Is genetic testing the future of health?
Could studying your DNA really help get your diet, fitness and beauty routine in check? Here’s what the science says.
There’s something quite vulnerable about sending off a swab of your DNA to the lab. The action feels like a scene from CSI: rubbing an elongated cotton bud on the inside of your mouth for 60 seconds, then sealing your sample in a plastic tube with your unique number stickered on the side. Is this really the lengths I’ll go to for better health and a more youthful complexion? Definitely! But first, let’s look at the science.
What are your genes?
Quite simply, these are the segments that make up your DNA. “Your genes can be configured in thousands of different combinations which make up your genetic code,” explains Dr Daniel Meyersfeld of Dnalysis Biotechnology in Joburg. “Your code gives instructions to make the proteins you need. Variations in your code can change the way your body functions – that’s what we study.”
how does this help you?
“It’s clear that when it comes to diet regimens, fitness plans or medications, what works for one person doesn’t work for another,” explains Dr Meyersfeld. “With the studying of genes, we get a better understanding of why this happens. And, using that knowledge, we can now personalise a weight loss programme or a fitness routine just for you. Pre-empting any health issues can empower you.”
Be warned: not all genetic tests are made equal. While there are kits available online, it’s the analysis of the information by a professional, within the context of your likes, dislikes and lifestyle, that will make a difference. Googling your results can be overwhelming, not to mention confusing and possibly inaccurate.
how it help s your health
“Your DNA is the genetic blueprint that you are born with. It doesn’t change. It’s the foundation on which your body is built and your cells function,” says Dr Meyersfeld. “But while the genes can’t change, the effects of the genes can be changed by implementing modifications to your diet and lifestyle.”
Put simply, changing your environment according to your genes can benefit you. Dr Meyersfeld explains with these examples: “We all know broccoli is good for you, but for some people it’s even more beneficial because it plays a critical role in your body. Smoking is bad for everyone, but in some people it’s downright dangerous.”
The tests are comprehensive, looking at all aspects including heart health, detoxification, inflammation, oxidative stress, bone health, insulin sensitivity and food responsiveness. Knowing which areas to prioritise helps you pinpoint your habits and change them accordingly. If, like in my case, bone health is a high priority, actions like upping calcium and vitamin D intake is recommended. Another suggestion? Reduce caffeine intake to less than 300mg a day as it can influence bone loss.
how it affects your diet
The reports detail each gene, prioritising them in such a way that makes it easy to understand when you go through it with a trained dietician. Your genes categorise you into three different eating plans: low carb, low fat or Mediterranean. “These eating plans are then personalised according to your results,” explains registered dietician Jessica Pieterse. “We look at factors like your obesity risk, eating behaviour and taste preferences amongst others.” For me, the sweet tooth gene rated moderately. “Certain genes play a role in determining your predisposition for a sweet tooth,” adds Jessica. “But knowing this about yourself means that you can make good decisions about what to eat. Your sweet tooth will never go away, but it can go into hibernation. Like stoking a fire, the more wood you add to it, the more it will flare up.”
Other factors that play a role in weight loss include how your body reacts to carbs, saturated fats (like butter), monounsaturated fats (nuts, seeds, olive oil), your feelings of satiety after a meal and your circadian rhythms. “Sleep reduction can have a negative effect on your weight management,” explains Jessica. “So if this shows up as an area of concern genetically, then you’ll need to look at ways to correct the rhythms through good habits or treatments.”
how it Works in sport
Exercise is also a major factor in losing weight and achieving good health. The diet report details the best exercise plan for your genes, too. But if you take sport seriously, there’s a full test that focuses on injury risk, recovery time, strength performance, endurance, metabolism, salt sensitivity and the best time of the day to exercise. These are ideal to get the most from your fitness programme, which is further enhanced with diet and supplementation advice.
how it changes your complexion
Anika Barnard of Skin Rejuvenation Technologies, developers of the skincare range Optiphi, explains, “We look at variations on 18 genes involved in ageing, including collagen formation, protection from the sun, inflammation and protection from oxidative stress. From the results, we can recommend lifestyle, nutrition and cosmeceutical changes to help you look younger for longer.”
According to my report, loss of firmness rated high. Anika’s recommendations? “Use a high SPF and go for ingredients like retinoids, ceramides, vitamin C, peptides and hyaluronic acid. Also, include oral supplements of hydrolysed type-1 collagen, vitamin C, iron and vitamin D.”
the future of dna tests?
“These findings have great benefits to the healthcare industry,” says Dr Meyersfeld. “Professionals can now see how different people metabolise medications, giving doctors the insight into how certain drugs will perform on you and what the possible side effects will be. The biggest uptake has been in the psychiatry field, where patients can be treated on an individual level without falling victim to a one-sizefits-all approach.”