What if I said to you that you could take steps now to greatly change the course of your future health, to reduce your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure or even Alzheimer’s. Guess what? This technology is already here, and it is accessible to you – it is personal genomic testing.
This may sound like a complicated phase, but in reality it has been around for quite a long time, but has just become publicly available in recent years. An area of this testing that I find particularly exciting, is tests for ‘actionable‘ genes. This is huge news – what this means is that we all carry mutations or ‘polymophisms’ in our genetic code, that can make us more susceptible various health conditions. Actionable means that by understanding our individual genetic risks, we can take steps to reduce that risk through things as simple as diet, nutritional supplements and lifestyle changes. This opens up a whole new world in health promotion and medicine.
In this article, I am not talking about some of the big genes, such as the BRCA genes strongly associated with breast cancer, or the genes strongly predictive of Huntington’s disease. Instead, we are looking at genes which affect our risk of conditions such as: cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, high blood pressure, adult-onset lactose intolerance, obesity and even depression, and also genes which affect our detoxification capacity, our body’s response to a high saturated fat diet, and risk of inflammatory health conditions.
In practice, what this means is that by identifying a risk factor through your genetics, you can take action now to greatly reduce your risk of future illness. Just to be clear, none of these genetic polymorphisms predict your future health, but only a susceptibility.
Here are a few examples of genes that can be tested:
1) Prevention of neural tube defects, miscarriage and later cardiovascular disease: The MTHFR gene encodes the enzyme methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, whose primary role is in metabolizing dietary folate. Most people are aware of the necessity of folate in pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects, and recent studies have found that even paternal intake of folate is essential for a healthy pregnancy. If you found that you carried the genetic variant of the MTHFR gene that affects your metabolism of folate, it would be enormously beneficial to take more folate (in the methylated form ‘5-MTHF’) pre-pregnancy to reduce your risk of pregnancy complications. Knowing this information pre-pregnancy could reduce your risk of miscarriage, Down’s syndrome and neural tube defects.
2) Reduction of Alzheimer’s risk: ApoE is one of the most studied genes, as it affects cholesterol metabolism, and the risk of developing late-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have shown that 60-80% off people with late-onset Alzheimer’s disease carry the high-risk allele (called E4). The positive side of finding this information out early, is that adopting an anti-inflammatory diet, intake of high-dose omega-3 fish oils, and curucumin supplements can greatly lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Lifestyle changes can make a huge impact on genetic expression.
3) Liver detoxification and hormone balance: The CYP1A2 gene encodes one of the cytochrome p450 phase I detoxification enzymes that metabolizes nutrients, drugs and also hormones. Testing for this gene polymorphism will indicate if you are either a ‘fast metabolizer’ or ‘slow metabolizer’. The fast metabolizers are the ones who are at risk with this gene, as they more rapidly convert drugs, toxins and hormones into toxic intermediates. If their phase II detoxification system is at all impaired, or if they are prone to digestive upset or constipation, these toxic intermediates build up in the body creating symptoms – headaches, fatigue, brain-fog, and also can impair hormone metabolism resulting in PMS, hormone imbalance, and may contribute to hormonal cancer risk. Treatment of patients with this polymorphism is to greatly reduce their toxin exposure, increase intake of cruciferous vegetables (the broccoli family of vegetables), and lead a low-toxin lifestyle.
4) Personality traits – tendency to negativity: The ADRA2B gene encodes three alpha-2-adrenergic receptors which play an important role in neurotransmitter levels, and hence your mood and emotions. With this gene, the polymorphism is different – there is either a deletion of one part of the code, or an inclusion. Those who carry the deletion, interestingly have a stronger tendency towards negativity – being more likely to perceive negative words, pick out angry faces in the crowd, notice potential hazards or risks, and tend to be more anxious. There is an upside to this genetic issue though, in that these people tend also to be much more empathetic. How can we use this information on a proactive level? First, is for those who have this genetic polymorphism to be more compassionate towards themselves, perhaps finding work or a career in a field that emphasizes empathy to use this trait as an advantage, and also in recognizing this tendency towards negativity and working on more gratitude and acceptance.
I hope that you find this information as exciting as I do! This is the future of medicine, in treating your individual genetic susceptibilities to prevent illness and optimize your health. I am inviting you to take this opportunity to further your health, and take advantage of this wonderful new addition to the services at the clinic.
If you are interested in personal genomic testing and assessment, please contact the clinic to inquire about currently available testing.