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.

Glamour (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - Words by MICHELLE BROWN­LEE SMITH

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.”

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