Ancestry is the cornerstone for many people. We feel pride about where we come from, but what if DNA can tell you more than your heritage? What if you could take steps to possibly safeguard yourself and family members from mental illness today?
When you hear DNA test, you likely think of regional data and a fun way to rediscover your roots and find lost family members still living on the other side of the globe in that tiny village where your ancestors left all those years ago. It’s romantic. It’s thought provoking to know where you came from and compare it to the person you are today. These are valid reasons to have DNA testing done too; however, your DNA can reveal more than that dreamy, idealistic image of your roots. Your DNA can uncover risk factors associated with many diseases and, of course, your predisposal to an array of mental health conditions.
Can DNA Affect Your Mental Health?
Absolutely, you can be just as predisposed to certain cancers as you are mental illnesses. Furthermore, you predispose your future children to the same conditions uncovered through DNA tests and extensive medical research into your family trees. Relax, though, being predisposed does not mean you do or will ever develop any condition discovered in a DNA test, but it does mean you are at a higher risk.
DNA Tests Reveal
- Family relations
- Family regions
- Health factors in select tests
The Links Between Genes and Mental Health
CDC family studies have already suggested a strong link between your genes and mental disorders, such as autism, bipolar, schizophrenia, depression, and more. The Evaluation of Genomic Applications in Practice and Prevention (EGAPP) continues its research on this topic today.
Another factor for your mental health history is society. For centuries, mental illness has carried a stigma. Families are less likely to discuss mental illness, especially those easy to hide like depression, bipolar, and anxiety. Unless you’re inspecting medicine cabinets or snooping through private records, you won’t generally know if a family member has a mental illness unless they tell you.
Mental illness can skip generations, or if you are adopted, you won’t readily have access to medical information on your family. DNA testing can reveal risk factors and help you make informed decisions about your physical and mental health and any associated treatments.
DNA Affects Treatments and Medication Choice
Another test related to your DNA is a pharmacogenomic DNA test, which can reveal more to your doctor that includes the best course of treatment and medications. It can reduce harmful side effects and guide you and your physician toward an informed decision because prescribed medications are tested against your DNA before you take them. Because this is the same shared DNA with your family members, if you discover a treatment will negatively affect you, it might also do the same for them and vice versa. This can lead to faster treatment, better dosing, and a personalized experience, which affects overall wellbeing, in psychiatric and medical care.
The MTHFR Gene
Another factor your DNA reveals is whether a methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) mutation exists in your genes. The little gene produces an essential enzyme that is pivotal in emotional physical health. Without it working properly, you might be deficient in Folate, which can cause a chemical imbalance in the brain. The majority of people who suffer from mental and psychiatric disorders have a mutated genome, and it’s possible other family members do too. Remember that being at risk does not mean that you will develop a mental disorder.
MTHFR Mutation Related Disorders
- Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
- And others
How You Can Use DNA to Safeguard Your Mental Health
Even if you already have mental health issues, a DNA test kits that looks at MTHFR can be beneficial. Firstly, because merely having a mental condition does not mean it’s hereditary. Your environment still plays a major role in mental illness. Second, because knowing if it’s genetic can be useful for treatments, other family members, and future children or grandchildren within your family.
Depression makes a good example because it can be clinical or event induced. It can also be psychotic and non-psychotic. Event induced and non-psychotic depression is seldom hereditary, but clinical and psychotic depression can be. However, if you are aware of a mental illness history, you can share that information with your doctor. For anyone who isn’t suffering from mental illness, a link to family mental illness can be beneficial in letting you know that you should seek treatment sooner should symptoms arise.
Alzheimer’s and Dementia
DNA tests can reveal key factors on two of the world’s silent killers. While there are no cures for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, studies support ways to possibly slow or delay progression. Many people might not know that they are at risk, and both are hereditary diseases that greatly impact mental health. These are simple, everyday changes too, such as diet and exercise. If you have the markers for either in your DNA, you can start alternative therapies today that might positively affect your mental health 20 years from now.
Anyone can benefit from learning their DNA-based medical history, whether it’s mental, physical or both. Mental health, however, is the hardest to uncover unless your family is open and honest. Even if they are aware, you can still have risk factors your family does not know about; you will benefit from discovering them.
Keep in mind that there are no guarantees in knowing your history will prevent you from having the same hereditary conditions or that you will pass them down to other generations. Scientists are still learning about DNA and environmental factors in addition to mental health. While their data might change in the coming years, your genetics will not. If you do have testing done, be sure to keep your records.
Perhaps the most undervalued aspect of a DNA test will be in giving you a tool to open up discussions with your family so that you can take a step toward ending the revolving stigma on mental health.