In the age of personalisation, from curated Spotify playlists to tailored shopping recommendations, there’s a rising interest in a form of personalisation much more fundamental to our existence – our DNA.
DNA testing, once a tool reserved for forensic investigations and paternity tests, has found its way into the mainstream consciousness, and is now being harnessed to decode the secrets of our genetic blueprint.
Our genes, the ultimate dataset, contain intricate details about how our bodies function, why we are the way we are, and what is needed to help us thrive. Understanding your genetic makeup can demystify many aspects of your health and wellbeing, cutting out the trial and error approach to finding what works best for your body.
This article will delve into the world of genetic testing, exploring its numerous benefits and how understanding your genetic blueprint can be a game-changer in optimising your health.
Decoding your genetic blueprint
Genetic testing is a powerful tool that unlocks the mysteries of our DNA, giving us insight into how our bodies function at a fundamental level. While genetic testing is often associated with identifying disease risks, it can also be used to understand how a person’s body metabolises hormones, absorbs nutrients, what their antioxidant capacity is like, how their brain functions, and so much more. In essence, it helps us build a personalised blueprint and create a health protocol that supports our unique genetic profile.
The science behind genetic testing
Our genetic material, DNA, is composed of a sequence of nucleotides, which are the building blocks of DNA. A single nucleotide polymorphism, or SNP (pronounced ‘snip’), is a variation at a single position in a DNA sequence among individuals. For example, a SNP may replace the nucleotide cytosine (C) with the nucleotide thymine (T) in a certain stretch of DNA. These SNPs are the most common type of genetic variation among people.
Each SNP represents a difference in a single DNA building block, called a nucleotide. SNPs occur normally throughout a person’s DNA. They occur once in every 300 nucleotides on average, which means there are roughly 10 million SNPs in the human genome. Most commonly, these variations are found in the DNA between genes. They can act as biological markers, helping scientists locate genes that are associated with diseases.
When SNPs occur within a gene or in a regulatory region near a gene, they may play a more direct role in disease by affecting the gene’s function. SNPs can occur in both coding and non-coding regions of the genome.
Over time, as humans evolved, so did our genes. These genetic mutations, or SNPs, sometimes create an evolutionary mismatch with our modern world. This mismatch can make us more susceptible to diseases or conditions, because our bodies haven’t had enough time to adapt.
For example, certain genetic mutations that once helped us survive in a different environment thousands of years ago may now make us more susceptible to conditions like diabetes or heart disease in today’s world.
Your genetic makeup affects everything from hormone metabolism and nutrient absorption to antioxidant capacity and brain function. Understanding these genetic variations can help us create a personalised health protocol that supports your unique genetic profile.
For example, some people may have a genetic variation that makes them less efficient at metabolising certain hormones, which can affect their overall hormonal balance. Others may have a genetic variation that affects their ability to absorb certain nutrients, which can have a significant impact on their nutritional status and overall health.
By understanding these genetic variations, we can tailor a health protocol that supports your unique needs, helping you optimise your health and well-being.
Types of genetic testing
While there are several types of genetic tests, in this article, we’re focusing on genetic testing to understand the body’s function and create a personalised health protocol rather than ancestral testing to find out bloodlines. Some common types of genetic testing that can help build a personalised health protocol include:
- Nutrigenomic testing: Used to understand how one’s genetic makeup can affect the response to certain nutrients and food
- Pharmacogenomic testing: Used to help predict a person’s response to certain drugs
- Neurogenomic testing: Used to understand how genetic variations can affect brain function and mental health
- Hormonogenomic testing: Used to understand how genetic variations can affect hormone metabolism
What do genetic tests for health measure?
Genetic tests for health measure a wide range of factors that can impact your overall well-being. The MyDNA comprehensive health report, which we use in our clinic, helps you get clear on your disease risk factors and uncover your body’s baseline blueprint. This report analyses 92 genes and 113 SNPs across various categories such as digestion, energy, hormones, stress & cognitive performance, inflammation, athletic performance, MTHFR, ApoE variants, DNA protection & repair, and detoxification.
Below are some of the key areas that are analysed in the MyDNA comprehensive health report.
Risk factors for diseases
Genetic tests can identify SNPs associated with an increased risk for diseases such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, Alzheimer’s, and coeliac disease. For example, the ApoE gene variant is associated with a higher risk of Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease.
Genetic variations can affect how your body metabolises hormones like oestrogen. For example, certain SNPs in the CYP1B1 gene can lead to an increased risk of developing hormone-related cancers due to the way it metabolises oestrogen.
Nutrient metabolism and requirements
Your genetic makeup can affect how your body metabolises and requires various nutrients, including protein, carbs, fats, B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin D, choline, betaine, vitamin A, vitamin E, k2, manganese, magnesium, iron, selenium, potassium, zinc, copper, and fibre. For example, certain SNPs in the MTHFR gene can affect the metabolism of folate and other B vitamins.
Genetic tests can also identify your sensitivity to toxins such as mycotoxins, xenoestrogens, ethanol, formaldehyde, benzene, pesticides, and heavy metals. For example, variations in the GSTM1 gene can affect your body’s ability to detoxify and remove harmful substances.
Certain genetic variations can affect your body’s inflammatory response. As an example, variations in the TNF-alpha gene can lead to an increased propensity for inflammation.
Your genetic makeup can also affect your body’s antioxidant capacity, including the production of glutathione and polyphenols, and your propensity to oxidative stress. For instance, variations in the SOD2 gene can affect your body’s ability to neutralise free radicals and reduce oxidative stress.
Genetic tests can also help understand how your body produces energy. For example, variations in the PGC-1alpha gene can affect your mitochondrial function and energy production.
Stress and cognitive performance
Genetic variations can affect your memory, response to stress (including cortisol production and metabolism), mood, and anxiety. One common variation is in the COMT gene, which can affect your body’s ability to metabolise dopamine and other neurotransmitters, affecting your mood and stress response.
Your genetic makeup can also affect your athletic performance and what type of exercise provides true stress relief – cardio or weight training. An example of a genetic variation here is in the ACTN3 gene, which can affect your muscle fibre composition and athletic performance.
Methylation is a crucial biochemical process that affects the function of DNA, proteins, and lipids in your body. Genetic variations can affect the metabolism of nutrients involved in methylation, such as folate, B2, B6, B12, betaine, and choline. One common variation is in the MTHFR gene, which can affect the conversion of homocysteine to methionine, a key step in the methylation process.
DNA protection and repair
Your genetic makeup can also affect your body’s ability to protect and repair DNA, such as variations in the XRCC1 gene.
ApoE gene variants can affect your risk for diseases like Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease. However, this information is only provided for people who will proactively do something to improve their health as it isn’t always helpful, especially for worriers.
Genetic tests can also identify other factors such as caffeine metabolism and lactose tolerance. For example, variations in the CYP1A2 gene can affect your body’s ability to metabolise caffeine.
Who should consider genetic testing?
Genetic testing is ideal for individuals keen on understanding their disease risk factors or refining their health protocols for optimal well-being. It can help tailor one’s lifestyle, diet, exercise, and supplementation regimen based on their unique genetic makeup.
However, caution is advised for individuals who tend not to act on data or are prone to worrying, especially concerning the ApoE gene and Alzheimer’s risk, given the stress-disease connection. Knowing your genetic risk factors can be stressful, and if you aren’t prepared to make changes to your lifestyle or health protocols, it mightn’t be beneficial, so discuss any concern you might have with your practitioner.
Understanding your genetic profile is crucial for personalised health and wellness. It empowers you to make informed decisions about your diet, exercise, and supplementation, optimising your health and well-being. However, a proactive mindset and readiness to make necessary lifestyle changes are essential.
Ultimately, genetic testing is a key tool to unlock your full health potential. If you’re keen to refine your health protocols, consider it a crucial step on your journey.