It’s in my genes

Reading time: 9 min

By Tracy Maher, editor of BabyYumYum.

Ever wondered why your sister sheds her extra kilos on the same no-carb diet as you, but your stubborn weight won’t budge? Or why cycling comes as naturally to your friend as swimming does to a fish, while you struggle to push the pedals? What about the look you get from other people when you swallow four headache pills while your colleague doses off on a half?

There are more questions than there are answers when it comes to understanding just what makes us similar as a species but differentiates us as individuals. At the dinner table you may nod your head knowingly when someone suggests it’s “all in the genes”, but what do you really know about genes? Whose genes, you wonder, silently admitting that you know more about high-waist and skinny jeans than you do about those you inherited from your mother and father.

For many of us, our last interaction with genetics was in high school biology class. It then went the way of algebra … we forgot about it but know it has some importance, somehow, some way, somewhere in the science of things. Avid crime series watchers will know that unsolved crimes committed decades ago can be reopened and solved thanks largely to the progress in genetic testing. Pregnant women of today are aware of the battery of tests they can undergo to ensure a healthy baby compared to what was available to their mothers and grandmothers. A cheek swab here, a blood test there and lab technologists can know almost all there is to know about you.

Behind the scenes

After 13 years of international biological collaboration in the form of the Human Genome Project (HGP), the complete sequence of all 3.2 million base pairs in the human genome was mapped and published in April 2003. It was discovered that there are between 20 000 and 25 000 genes in the human genome and that, like your fingerprint, the genetic code or makeup of every individual is unique. This chemical code of our DNA comprises four nucleotides: adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine – or A, C, G and T – in unique combinations that can determine something as simple as the colour of your eyes and hair to how your body metabolises medications.

“DNAlysis brings the science to you in a way that you can understand and, more importantly, help you implement in your lifestyle choices.”

Analysing your DNA

You may not be able to do anything about your particular ACGT combinations but understanding them can have a great impact on your lifestyle choices and DNAlysis Biotechnology gets you one step closer to doing just that. They offer a comprehensive range of tests that analyse your nutrigenomics (how nutrients and genes react) as well as pharmacogenomics (relationship between genes and metabolic response to drugs). All it takes is one buccal (inside your cheek) swab and you have insight into how your body operates on a cellular level.

How it works

You will receive a kit with everything you need to get going. Take the swab and swipe gently but firmly along the inside of your cheek for a minute. Without touching the end, put the swab inside the container and seal with the coded sticker. Complete the form and place all items back in the box, seal and return to the DNAlysis laboratories. I was anxiously waiting to be contacted by one of the practitioners in the DNAlysis network (countrywide) to give me feedback, when Helen de Beer, an expert in nutrition and nutrigenomics, called to set up an appointment with me to explain my results. Note: You’ll need to block off some time as the feedback session is lengthy, but thorough and well worth every second.

dna health documents-min

What I learned from each report

Each report is detailed, colourful and easy to read (as easy as the science can make it). It provides the biological area tested for, the genetic variation, your genetic code (for example CC, AG, AG, etc.) as well as the gene impact for you (for example high, medium, low). Beyond that, the reports supply you with lifestyle recommendations in accordance with your genetic profile. It is impossible to go through everything in such a short space, but I can share the most meaningful things I learnt from each report at this stage, based on my reasons for having the tests done.

DNA Health: I have always struggled with severe joint inflammation and pain, but just recently it became so bad I could barely walk – no exaggeration. I contemplated booking an appointment with a rheumatologist and almost cried when I was told the first available appointment was at the end of July. A colleague advised me to try turmeric (curcumin) and it really has worked. I wanted to see if my report flagged inflammation as a problem, and it did – along with several recommendations, one of which included taking curcumin.

Other high-priority notes about my genotype include:

  • There is no increased risk for cardiovascular disease.
  • It suggests an increased focus on B vitamin-rich foods to help my body regenerate damaged cells.
  • My body has an increased risk for oxidative stress-driven disorders, which can be associated with certain cancers.

DNA Sport: As a child, I was always curious why I could run the medium/long distance races, but my sister was better at sprints and hurdles. My report explains that I will respond better to endurance exercise than strength and that I have a high soft tissue injury risk, as well as a slow recovery rate. Considering I have struggled with knee injury since my teens, it is interesting to see how all the puzzle pieces slot into place. As I am not a seasoned athlete, the report recommends two hard sport-specific sessions for me (30 to 60 minutes), with recovery sessions built around these.

Other high-priority notes about my genotype when it comes to sport include:

  • Sufficient sleep of around eight hours per day, as well as a daily nap (yay!).
  • Focusing on foods that reduce inflammation and oxidative stress.
  • Avoiding any kind of smoking.

DNA Oestrogen: I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with this one, but I have the questions most women ask. Are there any risk factors I should be concerned about when it comes to hormones and cancers? The report provides nutritional support suggestions for moderate or high gene impact results to support oestrogen pathways.

These recommendations supported what I learned from the diet and health tests:

  • Eat cruciferous veggies, soy, legumes, flax seeds, whole grains and seeds.
  • Include enough magnesium and vitamin E, as well as calcium D-glucarate, green tea polyphenols and … once again … curcumin.

DNA Diet: Like many of us, I’ve worked my way through a list of diets: low-carb, high-protein, Banting, and, of course, juicing. I was very interested to see what kind of diet my body would best respond to. Most of the factors tested for (such as obesity, fats, carbohydrates, satiety,) were prioritised as low to medium, aside from sweet tooth and circadian rhythms, which both rated as moderate risk. The Mediterranean diet is recommended as the best possible diet to manage my weight goals, as well as my health requirements.

DNA Skin: I felt prepared for this test. After all, I have blonde hair and blue eyes and turn bright pink if I even wink at the sun – and many years of sports without sun protection has left me freckled. I was expecting to be warned of premature ageing, wrinkles and melanoma. This tests for a range of skin concerns from firmness and elasticity to sun damage and repair, to skin sensitivity. I was prioritised as low risk in two areas and medium for the following:

  • Firmness and elasticity (recommendation: vigilance about UV exposure and tanning).
  • Sun damage, protection and repair (recommendation: a lipid and ceramide-rich moisturiser and a flavonoid-rich diet).
  • Oxidative stress (recommendation: eat a variety of fruits and veggies, especially red berries).
  • Inflammation (Recommendation: as with the health test, a diet containing omega-3 fatty acids, curcumin, ginger, resveratrol and zinc, as well as a good probiotic).

mygeneRx report

This was one of the reports I was anxiously awaiting as I do take chronic mediation. The mygeneRx test shows how your body metabolises around 150 prescription medications: can you take the prescribed dose (or more or less); if a specific medication has a reduced efficacy for you (and recommends an alternative in the group). For example, my report recommends Ritalin be used with caution and that Strattera would be a better alternative. Another medication I should be cautious about using is Warfarin – a well-known blood thinner. Note: The intention here is not to self-medicate, but to give this report to your physician, who can then discuss the most suitable medications and dosages for your genotype.

Before you think this is beyond your reach, DNAlysis brings the science to you in a way that you can understand and, more importantly, help you implement in your lifestyle choices. I highly recommend this kind of testing to everyone who wants a deeper understanding of why their body reacts the way it does. Also, you can choose the tests you want done, be it the whole package or individual tests based on your areas of concern or interest.

Where to now? I did a little research about Mediterranean meals, created a shopping list and am waiting for the new month. I have made a copy of the mygeneRx report to discuss with my physician at my next appointment.

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