List of Jewish Genetic Diseases
The discovery of DNA and subsequent research has opened a new door of understanding into health, helping to uncover the genetic reasons for many diseases. Moment has put together this guide to help Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews learn more about this subject which does not receive enough attention. But these diseases are not limited to Jews. Due to the whims of history, genetic mutations can be found in anyone.
Ashkenazi Genetic Diseases
Many recessive diseases caused by genetic mutations among Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe are disabling and fatal. They occur when a fetus inherits two mutations in the same gene, one from each parent. Tests can determine if people carry the common mutations, and prenatal testing is possible for all the diseases included on the list below. Cystic Fibrosis and Spinal Muscular Atrophy, while slightly more prevalent among Jewish Caucasian populations than among other Caucasian populations, are not primarily considered “Jewish diseases.” If both parents are carriers of the same disease there is a one in four chance with each pregnancy of having an affected fetus. This is the autosomal recessive pattern of inheritance where both individuals must carry the same disease in order to be at risk of having an affected child.Recent research also indicates Crohns disease, Ulcertative Colitis, and a mutation which increases the chance of developing Parkinson’s disease are all more commonly found in Ashkenazi Jews. Bloom Syndrome Bloom Syndrome hinders normal growth. Children typically reach a maximum of five feet at maturity. Other symptoms include increased respiratory and ear infections, redness of the face, infertility in males and an increased risk of cancer.
Apparently normal at birth, babies with Canavan Disease develop an enlarged head, mental retardation, feeding difficulties and seizures. Although many die in the first year of life, some live into their teens.Familial Dysautonomia This dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system has been found only in Ashkenazi Jews. Occurring in infancy, symptoms include the inability to produce tears when crying, poor weight gain, indifference to pain, excessive sweating, gastrointestinal problems and incorrect perceptions of heat and taste. Before 1960, approximately 50 percent of patients died before age five, but today that same percentage reaches age 30.
Fanconi Anemia Type C
All five types of Fanconi Anemia, a red and white blood cell and platelet deficiency, are inherited, but Type C is the most common in Ashkenazi Jews. Although symptoms are highly variable, physical abnormalities such as limb defects, bone marrow failure, and increased cancer risks are common. Many children who are diagnosed with Type C do not survive beyond young adulthood.
Gaucher Disease, Type 1
Caused by an enzyme deficiency, the symptoms of Gaucher Disease are variable and can present any time from early childhood to adulthood. Gaucher disease type 1 causes orthopedic problems and blood abnormalities. Gaucher disease is treatable with enzyme replacement therapy.
Mucolipidosis (ML IV)
Its first symptoms are severe developmental delays and clouding of the cornea of the eye during early infancy. As it progresses, ML IV cripples the central nervous system. Most afflicted children never walk and some become severely retarded by age three.
Among its five variations, only Type A is more frequent among Ashkenazi Jews. By six months, infants with Type A experience difficulty feeding and recurrent vomiting, and develop enlarged spleens and livers. Children with Niemann-Pick disease type A usually die by age three.
A severe neurodegenerative disease, the most common symptom is the development of a cherry-red spot on the back of the eye, which occurs when a child is four to eight months old. Most children are totally debilitated with seizures, blindness, and spasticity by age three and die by age five.Other diseases of connection to Ashkenazi Jews are Glycogen Storage Disease type 1A, Maple Syrup Urine Disease, Familial Hyperinsulinism, Joubert Syndrome Type 2, Lipoamide Dehydrogenase Deficiency (E3), Nemaline Myopathy, Usher Syndrome Type 3, Usher Syndrom Type I, and Walker Warburg Syndrome.NOTE: There are also diseases which are more prevalent in people with Ashkenazi Jewish heritage. They are autosomal dominant, where an individual carrying a mutation is affected, and then has a 50% chance to pass on the mutation to his/her children, including:Torsion Dystonia Affecting movement control, Torsion Dystonia generally shows up between the ages of six and 16 and affects the muscular development of limbs. Approximately one in 3,000 Ashkenazis is likely to develop it, and symptoms sometimes develop when there is no family history.
5-10% of breast and ovarian cancers are hereditary. Of those, ~85% are due to mutations in the BRCA genes, which cause hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. 1 in 40 Ashkenazi Jews carry a mutation in the BRCA genes. There are three specific mutations (two in the BRCA1 gene and one in the BRCA2 gene) in the Ashkenazi Jewish population. If an Ashkenazi Jewish woman carries a BRCA mutation, most of the time it is one of the three founder mutations previously discussed.
Sephardi Genetic Diseases
Sephardi Jews, whose ancestry can be traced to North African and Mediterranean countries, including Spain and Greece, suffer from the same genetic diseases as other populations in these countries. Jews of Sephardi ancestry also have their own set of distinct carrier screening tests based on their country of origin.
This disorder reducing the amount of hemoglobin can result in severe anemia in the first two years of life or in a milder case later in life. Roughly one in 30 people of Mediterranean descent carries the gene; one in 3,600 develops it.
Familial Mediterranean Fever
As many as one in 200 North African and Iraqi Jews, Armenians and Turks has the disease, distinguished by 12 to 72-hour bouts of fever. Symptoms usually start between ages five and 15.
Glucose-6-PhosphateDehydrogenase Deficiency (G6PD)
This common human enzyme deficiency affects an estimated 400 million people worldwide, and is transmitted from a carrier mother to her male infant. The disease can manifest itself as life-long hemolytic anemia or bouts of it. Some experience no symptoms at all, although certain oxidative drugs and infections as well as fava beans can induce it.
Glycogen Storage Disease, Type III (Cori’s Disease or Forbes Disease)
This disease prevents the liver and muscle from breaking down stored glycogen to glucose. Some develop hypoglycemia, an enlarged liver and weak muscles. Roughly one in 5,400 North African Jews has the disease.Other diseases of connection to Sephardi origin include: Alpha-Thalassemia, Ataxia Telangiectasia, Corticosterone Methyloxidase Type II Deficiency, Costeff Optical Atrophy, Cystic Fibrosis (CF), Familial Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, Familial Tumoral Calcinosis (Normophosphatemic Type), Inclusion Body Myophy Type 2B, Metachromic Leukodystrophy, Polyglandular Deficiency Syndrome, Pseudocholinesterase Deficiency, Spinal Muscular Athrophy (SMA) and Wolman Disease.MIZRAHI GENETIC DISEASESMizrahi, the term for “Eastern,” in Hebrew, generally refers to Jews of Persian (Iranian) and Middle Eastern heritage. Jews of Mizrahi ancestry also have their own set of carrier screening tests based on their country of origin.
About Moment: For more than four decades, Moment readers have participated in a spirited conversation about life from a Jewish perspective—a conversation that started more than 5,000 years ago. They like us because we’re different—we’re non-denominational, totally independent, and utterly committed to excellent journalism. We transcend ideology and allow for a genuine exchange of ideas. We’re always up-to-date in the latest in Jewish culture, politics and religion. Moment was founded in 1975 by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel and writer Leonard Fein. Its editor and publisher today is journalist Nadine Epstein.