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Genes and inheritance

Posted on: August 29, 2011   by  John Cannell, MD


Most of us, including myself, have a primitive understanding of genetics. Genes are the things you inherit and pass down to your kids. Defects in those genes cause in curable diseases, if they don’t kill you outright. The defects, or mutations, are acquired over generations of genes being exposed to mutagens, like x-rays, toxins, etc. and are passed down the line. Right? In what may be a seminal paper (actually an editorial) in Nature, Dr. John Timmer says: hold on, not so fast.

It appears that many of those mutations occur during the lifetime of the person in question. That is, you may well have a genetic disease that you did not inherit.

Timmer, J. Schizophrenia: genes matter (even though inheritance might not). Nature Genetics. 2011.

That explains the genetics of autism very nicely, but I wish Dr. Timmer had taken the next step, the incurable step. The genetic defects he is talking about are often quite minor in comparison to what we have grown accustomed to think about, like an entire chromosome trisomy 21 in Down syndrome (Down’s syndrome in the U.K.). No set of genetic push-pull railroad repair cars are going to fix that one, it’s just too big.

However, a number of proteins exist whose entire purpose in life is to go along the genome, like a railroad car, detecting small genetic variations in one set of genes, and fix them, sometimes using the other set of genes as a template for normal. At least that’s how a forensic psychiatrist understands the process.

And guess who is in charge of these little locomotives? Guess who protects your genome from these genetic variations, guess who is “The Defender of the Genome”? You guessed it; it’s just another one of vitamin D’s repair and maintenance functions. I’m just putting this all together in my mind, as the stack of papers on my desk attests. I didn’t discover anything; dozens of scientists have been studying these genetic repair mechanisms for years, including vitamin D’s involvement. As I learn it, I will tell you about the scientists whose lifetime of work is about to become a little more public.

However, it now makes perfect sense to me how vitamin D can cure some genetic diseases, like autism. Once your body has enough vitamin D, all those little genetic repair train cars can chug happily along, fixing the multiple little genetic variations that are the most common genetic findings in autism. Yes, autism is a genetic disease, or rather; it is a disease of the genes.

Eapen V. Genetic basis of autism: is there a way forward? Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2011 May;24(3):226-36. Review.


10 Responses to Genes and inheritance

  1. Brant Cebulla

    Welcome all! To introduce myself, I work for the Vitamin D Council. I will be one of the moderators of this blog.

    Please use this comment section to express your own thoughts and comments on subject matter and to delve and engage in interesting conversations among each other. I know many, most, and if not all of you are very intelligent folks with great perspectives to share. As always, please be polite!

    And once again, welcome to our blog!

  2. [email protected]

    John, this is fascinating. Thank you so much for your tireless efforts to uncover and illuminate.

  3. mel

    I am the mother of a 3 year old boy who is nonverbal and has been diagnosed with autism. It has only been two weeks since I came upon the vit D councils’ website after a year of searching for information that might be relevant to my son’s condition. There is a lot of information to weed through out there in the world of autism. Many of us can not get past the fact that our children are sick although we are leary of all the “magic pills” on the market. Anyways, I was actually disturbed when I read the content on the website because I remember seeing a doctor for interstitial cystitis several years ago and having him tell me that I had very low vit D levels. I remember thinking “I feel like I am dying and you are telling me to take a vitamin!” I so wish that I had taken his advice more seriously. Two weeks ago I immediately began giving my son vit D3. In a matter of days we saw major cognitive gains and just a greater level of all around health. Although I have no doubt that the current North American lifestyle puts one in more danger of vit D deficiency I believe that in our situation we are dealing with something that has been passed on genetically as most of the conditions referred to by the vit D council abound in every recorded generation of our family. An example would be that my husbands’ great grandfather a strapping man in his early twenties died in one day during the Spanish influenza post WW1 and many others since have become deathly ill after receiving flu vaccines. My niece was on life support for 9 days during the last swine flu epidemic. I have since learned that good vitamin D levels are vital for resistance to influenza. Prostate cancer, diabetes, hypothyroid, schizophrenia, bi-polar, cardiovascular disease are just some of the other illnesses in our family. It is my hope that it is not too late to restore what has been lost. Thank you so much for taking the time to put together this blog. We have already been very blessed by the work of the vit D council.

  4. Dana Clark

    Mel –
    Thank you for sharing your story and for your kind words. It’s testimonials like yours that confirm to us here at Vitamin D Council that all of our hard work is worth it.

    It’s wonderful to know that your son is benefiting from the vitamin D – may you, and all the rest of your family, benefit as well.

    – Dana Clark
    Web Director

  5. Dana Clark

    [email protected]

    Thank you for sharing your story as well. It is truly great to hear that vitamin D has been very helpful to you with your arthritis. Keep it up!

    – Dana Clark
    Web Director, Vitamin D Council

  6. Mistea1

    Thanks for this. I wonder how this links to epigentics. I’ve recently read that how our ancestors were affected by their environment is passed through to the next generations. I’ve wondered why I have certain issues in my life and recently I realized that I was a very low birth weight baby. My mother was native American and both she and her family had problems with starvation and abuse. My grandmother as well was in that situation. My mother was still recovering from her starvation problems in her late 20s when she finally started her menses then became pregnant with me. For the past year I have been paying attention to my Vitamin D level. It is now up to 53. I’d like to get it up to 80 or so. My mood is better and I’m better able to make sure I consistently eat the proper diet. That was a problem before. Oh yes,I am trying to get full sun at least 2 times a week. I appreciate these posts asI would have never known to pay such close attention to my Vitamin D level.

  7. [email protected]

    good info…thanks!

  8. Dr John Cannell

    Make sure your autistic son gets enough vitamin D, usually at least 2,000 IU /day for every 20 pounds, sometimes double that. Keep his 25(OH)D around 80-90 ng/ml.


  9. mel

    Thanks, Dr. Cannell. We’ve finally been able to go higher then 1000 IU/day now that we have added vit K2. Initially there was a lot of bone pain and headaches after taking the D but that has resolved. I think we may have been struggling with calcium regulation problems. I’m glad we didn’t give up and I just wanted to post this so that others know it can be a little uncomfortable at first but it is worth hanging in there and trying the cofactors.

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