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Does Your DNA Make You More Susceptible to Catching a Cold?

Does Your DNA Make You More Susceptible to Catching a Cold?

We all know what to do to avoid getting sick during cold and flu season: drink lots of fluids, get plenty of rest and wash your hands frequently. But your habits and hygiene may not be the only factor when you get sick. Your DNA may actually be to blame.

The length of your telomeres, or caps at the end of your DNA, may predict whether or not you are susceptible to getting sick. According to a study published in the Journal of American Medical Association, “telomere length within immune cells seems to be associated with risk of infection by a cold-causing virus for people as young as 22 years” (Huffington Post).

Historically, short telomeres have been associated with aging and age-related diseases. But this new study suggests that telomere length is relatively consistent over a lifetime, and that people with shorter telomeres may be more disease-prone than people with longer telomeres.

What can you do?

If telomeres are part of your DNA, you may think that there’s nothing you can do to lengthen them. But “past research has shown that their length could also be affected by stress” (Huffington Post). Avoiding work-related stress and extreme fears could help you lengthen your telomeres and fight off disease.

And while your DNA may be a factor in whether or not you get sick, it’s still important to follow all the commonsense hygiene rules during cold and flu season. Taking care of yourself and washing your hands often are still your best bets for staying healthy.

Can your genes predict all sicknesses?

How useful is DNA mapping in predicting which diseases a person may be susceptible to in his or her lifetime? Not as useful as you may think. According to the New York Times, “while sequencing the entire DNA of individuals is proving fantastically useful in understanding diseases and finding new treatments, it is not a method that will, for the most part, predict a person’s medical future.”

A study examining the DNA of identical twins identified 24 common diseases, including breast cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, and attempted to measure how closely each disease is tied to DNA. What they found was inconclusive. Just because one twin developed the disease did not mean that the other had a higher than average risk of developing the same disease. It became clear that more factors than just DNA were involved.

Dr. Bert Vogelstein of Johns Hopkins said that the twin study “puts limits on what people might expect with this sort of testing” (NYT). The real benefit from DNA sequencing comes with the information it gives us about how disease works, not from predicting who may fall victim to a certain sickness.


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12:19PM PDT on May 17, 2013

I have always been very sickly. My bio mom was on drugs (I was told) during a significant part of the pregnancy. I am not sure if that could affect my immune system or not, but I blame her anyway o.O I take vitamins, eat organic, eat healthy, and do my best to avoid others who are sick, but I am still sick about one week out of every month year round.

10:04AM PDT on Mar 13, 2013

i can see how dna can have SOME effect, however, as some people have mentioned, diet and nutrition can also have a major role. stress can make you more prone to illness as you're more likely to not look after yourself in the correct way to normal and that may open the door to illness, so to speak

11:06AM PST on Mar 4, 2013

thanks for posting.

2:10PM PST on Mar 1, 2013

Interesting.Thanks for sharing

10:04AM PST on Mar 1, 2013


9:36AM PST on Mar 1, 2013

Besides the DNA observation in the article, there are many ways in which genetics can affect something like susceptibility to colds. Enzymes have been observed to have 1000x differences in activity because of a single mutation. If these enzymes have a cofactor such as vitamin C, the deficiency can be substantially remedied by taking large quantities of the cofactor. For myself, personal experimentation has left no doubt that I would get frequent bad colds without taking several grams of vitamin C daily; with it, I get few colds and those are very mild.

12:58AM PST on Mar 1, 2013

I'm sure diet plays a part in whether you get sick or not. I haven't had a cold for about 5 years, and 'flu for over 10 years. I try and eat well, and take vitamin D amd C. Build up your immune sytem and you are less likely to catch colds.

I'm careful to wash my hands when I come home, but don't use hand sanitizer. There is evidence that it creates resistance to bugs. Plain soap works just as well to clean the hands.

9:40PM PST on Feb 28, 2013

Interesting. The thing that seems to have made the biggest difference for me the last few years has been liberal use of hand sanitizer.

3:17PM PST on Feb 28, 2013

noted thanks

2:31PM PST on Feb 28, 2013

I believe I have never had the flu. My siblings and children never had the flu. I did not believe it was a real disease until I was 16. I always thought it was hygiene in the kitchen etc. In my mother's house the bathroom was cleaned daily and the kitchen had very strict rules. But now I think it is just luck. or DNA.

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