Social integration, including strong family ties, can protect one's well-being and even reduce the impact high-risk genes have on health. Scientists call this phenomenon a gene-environment interaction. An Indiana University study focusing on substance abuse, however, found that a three-way interplay of gender, genetics and social integration produced the different outcomes for men and women.
The study looked at men and women with a genetic sensitivity to stressful situations. Strong family and community ties were protective for such men, reducing their risk of abusing alcohol and drugs or using tobacco; but for women with the same genetic sensitivity, the costs associated with strong social ties could outweigh the benefits.
Clinicians and researchers have known for decades that gender shapes the kinds of risks and protections people are exposed to in everyday life, causing men and women to experience different types of health problems. The study by medical sociologist Brea Perry is unique because it adds the genetic dimension.
"It is likely that gene-environment interactions may operate differently for men and women, perhaps because they experience some aspects of the social world in divergent ways," Perry said. "In families and communities, for example, women often bear more responsibility for developing and maintaining relationships, and do more of the care work that is required in those contexts. We cannot assume that a social environment that is favorable for men, and thus reduces the harmful impact of a risky genotype, is also beneficial for women, or vice versa."
She is discussing her findings at 8:30 a.m. Monday at the American Sociological Association's annual meeting in San Francisco.
Perry's study used data from the Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism, a study funded by the National Institutes of Health to map genes associated with alcohol dependence and related patterns of substance abuse and behavior. The sample of participants in her analysis included 4,307 adults from 1,026 families. Some of the participants had substance dependence, but not all did. She targeted the GABRA2 gene, which is related to increased risk for substance use disorders through sensitivity to stressful or emotionally charged social environments.
Social integration can help those who struggle with substance abuse, particularly men who are in need of additional emotional support and strong bonds to keep them from engaging in excessive drinking or drug use. For women, ties to family and community are positive for most, but the demands of relationships may be overwhelming for women with a sensitivity to stress. According to Perry, these women would likely benefit from a stronger social services safety net, including programs that shift some of the responsibility for care work off their shoulders. Such programs might include government-subsidized child care or in-home health workers for those with ill or elderly relatives.
Research indicates that social and biological factors interact in very complex ways to shape health and well-being, and gender may complicate this picture even further. However, the potential impact of this kind of research on our understanding of how and why certain groups are more or less susceptible to physical and mental health problems is substantial.
"It is quite likely that any heritable health condition that is influenced by social factors, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and depression, might exhibit gender-specific gene-environment interactions," Perry said.
But it also points to the complexity of disease and health behavior.
The study was supported by the Peter F. McManus Charitable Trust.
Brea Perry | Eurek Alert!
Study suggests new way of preventing diabetes-associated blindness
26.05.2015 | Johns Hopkins Medicine
Memories Influence Choice of Food
22.05.2015 | Universität Basel
The only professorship in Germany to date, one master's programme, one laboratory with worldwide unique equipment and the corresponding research results: The University of Würzburg is leading in the field of biofabrication.
Paul Dalton is presently the only professor of biofabrication in Germany. About a year ago, the Australian researcher relocated to the Würzburg department for...
Physicists have developed an innovative method that could enable the efficient use of nanocomponents in electronic circuits. To achieve this, they have developed a layout in which a nanocomponent is connected to two electrical conductors, which uncouple the electrical signal in a highly efficient manner. The scientists at the Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel have published their results in the scientific journal “Nature Communications” together with their colleagues from ETH Zurich.
Electronic components are becoming smaller and smaller. Components measuring just a few nanometers – the size of around ten atoms – are already being produced...
Development and implementation of an advanced automobile parking navigation platform for parking services
To fulfill the requirements of the industry, PolyU researchers developed the Advanced Automobile Parking Navigation Platform, which includes smart devices,...
The world's first electrical car and passenger ferry powered by batteries has entered service in Norway. The ferry only uses 150 kWh per route, which...
On Tuesday, 19 May 2015 the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its home port in Bremerhaven, setting a course for the Arctic. Led by Dr Ilka Peeken from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) a team of 53 researchers from 11 countries will investigate the effects of climate change in the Arctic, from the surface ice floes down to the seafloor.
RV Polarstern will enter the sea-ice zone north of Spitsbergen. Covering two shallow regions on their way to deeper waters, the scientists on board will focus...
20.05.2015 | Event News
18.05.2015 | Event News
12.05.2015 | Event News
27.05.2015 | Power and Electrical Engineering
27.05.2015 | Health and Medicine
27.05.2015 | Physics and Astronomy