Celebrating Dr. Carlos Bustamante, National Hispanic Heritage Month 2021

Having a father as an infectious disease doctor brought Carlos Bustamante an early exposure to medicine. But still, Carlos always imagined he would grow up to become a lawyer. With a confident demeanor and powerful voice, Carlos could command a room. He thrived in debate club and theater classes and had been convinced since he was young that law would suit him best.  

If not for his nomination by his high school to go to the National Science Foundation Camp, his affinity for legalese and legal arguments may have taken root. Instead, science camp hastened his curiosity toward science. 

Carlos would go on to spend his last high school summer learning modern physics and applied mathematics, which served as his first immersion in STEM — and his introduction to people who shared a passion for it. “I began associating myself with the kids who’d much rather spend their summers at math and science camp instead of the other cool things high school kids could do in Miami,” Carlos said. “Nerd-Carlos was able to realize his full nerd-potential.” This opened his world up to new possibilities and influenced his education and career journey to genomics and health.  

Fast-forward to today, when Dr. Carlos Bustamante has built upon those underpinnings from a teenage science camp to become a prominent scientist, investor, and academic accelerating genomic discoveries in understudied human populations. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, Carlos shares more with us about his life, education, career, and how he became a world-renown leader in science pioneering initiatives that ensure representation and inclusion in health. 

Hi, Carlos. Thanks for taking the time to share more about your life and career journey with us. Can you tell us more about your life growing up as young Carlos?  

I migrated to the United States from Venezuela when I was seven years old. When we arrived in Maryland, there were no Latinos. We had to travel all the way to Washington D.C., about an hour away from our house, just to experience anything that reminded us of home. It sometimes felt like I was a fish out of water. Believe it or not, when we moved to Miami during my high school years, I experienced culture shock. So many people were speaking Spanish, it was fascinating! Suddenly, the tables were turned. I went from being part of the minority to part of the majority. 

As we study the African American and Hispanic/Latinx populations, we’ll get admixed data, sure, but it will then require us to think about admixture. Admixture is a part of life and we must embrace that.”

What inspired you to eventually channel your career towards population genetics?  

I discovered population genetics shortly after high school. My AP Biology teacher gave me a book upon graduation, The Genetics Basis of Evolutionary Change, by Richard C. Lewontin. It was a beat-up, old copy but I read it with pure fascination. “Wow, this is incredible,” I thought. I had enrolled in a 6-year BA/MD program at the University of Miami and started working in a research lab. One day, by sheer luck, I stumbled upon a lecture by a former post-doctoral fellow of Richard C. Lewontin who emphasized the power of understanding genetics, evolution, and what they can tell us about human traits. I went to many lectures after that, took countless biology classes, and came to the realization that my educational path needed some modifying. I thought to myself, “I don’t think I want to give up two years of school in replace of work. I’d much rather focus on school for the next four years and figure out what I want to do after then.” So, I decided to pull out of my program and transfer to Harvard, where eventually I had the opportunity to work directly with Richard C. Lewontin himself.

STANFORD, CA – SEPTEMBER 20: Population Geneticist Dr. Carlos Bustamante is photographed at the Stanford Medical Center in Stanford, CA for the MacArthur Foundation Awards. (Photo by Don Feria/Getty Images for The MacArthur Foundation Awards)

What a great introduction to science! How did this further influence your career in genetics?   

Between 1994 and 2001, I learned everything I could about population genetics and statistical genetics. When I applied to my MD/Ph.D. program, my goal of bringing complex disease genetics to medicine was shot down by so many people. They would tell me I was crazy and that it’d never work. “We don’t even have the human genome complete,” they would say. “You should really go study molecular biology and developmental biology.” In fact, even Lewontin said to me, “That’s a terrible idea. Theoretical population genetics is really hard and you’re likely never going to get a job.” It was all that I wanted to do, so I figured if it did not work out, I will drive a taxi or something.  

I finished my Ph.D. program in 2001, and fortunately for me, the human genome project was completed just three months before.  

I started teaching statistics at Cornell University after my Ph.D. and postdoc and worked with Andy Clark on a database of human genetic variations. I spent 3 years mining data and together, we wrote 7 Nature and Science papers off my dataset that ultimately set my career. I eventually was awarded tenure and made a Full Professor at Cornell University and gave me the opportunity to start a new Department from scratch as inaugural Chair of Biomedical Data Science, where we did a bunch of human-genome-like projects.  

Between 2004 – 2007, if there was a principal component plot that had multiple populations in it, odds are it came from Bustamante Labs

That could not have worked out any better for you – great timing. You were part of the 1000 Genomes Project. How was that experience?  

It was eventful. During the 1000 Genomes Project, Francisco M. De La Vega and I pushed to sequence the first Mexican genome and the first African American genome. The project concluded with 2,500 samples, but that was never the original design. The original design only included samples from Africa, Europe, and Asia. They never intended to have any samples from the Americas or South Asia, for several reasons. Because we understood the importance of the patterns of add mixture, we raised our hands and said, “No, this is wrong. You can’t exclude people. This is a missed opportunity.”  

Dealing with vulnerable populations and populations that do not wish to participate in biomedical research is a tough problem. You obviously want to respect and honor that. At the same time, if our number one goal is to enable medical and disease genetics at scale, then we don’t need a perfect population model, we need patient engagement. As we study the African American and Hispanic/Latinx populations, we’ll get admixed data, sure, but it will then require us to think about admixture. Admixture is a part of life and we must embrace that.  

The 1000 Genomes Project went from 1,200 samples to 2,500 samples, partly because a passionate group of us got together and said, “This is important, the data is telling us it’s important.” We made rational scientific arguments that ensured the medical genetics studies that we are powering are properly powered in these understudied populations.  

My whole motto for running my lab is, ‘Come in, build something cool, and take it with you.’ ”

As they say, never underestimate the power of passion. What are you working on now? 

Having spent some time at Cornell and Stanford and advising companies like Luna creating innovative technology for health discovery, my next passion project is to scale. We need to have a million genomes networked with clinical data across a wide range of diseases that will power a ton of discovery.  

During COVID, I spent some time at Stanford sequencing patients. My hypothesis from this experience is that through sequencing COVID-19 discard, you can build an incredible database. Nearly everyone has had a COVID-19 test or two and if we had access to that material and permission to sequence their genome, we could build the world’s greatest databases. And I’m particularly excited to focus on the Latin American population, because of its significant impact by COVID and its underrepresentation in research. 

You have worked on so many projects that have positively changed health discovery as we know it. Of your entire experience, what are you most proud of?  

The network of talented people who have trained and collaborated with me – these people I will stack against anyone. My former students and post-docs are now running the big biobanks at Mount Sinai they are playing major roles in 23andMe and Ancestry.com. It has been an embarrassment of riches, and I am so proud of them.  

My whole motto for running my lab is, “Come in, build something cool, and take it with you.” Now this network is passionate about coming together to work on a big mission, a mission to build the largest database of Hispanic/Latinx genomics and health data relevant to testing and eventually to pharma.  

Great motto and inspiring story you have experienced so far. Thank you for all your dedication.  

Genevieve Lopez
Head of Digital Engagement at Luna
gen@lunadna.com
(760) 218-8333

About Luna

Luna’s suite of tools and services connects communities with researchers to accelerate health discoveries. With participation from more than 180 countries and communities advancing causes including disease-specific, public health, environmental, and emerging interests, Luna empowers these collectives to gather a wide range of data – health records, lived experience, disease history, genomics, and more – for research.

Luna gives academia and industry everything they need from engagement with study participants to data analysis across multiple modalities using a common data model. The platform is compliant with clinical regulatory requirements and international consumer data privacy laws.

By providing privacy-protected individuals a way to continually engage, Luna transforms the traditional patient-disconnected database into a dynamic, longitudinal discovery environment where researchers, industry, and community leaders can leverage a range of tools to surface insights and trends, study disease natural history and biomarkers, and enroll in clinical studies and trials.

Genetics of Hair Color

Know Your Health: Genetics of Hair Color

By LunaDNA Contributor

Hair colors are passed down through generations. Sometimes the colors are predictable, and sometimes, unexpected colors occur through a genetic mutation. Learn about the genetics of hair color. 

Hair colors are a spectrum of hues that can range from white blond to coal black. Hair color is inherited, and many genes are involved in the process. Sometimes, unexpected hair color can occur in a child because of a genetic mutation. Some of the genes involved in hair color also influence eye color and skin color.  

Hair color is the result of genetics. Learn about the genetics of hair color and what causes different hair colors in this guide.  

How Is Hair Color Determined? 

Two types of pigment, or melanin, determine hair color. An abundance of eumelanin colors hair black or brown, and an abundance of pheomelanin colors hair orange or red. Every hair color contains some amount of the darker pigment eumelanin. Low levels of eumelanin result in lighter hair, and higher levels result in darker hair.  

The genes responsible for hair color are neither dominant nor recessive — it is a matter of which genes are turned on or turned off. The hair color produced depends on the amount and type of melanin produced by melanocytes (melanin-forming cells). If receptors on the surface of the melanocytes are active, they produce, eumelanin, the pigment responsible for brown or black hair. If the receptors are inactive or blocked, they produce pheomelanin, the pigment responsible for orange or red hair.  

Jet-black hair has large numbers of tightly packed eumelanin. Red hair has large numbers of tightly packed pheomelanin. Blonde hair has both types of melanin, but in very small amounts and loosely packed. Variations lead to a wide range of shades within each hue. Hair color usually darkens as genes are turned on and off during childhood and puberty. Later in life, hair can turn gray and white as fewer pigment cells produce and store melanin. Gray hair has only a little pigment in it, while white hair has no pigment. 

Is Hair Color Genetic? 

Hair color is one of several physical traits that are genetic, or passed down through an individual’s DNA. Human DNA has millions of on and off switches along networks that control how genes function. Genes responsible for hair color come from both parents.  

Although the genes passed down from a child’s parents determine hair color, variations can result in a child having a different hair color than both parents. The genetics of hair color is the result of many genes working together to control the amount and type of melanin. Large amounts of very dense eumelanin produce black hair. Moderate somewhat dense amounts result in brown hair. Very little and thinly dispersed amounts result in blonde hair. If you have mostly pheomelanin with a little eumelanin, red hair is the result. Additionally, a variation in the blond gene can lead to premature graying.  

Is Hair Color Inherited from Mother or Father?

Hair color comes from both parents through the chromosomes passed onto their child. The 46 chromosomes (23 from each parent) have genes made up of DNA with instructions of what traits a child will inherit. The results can be surprising. For example, black-haired parents can unknowingly each carry an unexpressed blond-hair gene that can pass to their fair-haired child. This explains why siblings can have different shades of hair.  

What Does Your Hair Color Mean?

Hair color may be related to your ancestry. Darker hair is more prevalent among people in the southern hemisphere, and lighter hair is more common in the northern hemisphere. Darker hair is associated with areas of harsh sunlight, and lighter hair with areas of less sunshine. However, there are many exceptions due to genetics, migration of people, and other factors. 

Black and Brown Hair

The most common hair colors around the world are black and brown, and it is estimated that over 90 percent of people have black or brown hair. Depending on the levels of pigment, colors range from an almost light-blond brown to dark black.  

Blonde Hair

Blonde hair is produced by low levels of pigment (called eumelanin). Variation in the small amounts of eumelanin accounts for the wide range of blond shades, from platinum blond to dark golden blond. Many people with blond hair develop darker hair later in life. Natural light blond hair in adults is rare.  

Red Hair

Red is the rarest hair color and is thought to be found in around 1 to 2 percent of people worldwide. In the Northern Hemisphere, 2 to 6 percent of people have red hair.  

Red hair ranges from light strawberry blond to deep burgundy, depending on the amount of pheomelanin (red pigment) and eumelanin (brown/black pigment) is present. Auburn hair has a higher concentration of pheomelanin, while chestnut hair has more eumelanin.  

Red hair has fascinated humans throughout history. In fact, the term “redhead” was first noted in the 16th century. In addition, frescos from ancient times depict Hades, the god of the underworld, as a redhead.  

Over time, scientific discoveries have led to a deeper understanding of the genetics that affects hair color. As advancements in genetics and overall health are made, more discoveries will undoubtedly unlock the mysteries of who we are, where we’re from, and why people around the world come in so many shapes, sizes, and hair colors. 

Luna is bringing together people, communities, and researchers to better understand life, including genetic traits like hair color. Directly drive health discovery by joining the Tell Us About You study. The more we come together to contribute health data for the greater good, the quicker and more efficient research will scale, and improve the quality of life for us all.  

Click here to get started.

Are Crooked Teeth Genetic?

Know Your Health: How Your DNA May Affect Your Smile

By LunaDNA Contributor

The causes of crooked teeth are varied. Our ancestry may have interesting clues to the genetics of crooked teeth. Learn about crooked teeth, and how DNA may play a role in overall teeth health. 

According to the American Association of Orthodontists, an estimated 4 million people wear braces on their teeth. However, misaligned teeth are a recent development in human evolution. Early human fossils from cavemen usually have well-aligned, uniform teeth. Some anthropologists believe the development of misaligned teeth occurred when our jaws began shrinking over time due to changes in our diet that required less chewing. Today, we know that some genetic factors, such as jaw size and number of teeth, can affect misalignment, but behaviors and environmental causes are also involved.  

Crooked teeth are common over the last few hundred years, yet skulls from humans that lived thousands of years ago have well-aligned teeth. Fossils show that cavemen didn’t have many dental problems despite the lack of toothpaste and floss. Today, dental consultations are recommended before the age of 8. Learn more about crooked teeth and its genetic connections, including:  

What Causes Crooked Teeth? 

Crooked teeth do not always happen by chance. Habits and maladies that may lead to undeveloped jaws and crowded teeth include

  • Tongue thrusting (also known as reverse swallowing) 
  • Thumb sucking 
  • Prolonged use of pacifiers 
  • Mouth breathing (due to allergies, asthma, and other conditions that cause a person to breath through his or her mouth) 
  • Open mouth posture 
  • Tumors of the mouth and jaw 

These habits and maladies contribute to poor jaw growth, leaving many with misaligned teeth and undeveloped jaws. This improper development can limit the space available for teeth and can prohibit them from growing in the ideal position.  

An undeveloped jaw can lead to a mouth of crowded teeth. Since orthodontia work does not usually start until all permanent teeth come in, teeth might be pulled, because the jaw is deemed too small to accommodate all the teeth.  

Mouth breathing leads to the tongue not resting in the correct position on the roof of the mouth. This can in turn lead to an underdeveloped upper and lower jaw. An upper jaw improperly developed may restrict the airway further. This can keep the mouth open, which might exacerbate the problem.  

Reverse swallowing, also known as tongue thrusting, occurs when the tongue pushes forward and the lips push back when swallowing. A child swallows at least a couple times a minute, so pushing the tongue forward against the teeth can, over time, create a condition called open bite.  

Diet may be a factor too. In the 1930s, Weston Price, an American dentist, studied various groups around the world and found that those employing a primitive diet had little tooth decay, larger jaws, and straight teeth. Orthodontics became a specialty in 1900 in response to bad habits and maladies that children had during the Industrial Revolution. After the Industrial Revolution, people swapped out a natural diet, closer to what their ancestors had eaten, for one of more processed foods. It is possible that this softer diet hindered normal jaw growth because less jaw strength was required.  

Types of Crooked Teeth  

Crooked mouthfuls of teeth come in all shapes and sizes, but there are three general classes of malocclusions, which means misaligned teeth:  

Class 1 occurs when the upper teeth slightly overlap the lower teeth, but the bite is normal. This is the most common type of crooked teeth.  

Class 2 occurs when the upper teeth and jaw severely overlap the lower teeth and jaw and is sometimes called an overbite. Difficulties in chewing can be painful and can lead to headaches and temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ), a painful condition of the joint that connects your jaw to the side of your head.  

Class 3 occurs when the lower teeth project beyond the front of the upper teeth when the jaw closes and is sometimes called an underbite. Those with underbites can have trouble chewing and often suffer from headaches. Overtime, an underbite can cause TMJ.  

Are Crooked Teeth Genetic? 

Humans today are nearly identical to their ancestors who had straight teeth. This suggests that crooked teeth are partly a result of evolution. Some experts believe that the Industrial Revolution, which happened about 150 to 200 hundred years ago, triggered people to have crooked teeth.  

Interestingly, most wild mammals have straight teeth. Some researchers believe that when culture shifted from rural to manufacturing, something went awry. Others think it happened thousands of years earlier, when humans transitioned from hunting and gathering to farming. Ancestral upper and lower jaws of hunter-gatherers were more often better aligned than those of later humans. 

Ancestry of Crooked Teeth 

With the introduction of the modern baby bottle in the mid-1800s, human populations became less reliant on breastfeeding their young. Research has shown that the muscles required for an infant to breastfeed are not used as extensively when a child is bottle-fed. At the end of the 1940s, German dental experts Dr. Wilhelm Balters and Dr. Adolf Müller discovered that babies who had been breastfed had significantly fewer crooked teeth. Studies continue to be conducted to determine if there is a link between the use of bottles and the impact it has on jaw development and crooked teeth.  

Problems Associated With Crooked Teeth 

Crooked teeth make it harder to chew and can put a strain on the jaw, increasing the risk of breaking a tooth. It is also harder to clean crooked teeth, leaving the opening for cavities and other dental maladies. Protruding teeth can rub against and wear down other teeth.  

Beyond this, crooked teeth can impact overall health. This decreases the chance of bacteria going into the pockets of the gums, which can lead to gum disease. Some research suggests that, when bacteria is left untreated, it can enter the bloodstream and may lead to heart disease, diabetes, or stroke.  

While we know some genetic causes for tooth issues, much is still unknown about the connections between genes and dental problems. Researchers are hopeful that recent discoveries will open the door for the development of new and improved dental- and orthodontic-care tactics and treatments.  

Luna is bringing together individuals, communities, and researchers to better understand life, including genetic traits like crooked teeth. Directly drive health discovery by joining the Tell Us About You study. The more we come together to contribute health data for the greater good, the quicker and more efficient research will scale, and improve the quality of life for us all.  

Click here to get started.

Stressed woman wearing surgical mask

Know Your Health: Is Anxiety Genetic?

By LunaDNA Contributing Writer 

Many people experience anxiety during their lifetime. However, anxiety is not normal if it takes over your life.

A genetic predisposition for anxiety can trigger an over-the-top response to a low-key event. There are many risk factors for anxiety disorders including genetics, personality, brain chemistry, and external influences.  

Learn more about anxiety, including:   

Generalized Anxiety Disorder 

Generalized anxiety disorder is a chronic condition characterized by incessant and excessive worrying. A person with this disorder expects the worst, even when there is no plausible reason to do so. Feeling anxious for no reason is a common sentiment for those with this condition.  

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, generalized anxiety disorder sometimes runs in families. It’s unknown why some family members have it while others do not. The specific cause is unknown, but it is suspected that it’s a combination of family history, biological factors, and stressful life experiences.  

Symptoms may include: 

  • worrying too much
  • feeling nervous
  • feeling restless
  • difficulty concentrating
  • being easily startled
  • having insomnia
  • feeling exhausted
  • feeling irritable
  • sweating
  • feeling light-headed
  • feeling out of breath
  • difficulty swallowing
  • trembling
  • having to go to the bathroom frequently
  • having headaches
  • having stomach aches

Treatment by a doctor may include therapy and/or medication. 

Panic Disorder & Panic Attacks 

Panic attacks are recurring sudden attacks of terror that often come with debilitating physical symptoms. The episodes can last minutes or hours. A trigger may bring on the attacks, but often they arise for seemingly no reason. Symptoms include accelerated heart rate, trembling or shaking, having trouble breathing, sweating, feeling out of control, or feeling doomed. Because panic attacks are traumatic, some people with this disorder constantly worry when the next attack will occur and avoid places or situations. This can lead to another anxiety disorder called agoraphobia, which is the fear and avoidance of certain places or situations that might make you feel helpless or embarrassed. 

If left untreated, panic attacks can turn into a panic disorder. This occurs when a panic attack is followed up with a month or more of intense and constant worrying about the next panic attack and the fallout from it. However, not everyone that has panic attacks has a panic disorder. Treatment by a doctor for both conditions may include therapy and/or medication. 

Social Anxiety Disorder 

People with social anxiety disorder fear being in social or performance situations in which they might be judged negatively or be embarrassed. While it’s normal to get stage fright, people with this disorder tend to avoid public situations and human contact.  

Symptoms include blushing, accelerated heartbeat, sweating, trembling, nausea, lightheadedness, trouble breathing, and muscle tension. A typical response to this anxiety disorder is to avoid social situations whenever possible. Treatment by a doctor may include therapy and/or medication. 

Symptoms of Anxiety 

Although there are various types of anxiety disorders, many signs and symptoms of the types are similar including:  

  • accelerated heart rate
  • hyperventilation
  • sweating
  • shaking
  • sense of doom or panic
  • nervousness
  • restlessness
  • tension
  • tiredness
  • difficulty concentrating
  • insomnia
  • gastrointestinal issues
  • inability to stop worrying
  • having trouble controlling urge to avoid trigger events

Is Anxiety Genetic? 

Several parts of the brain play a role in fear and anxiety, so its genetic connections are complex. Through continued research, collecting data, and by learning more about how the brain functions in particular anxiety disorders, researchers can help create better treatments.  

Anxiety can be triggered by certain external events, and people with certain predispositions may be wired to react anxiously. It is possible that both genetic and environmental factors contribute to an anxiety disorder.  

While the link between genetics and anxiety is still unclear, it has been shown that anxiety disorders run in families. Genetically-linked brain disorders are complex, and more research needs to be done to truly understand whether or not anxiety is hereditary. 

Anxiety Diagnosis  

Diagnosing anxiety can be complex, so it is important to see a doctor or psychiatrist to get properly evaluated. A doctor may start with a physical exam to see if there is an underlying condition causing the anxiety. Laboratory testing of blood and urine samples may also be needed to rule out other possible causes. The doctor will look at medical history and ask questions to determine the proper diagnosis. If you experience some or all of the symptoms of anxiety, consult your physician. 

Treatments for Anxiety 

Treatments for anxiety vary largely based on the type of anxiety, root cause, and each individual’s situation and symptoms. A doctor decides how to treat patients based on what they need to function better in daily life. Two primary avenues of treatment are most common: recommended therapy to relieve stress and the use of anti-anxiety medication. Depending on the severity of an individual’s anxiety, a physician may recommend both therapy and medication as the best treatment.  

The field of pharmacogenomics, the study of how gene’s affect drug response, is making great strides in identifying which medications and dosages work better based on a patient’s genetic makeup. However, more research is needed to understand exactly how genetics plays a role in anxiety disorders and brain chemistry. As research continues, meaningful scientific breakthroughs will lead to better prevention and treatment of anxiety disorders. 

Luna is bringing together individuals, communities, and researchers to better understand life, including genetic traits like anxiety. Directly drive health discovery by joining the Tell Us About You study. The more we come together to contribute health data for the greater good, the quicker and more efficient research will scale, and improve the quality of life for us all.  

Click here to get started.

Couple sleeping

Know Your Health: What Causes Snoring?

By LunaDNA Contributing Writer 

Snoring occurs when air can’t flow freely through the nose and throat.

As air fights to make its way through the airways, it jangles against the tissues in the nose and throat creating a snoring sound. Learn why people snore, and what can be done about it including:

Why Do People Snore?  

People who snore often have too much tissue in their noses and throats. The snoring sound is due to tissue vibrating in the upper airway, typically during inhalation. Most people don’t know they snore until someone tells them. Signs of snoring are: waking up with a headache or dry mouth, waking up suddenly in the middle of the night (and not from a nightmare), feeling tired during the day (even if sleeping a full night), waking up coughing or wheezing, or experiencing dental issues. 

While snoring is not an illness, it can be a symptom of a serious condition called sleep apnea, a disorder characterized by labored breathing, snoring, and gasps while asleep. In sleep apnea, the neck muscles relax, and the pathway for air to get to the lungs shuts down. At that point, the brain will usually send a signal that it needs more oxygen, which wakes up the snorer.  

Often snorers, especially those with sleep apnea, are unaware they are waking up, but they feel exhausted the following morning.  

What Causes Snoring? 

About 40 percent of men and 24 percent of women are prone to chronic snoring. Possible physical reasons for snoring include being overweight, enlarged tonsils or tongue, enlarged adenoids, elongated soft palate or cleft palate, or the shape of a person’s nose or jaw. Other factors that may contribute to snoring are nasal congestion or allergies, alcohol consumption, smoking, sleeping position, and sleep deprivation.  

The following are risk factors for snoring:

  • Being a man
  • Being overweight
  • Narrow or closed off airway
  • Narrow throat
  • Elongated soft palate
  • Cleft palate
  • Enlarged adenoids
  • Deviated septum
  • Nasal congestion or allergies
  • Sleep position
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Smoking
  • Having a family history of snoring or sleep apnea

Is Snoring Genetic? 

Chronic snoring isn’t necessarily genetic, but factors that contribute to snoring may have hereditary roots. Obesity, certain anatomical traits, and medical conditions like obstructive sleep apnea, can have a genetic component. These traits paired with non-genetic factors may increase a person’s risk of snoring.  

Parents that snore are three times more likely to have children that snore than parents that don’t snore. Even having a family member that chronically snores can be a contributing factor if it causes sleep deprivation (a risk factor in snoring). About 10 percent or more children snore on most nights. 

Snoring and Sleep Apnea — What Are the Signs of Sleep Apnea 

Sleep apnea is a potentially serious medical disorder that causes breathing to stop and start repeatedly throughout the night. If your parent has sleep apnea, you are at a higher risk of developing it. People with sleep apnea have an increased risk of developing insulin resistance, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, abnormal test results on liver function tests, and complications with medications and general anesthesia.  

Types of Sleep Apnea 

There are three main types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of sleep apnea. This occurs when throat muscles relax to the point of hindering airflow, either by the tongue falling into the back of the throat or some other physical obstruction.
  • Central sleep apnea is the least common form of sleep apnea and occurs when the brain doesn’t send a signal to the muscles that control breathing.  
  • Complex sleep apnea syndrome is the diagnosis for people with both types of sleep apnea (obstructive and central).  

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea 

Symptoms of sleep apnea (besides loud snoring) include: 

  • Gasping for air during sleep
  • Chest pains
  • Feeling excessively drowsy throughout the day
  • Irritability
  • Chronic headaches or sore throat
  • Dry mouth after waking in the morning
  • High blood pressure

Risk factors for sleep apnea include having a heart disorder; excess weight; nasal congestion; thicker neck circumference; a narrow throat; family history of sleep apnea; use of sedatives, pain medications, or alcohol that relax throat muscles; and smoking. Anyone that smokes is three times as likely to have sleep apnea than those who have never smoked. Smoking can increase inflammation and fluid retention in the upper airway.  

Snoring Solutions and Treatment 

Treatments for snoring run the gamut from non-invasive nasal breathing strips to invasive surgical procedures. Other non-invasive home remedies include sleeping on the side instead of the back, losing weight, avoiding alcohol and smoking, and treating allergies. Treatments for snoring that may require a prescription for insurance coverage are a mouth guard or a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine that prevents airway collapse. One of the most invasive remedies is surgery to remove the excess tissue in the airway. Success rates for surgery are good, but the procedure can be painful. Surgery is rarely used to treat snoring without sleep apnea. Your doctor can determine the best treatment option for you. 

Is Snoring Curable? 

Less snoring can be achieved with behavioral changes, treatments, and remedies. A diagnosis from a doctor or a specialist, such as an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor) is the first step. A diagnosis holds the key to determining if snoring is the issue or if it is a symptom of another condition. 

How to Stop Snoring 

To stop snoring, you must find the right combination of strategies. Some simple remedies to try include:  

  • Avoid sleeping on the back; sleeping on the side keeps the tongue from obstructing airflow
  • Lose that weight, especially if you weren’t snoring before gaining weight
  • Don’t drink alcohol before bedtime; make sure last call is at least four hours before you go to bed
  • Get at least seven hours of sleep at night; not getting enough sleep makes muscles floppy and leads to snoring
  • Try raising the head of your bed by four inches; if this doesn’t work, try a wedge pillow next
  • Kick the pets out of bed; pet dander can irritate your nasal allergies
  • Change out the bed pillow regularly to keep dust mites (that can lead to snoring) at bay
  • Hydrate by drinking plenty of water that helps keep nasal passages moist and unclogged by keeping phlegm flowing and less sticky

Luna is bringing together individuals, communities, and researchers to better understand life, including genetic traits like snoring. Directly drive health discovery by joining the Tell Us About You study. The more we come together to contribute health data for the greater good, the quicker and more efficient research will scale, and improve the quality of life for us all.  

Click here to get started.