The link between immunity and your genes has been well established. From general immunity to auto-immune conditions both seem to have a strong familial link. This blog will go into a little more detail about this, chatting about the different types of immunity generally and then focussing on their ties to your genes.
Let’s start with a definition of immunity. Immunity is our capability to defend against potentially harmful infections. There are two different types of immunity, innate (general) and adaptive (specialised).
- Innate or general immunity is already present in the body to protect and defend us against infections. It’s response is rapid and not specific in that anything that is identified as foreign to the body is targeted. It is made up of physical barriers (e.g. skin), defense mechanisms (such as the coughing/sneezing reflex, mucus and stomach acid) and general immune responses (e.g. fever response).
- Adaptive or specialised immunity is aroused in response to exposure to an external substance (for example a virus or bacteria). Its response is slower and in response to a specific infection that it has identified. An example of this is a person who recovers from Chicken Pox is generally protected for life from having it again but not from other diseases such as Measles or Mumps.
Innate immunity is present at birth whilst adaptive immunity is developed throughout a person’s lifetime.
Are Autoimmune Diseases Genetic?
Yes, unfortunately they can. The risk is having an auto-immune disease is increased in relatives of someone already suffering from one. The interesting thing is that this doesn’t have to be the same disorder and in fact family members often have different auto-immune disorders. For example, one person might have Graves disease whilst the other has Rheumatoid Arthritis. Recent research explains why this is the case. It has shown that multiple genes can underlie the risk of getting an auto-immune disorder, however common genes contribute to multiple immune disorders.
The auto-immune disorders that have the strongest genetic associations are:
- Graves disease
- Type 1 Diabetes
- Multiple sclerosis
- Discoid lupus
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (most common type of Lupus)
What about Immunity as a whole?
What we would consider immune health is comprised primarily of innate immunity (which we discussed previously above). This type of immunity is present at birth and research has shown is inherited from your parents. In fact more than 75% of our immune traits were found to be based on genetics. Part of this is through antibodies that are passed from mothers to their babies via the placenta in the last 3 months of pregnancy. However, the other is passed down in the genes themselves.
So if your mother rarely gets sick and seems to bounce back from illnesses fairly quickly chances are you might do the same. If you’re interested in learning more about auto-immune conditions, click on the link below to download our free ebook.