DNA just may be everything when it comes to good health despite bad habits like a lifetime of smoking


A small number of smokers may appear to have normal, healthy lungs, despite a lifetime of smoking.

The Medical Research Council announced these findings recently after results were analysed from a large-scale study which included data from over 50,000 people and volunteers from the UK’s Biobank project. Results showed that there were favourable mutations in people’s DNA-enhanced lung function and that these mutations helped to mask the effects of smoking.

The results may lead to renewed efforts by pharmaceutical companies to develop new drugs to curb the effects of smoking and improve lung function.

The majority of longer term smokers will go on to develop lung disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema and chronic bronchitis amongst a host of other health problems.

The study compared smokers and non-smokers, those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and those without, and found that mutations in certain sections of DNA reduced the risk of a person developing the disease. So in some instances, lifetime smokers with these genetic mutations had a low risk of developing COPD than non–smokers with bad genes or without these specific genetic mutations in their DNA.

Martin Tobin, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Leicester has been actively involved in researching the genetic determinants of common complex diseases and traits. He said: ‘there doesn’t appear to be any kind of magic bullet that would give anyone guaranteed protection against tobacco smoke—they would still have lungs that were unhealthier than they would be had they been a non-smoker. The strongest thing that people can do to affect their future health in terms of COPD and also smoking-related disease like cancer and heart disease is to stop smoking. But the genetic mutations discovered in the study seemed to affect the way the lungs grow and respond to injury’.

The study did not investigate how these mutations affect the risk of developing various cancers and other diseases associated with smoking.

Ian Jarrold, a lead researcher at the British Lung Foundation, said: ‘These findings represent a significant step forward in helping us achieve a clearer picture about the fascinating and intricate reality of lung health. Understanding genetic predisposition is essential in not only helping us develop new treatments for people with lung disease but also in teaching otherwise healthy people how to better take care of their lungs’.

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