WHAT PERSONAL FACTORS IMPACT OUR HEALTH?
To understand personalized medicine requires an understanding of the factors that contribute to our health (Figure 1). In general, our health is determined by our DNA, our lifestyle, and the things to which we are exposed, namely, our environment. Our DNA is inherited from our parents. Our lifestyle includes behaviors such as how much we exercise, whether we smoke, and what we choose to eat and drink. Most of us know that environmental factors such as the quality of the air we breathe, ultraviolet rays from the sun, and the presence of certain chemicals in household items can affect our health. Important environmental exposures, however, go well beyond these.
Figure 1 Our health is affected by many factors: our DNA, the various things to which we are exposed (the “exposome”), and exercise.
Pathogens such as viruses and bacteria can make us ill in the short-term, but may also increase our risk of certain chronic diseases in the longer term. Life stresses and the natural processes of aging also affect health. Conditions in the womb can impact development of the fetus and influence health after birth. In many cases, our understanding of the mechanisms by which environmental factors influence health is incomplete. Nonetheless, this information is crucial to understanding how to manage health.