Genetics (and Hormones) as Factors in Wellness

Having used Alcoholism as an example of multiple factors in wellness,
now let’s begin looking at Genetics (including Hormones), the first of the twelve factors affecting our strengths and weaknesses and abilities to cope with the problems and stresses of life.  Alcohol is readily absorbed into the brain tissue which depends heavily upon blood sugar (glucose).

Diabetes and blood sugar levels are closely related and have a genetic component. From observations of people with diabetes, we learn that fluctuations in blood sugar levels affect emotions, irritability level, and general behavior.  Alcohol affects emotions, irritability level, and general behavior.  Therefore, to the extent that alcoholism and diabetes are biologically predisposed, we can see that to some extent, genes affect the way body and mind respond to stress.

How does Alcoholism Sneak up on a Person?
In the blog “Do You Drink too much and not Know It?


you may have been asking how does a person get to the point they don’t know that they drink too much and they have become addicted?

As you learn in The Booze Battle by Ruth Maxwell the person who drinks to excess begins to have “blackouts” and does not remember the preceeding events.  Often they try to cover up this memory loss and “confabulate” or “make up memories” to fill in the gap.

What has happened is that the person has increased the amount of alcohol to obtain the desired results.  Why? Because the body adapts to the increased alcohol levels in the blood the body.  It does not provide the past desired feelings at the old level and  begins to “tolerate” the higher doses that are ingested, drunk, to obtain those feelings.  There is a “psychological dependence” on alcohol to have the pleasant feelings.

Furthermore, the body becomes “dependent” on alcohol to feel “normal.” Eventually the memory is impaired and they do not recall their behaviors while they were intoxicated.  So they do not “know” they have drunk too much, only that they don’t feel well and “need another drink.”

As mentioned in the previous article, there are multiple factors that enter into a person’s overuse and abuse of alcohol or other drugs.  However, I’m told that methamphetamine has an extremely high and rapid addiction, sometimes after only one use, rather than the slower addiction process of alcohol.  Others can tell you more about street drug addictions than I can.  If you are concerned about street drugs,  please contact your closest treatment center for information.

When a person is a perfectionist, a hard worker, or discouraged, or highly sensitive to the ups and downs of life, he and she need strong coping mechanisms to manage everyday life’s stresses.

    “Yes, you’ve guessed it.  Junior is a lot like his Dad.  He gets teased a lot about his temper.  Seems like kids want to goad him into something just for the excitement!
    Now, my husband, he drinks some everyday.  He get real nervous and shaky if he doesn’t and watch out for that temper.  It’s just when he gets upset that he drinks a lot.”

Genetic Factors
Genetic patterns are factors contributing to our strengths, weaknesses, and coping abilities.  They have social as well as physical consequences.  Some ethnic groups are particularly susceptible to alcoholism, notably, the American Indian and the Chinese, so genetic factors are strongly implicated as predisposing factors in these groups.  Diabetes in the family is another genetic factor in the body’s processing of sugar and alcohol.

Genetic factors predispose behavioral patterns, however, a review of research finds evidence that experience moderates, or exacerbates, these tendencies.  My experience confirms that conclusion.      Other people who use alcohol increasingly to excess may have no apparent genetic foundations.  The physical and emotional effects of alcohol can, in themselves, rob people of their usual self-control.

As I explained above, “tolerance” develops, that is, increasingly more alcohol is required by the body to produce the physical and psychological effects that the person desires.  During the process, the body becomes “dependent” on alcohol in order for the person to “feel normal.”  This process is more likely to occur when you have a genetic predisposition to alcohol.

Genetic Heritage
One generation can pass extra genes, missing genes, and partially or imperfectly formed genes to the next generation.  An obvious example is a pattern of extra toes and fingers found in members of the same family.  Certain illnesses tend to be found in a particular family at a rate higher than in the general population, for example, high blood pressure, some cancers, some peptic ulcers, and as previously mentioned, diabetes and alcoholism.

When we see these diseases in our family history “blood line,” we know we may be “at risk” for the same problems.  Therefore, we can take preventive measures which alleviate, delay, and may prevent the illnesses.

Research reported in the Harvard Mental Health Letter has shown some evidence that depressive illness of the bi-polar type has a degree of genetic inheritance.  Manic-Depressive illness, currently called Bi-Polar Illness in psychiatric diagnosis, is linked in some studies to the X gene and also to hypersensitivity to acetylcholine in the nervous system.  Genetics also influence some types of seizures.

Some personality traits, particularly shyness, are being connected by researchers to inherited genetic factors.  Shyness is not uncommon in persons with Bi-Polar Illness.  Our capacity for anger, a common problem in Bi-Polar illness, has some genetic aspects due to its close association to the adrenal glands and hormones.  Adrenalin is part of the self-preserving “fight-or-flight” response to a threat.

If you “follow” Here’s To Your Health!, you will find suggestions for ways you can learn ways to limit and utilize the degree of anger you experience and the effects of anger on your emotions and relationships.
Do not allow either physical or emotional abuse to yourself or your children.  Both the abuser and those abused need help.  If abuse is a problem, you need to reach out for help.  Call your Hotline, local mental health agency, school counselor, your pastor, or your health care provider now.

Genetics: Hormones as Factors in Wellness
    “I just don’t understand why the men in our family are so violent!  All the women folk have to be saints to be able to get along with them!”

Hormones are known to affect the emotions as well as physical characteristics.  Both men and women have an X gene.  Women have two X’s whereas men have one X with the other spot being taken by the Y gene.  These genes are responsible for the reproductive systems and hormones of women and men.  Men and women who have  higher production of testosterone have more facial hair and are more aggressive than those who have less.  Men and women who have higher production of estrogen than others have more fatty breast tissue and are usually less aggressive.  The hormone levels change with age.

Premenstrual Syndrome

   “Now, with me, there is no way I can be a saint when it gets close to “that time of month!”

In some women, a condition called Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS), occurs periodically and is related to fluid build-up during the menstrual cycle.  This affects irritability and emotions.  Some very specific recommendations have been developed for this condition. Reducing the estrogen levels in birth control pills or other medications helps control the fluid retention and emotional effects.  Some relief is available from adequate levels of Vitamin B6.  Estrogen increases the body’s requirement for this vitamin.  You can be helped by your family physician or a specialist in gynecology if you have cyclic problems in the week before menstruation.

Additional sex genes

A few people have more than two sex genes.  This uncommon condition is thought to cause characteristics that are of a great deal of concern to the affected person.  The characteristics vary with the combination of genes.  They affect the person both physically and emotionally and can affect spiritual resources, social relationships, and perhaps sexual behaviors and preferences.  A specialist in genetics is helpful if you feel very different from most people of your sex.

Sexual immaturity and precocity may be related to other uncommon genetic compositions, those that affect endocrine development, abnormalities of the thyroid, pituitary, or reproductive glands.  In some cases, sexual immaturity is related not to genetic abnormalities, but to deficiencies of zinc in the diet.

More often, variations in sexual development are merely a matter of being at one or the other end of the normal range.  Whatever the causes, either delayed or advanced development of physical, sexual, or emotional maturity can be a severe stress for growing young people and may create much emotional pain.

The child who develops early becomes more self-conscious than the average.  Self-consciousness may cause withdrawal at one extreme and flaunting at the other extreme.  The self-consciousness is related to the natural changes in physical appearance and the development of new dimensions of emotional responses.  The child who develops early and maintains emotional equilibrium as the physical changes take place is fortunate.  The child is often looked upon as a leader by peers and adults, and may be given greater responsibilities than the child really wants.

Youth do not like to be very different from their peers.  Peers sometimes are cruel in teasing those who are different.  In the worst case, peers may be “bullies,” physically and psychologically abusive, or set up and pressure “friends” into fights which can result in severe injury.

Parents also are likely to treat a “different” child in ways unlike their “normal” children.  They may demand more or less than the child is capable of doing.
Treatment of delayed or precocious growth and development may require a specialist in “Endocrinology,” the study of hormones in the body.  The use of hormones and counseling can make a great difference in a person’s life.  In the case of un-descended testicles, supplementary hormones and/or surgery may be needed to help a male look and feel normal.

Eating Disorders

“Did I tell you about Sissy?  Well, I’m worried about her, too.  She don’t give us no trouble.  But her periods should have started by now.  Smart as a whip.  A perfectionist is what I call her.  She drives me crazy and I can’t get her to eat.  She loves to cook for the rest of us though!  Proud of being so thin.  Want’s to be a model and do TV, she says.”

In girls and women, sexual immaturity frequently is associated with eating disorders.  Families with a history of an eating disorder tend to pass the patterns for developing the illness on to younger members of the family.  It is often multi-generational.

Signs of anorexia nervosa include delayed onset or absence of menstruation and absence of fat that gives feminine contours to the body.  However, none of the eating disorders is limited to females.  Males, especially those in sports with weight classes, and all persons in gymnastics, dance, television, and theater are at risk.

Sexual preference is thought by some to be related to genetic heredity.  We know it is related also to early relationships with family and peers.  Boys who enjoy dolls and playing house or girls who enjoy sports and mechanics were called “sissy” and “tomboy” in my earlier years.  In today’s society, these children are sometimes called, “fairy,” “homo” and worse names while being taunted and socially isolated or ostracized by their peers.  

  “It wasn’t long ago that those bad boys talked my Junior into beating up on a little guy they thought was homo!  I wish they would do their own dirty work and leave Junior be!”

Just as society seemed to become more accepting of sexual differences among us, we began hearing of severe beatings, bashing, and rapes of these youth.  The trauma from the stereotypes and stigmatization of those who are different is the seed of much personal misery and sometimes leads to bitterness and retaliation toward others.

Alteration of Genes in our Children
Our own genetic material can become altered in our own lifetime.  Toxic chemicals, drugs, infections, absence of nutrients necessary for tissue growth and repair, can contribute to genetic changes.  Whether or not these changes are passed on to the next generation is a serious question for those who require medication or are exposed to toxic substances.  Effects of toxins on the developing unborn infant are well documented.  Alcohol, nicotine, drugs, and certain medications have potentially serious adverse effects both now and later on the user and the user’s child.

Please be encouraged if you are concerned about genetic or hormonal influences on your life, with appropriate medical treatment and by learning ways to adapt we may be able to overcome many of these difficulties.

  In certain ways we are weak, but the Spirit is here to help us.  For example, when we don’t know what to pray for, the Spirit prays for us in ways that cannot be put into words.  All of our thoughts are known to God.  He can understand what is in the mind of the Spirit, as the Spirit prays for God’s people.  We know that God is always at work for the good of everyone who loves him.  They are the ones God has chosen for his purpose, and he has always known who his chosen ones would be.  He had decided to let them become like his own Son, so that his Son would be the first of many children.
Romans 8:26-29 Contemporary English Version

Coming next is “Physical Factors in Illness and Wellness”


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