legendary athlete.
Unfortunately, for some people, those mixes cause a higher chance to develop some diseases.
To have a practical example of all that, let’s talk about the relation of Crohn’s Disease, Vitamin D and gene polymorphism :
Gene polymorphism is a type of genetic change, that affect a group of DNA compounds. Imagine then, a morphism in the part of DNA that controls the capacity to recognize intestinal bacteria and food. Some of them can lead to malfunction, which leads to immune response, inflammation and a chronic disease called Intestinal Bowel disease (IBD).
Crohn’s Disease (CD) is one of the worst, causing severe inflammation that destroys intestinal cells, making them unable to absorb nutrients from food ingested. Some products, such as gluten, is comparable to a poison for these people, causing terrible immune response, inflammation and pain. Some polymorphisms may also help lower Vitamin D levels in our blood.
Our lifestyles have, more and more, caused us to avoid sun exposition, expanding most of daylight time inside cubicles and using massive sunblock for fear of skin cancer. A genetical change caused from UV-rays exposition.
Vitamin D (Vit-D) is a particular type of vitamin, mostly obtained from sun exposition. There are few food sources capable of providing us enough Vitamin D, such as cold-water fishes, nuts, mushrooms and others. The problem is, Vitamin D is involved with many body functions, such as the immune system functioning, like inflammatory factors (IFN). It is known that low levels of Vitamin D lead to auto-immune diseases predisposition, such as CD .
Summing up, lack of sunlight exposition and a poor-vitamin D diet causes lower levels of Vitamin D in the body, which leads to higher risk for immune diseases, as well as some psychological changes too, as we discussed in this article.
If only lack of Vitamin D can lead to modification in our genes, imagine then someone who already have polymorphisms, known to cause high risk for CD, with low levels of Vitamin D? Those will have a higher risk for those diseases. If that person also has polymorphisms that lower Vit-D levels? Enormous risk. Let us add stressful habits and bad diet to that recipe and we will have a terrible dinner time.
In a simple example: lack of self-awareness can lead to frustration, which leads to stress, which can lead the body to want more caloric food, which can lead to higher disposition to melancholy and depression, which make harder to develop better self-awareness. It’s a vicious circle, and we have whole bunch of hula-hoops to spin.
So, to think optimistically, let’s think backwards: If we always have risks, how can we mitigate them?
Our body tend to show us when it’s not feeling well. Stomach pain, excessive weight gain, headaches, diarrhea. It is important to note what causes discomfort and pain and happen in an often basis. To follow a diet that is better indicated to your body type and practice exercises and activities that relief stress. Meditate to put your mind at ease and develop self-awareness.
Why don’t we improve our lifestyle and take the major lead of our own life and health? We recommend you to subscribe to our social media to keep reading the rest of this fascinating topic over the next weeks.
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 Dermitzakis, E T. (2008). From gene expression to disease risk. Nature genetics. 40 (1), 492 – 493.
 Adams, J.U., O’Connel, C.. (2010). How Do Cells Decode Genetic Information into Functional Proteins?. In: Nature Education Essentials of Cell Biology . -: Nature. 2.3.
 Weinhold, B. (2006). Epigenetics: The Science of Change. Environmental Health Perspectives, 114 (3), A160–A167.
 Carvalho, AYOM et al. (2013). The Role of Vitamin D Level and Related Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms in Crohn’s Disease. Nutrients. 5 (10), 3898-3909.