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!
Diagnoses: When Are Several Opinions Better Than One?
19.07.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung
High in calories and low in nutrients when adolescents share pictures of food online
07.04.2016 | University of Gothenburg
Transparent electronics devices are present in today’s thin film displays, solar cells, and touchscreens. The future will bring flexible versions of such devices. Their production requires printable materials that are transparent and remain highly conductive even when deformed. Researchers at INM – Leibniz Institute for New Materials have combined a new self-assembling nano ink with an imprint process to create flexible conductive grids with a resolution below one micrometer.
To print the grids, an ink of gold nanowires is applied to a substrate. A structured stamp is pressed on the substrate and forces the ink into a pattern. “The...
A new Fraunhofer MEVIS method conveys medical interrelationships quickly and intuitively with innovative visualization technology
On the monitor, a brain spins slowly and can be examined from every angle. Suddenly, some sections start glowing, first on the side and then the entire back of...
Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Ames Laboratory have discovered an unusual property of purple bronze that may point to new ways to achieve high temperature superconductivity.
While studying purple bronze, a molybdenum oxide, researchers discovered an unconventional charge density wave on its surface.
Munich Physicists have developed a novel electron microscope that can visualize electromagnetic fields oscillating at frequencies of billions of cycles per second.
Temporally varying electromagnetic fields are the driving force behind the whole of electronics. Their polarities can change at mind-bogglingly fast rates, and...
Breakup of continents with two speed: Continents initially stretch very slowly along the future splitting zone, but then move apart very quickly before the onset of rupture. The final speed can be up to 20 times faster than in the first, slow extension phase.phases
Present-day continents were shaped hundreds of millions of years ago as the supercontinent Pangaea broke apart. Derived from Pangaea’s main fragments Gondwana...
15.07.2016 | Event News
15.07.2016 | Event News
11.07.2016 | Event News
28.07.2016 | Information Technology
28.07.2016 | Materials Sciences
28.07.2016 | Earth Sciences