Hack your Genes for Better Health
Updated: Sep 26, 2020
Ever wondered why two people can follow the same eating and exercise plan yet one loses weight and the other does not? It doesn't mean that the person who didn't lose the weight is cheating or not trying as hard. Research has shown that the difference is due to your genetics and the interaction between your genetics and your environment. This interaction is called epigenetics. But your genes play a much smaller role and in fact is only responsible for 10%. 90% of our health is based on lifestyle factors. And what is even more compelling is that our lifestyle factors (exercise, diet, gut health, hormone health, exposure to toxins, stress management and etc) can alter our genes. So even if you aren't born with great genes you can turn off those 'bad' genes by adopting a healthy lifestyle. You have a significant amount of control over your health. This is one of reasons why it is important to have your genome tested by a reputable clinical genomic testing company.
What is Genomics?
Genomics is different from Genetics. Genetics is looking at one gene that will cause a disease such as Sickle Cell or Cystic Fibrosis. Genomics is looking at small changes in DNA that by themselves do not cause disease but in combination can show your unique risk or predisposition to a chronic disease. Most are modifiable by lifestyle factors such as nutrition, exercise, sleep and stress reduction.
We all have between 20,000-25,000 genes in our genome. Everyone has the same set of genes, but each one can vary by a few letters (called alleles). Changes in these genes are referred to as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) or gene variants. Research has shown that there are around 80 million known SNPs. These variations influence your biochemistry and your metabolic and inflammatory pathways. They are neither good nor bad but makes us who we are.
SNPs are the most frequent type of variation in the human genome and help to determine your susceptibility to common health issues such as weight, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, depression, osteoporosis, and cancer etc. We have 10-12 million genetic SNPs but most do not have any medical significance. Genomic testing allows you and your doctor to evaluate your unique genetic predispositions to these and other diseases and then to work together to implement a targeted, customized intervention plan.
Some SNP Examples
If you have the APOE2 aberrant allele then the popular ketogenic, high fat diet will not work for you. These individuals will gain weight if their saturated fat intake is greater than 22%.
If you have the risk allele for FKBP5 then you have an increased response to stress and an elevation of cortisol.
If you have the COMT risk allele, then not only could you have issues with dopamine but also with your metabolism of estrogen. You might be more prone to push your estrogen metabolism toward the inflammatory pathway which could potentially increase your risk of breast or prostate cancer.
Be wary of companies that invite you to send in your 23andMe raw data that they will analyze for a fee. Their analysis may show many risk gene variants and you will be advised to take a long list of supplements that will decrease your chance of acquiring the potential health concern. Some of these supplements that are seen as health promoting can potentially be harmful and you may end up spending hundreds even thousands of dollars in nutritional supplements.
We can’t be sure that the high-risk gene variants cause disease; all we really know is that a variant was statistically associated with a disease in the particular population tested, and correlation does not prove causation.
The expression of one gene may be affected by other genes and by environmental and lifestyle factors. Having a gene associated with a disease does not mean that you will get that disease; the most it might do is increase the probability. Most of the SNPS that are found by your 23andMe profile have no impact on your health and do not have reliable studies. It is important to have a physician review your symptoms, and look at your labs along with your SNPS.
At The Johnson Center we utilize 3 important criteria in analyzing your genetics.
Does research show strong correlation?
Is the SNP relevant to health?
Is the SNP responsive in interventions?
And even more important is whether the risk gene is even being expressed or ‘turned on’. Lifestyle factors, or epigenetic factors, have profound influence on our genes and can turn the risk genes ‘on’ or ‘off’. There is absolutely no reason to treat a risk gene if it is not being expressed.
How can this help me?
Incorporating advanced genetic testing into patient care is what personalized medicine is all about. By looking at the SNPs that are backed by strong research and correlating these SNPS to your labs and symptoms, then a personalized wellness plan can be designed based on your genes.
For example, there is very good data on the COMT gene that is listed above. Estrogen breaks down into 4 metabolites; two are inflammatory and could increase your risk for breast cancer in women or prostate cancer in men. You want to make sure that if you have this risk allele that you do all that is necessary to push the pathway toward the noninflammatory estrogen metabolites. This can easily be done with diet, the right supplementation as well as other lifestyle changes.
I’m scared about what I might learn and would rather just let life happen. Tell me why I should take these tests?
Yes, you may have inherited many risk alleles but your genes are not your destiny. The way your genes get expressed is affected by what we call ‘genetic modifiers’, including lifestyle and environmental factors.
The benefit of getting your genes tested is that by knowing what polymorphisms you have may explain why you are not getting the results you want when you feel you are doing everything right. Knowing your genetic differences will help you to find the right lifestyle changes and motivate you to take control of your health and your future.
We are in the midst of probably the biggest revolution in biology that is going to forever transform the way we understand genetics, environment, the way the two interact, what causes disease, what contributes to health and even what causes different rates of aging. Evidence from the human genome project showed that genes only account for a fraction of diseases. Epigenetic or environmental factors act on the DNA turning genes on and off that are either promoting health and vitality or sending on down the path of poor health.
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