With the advent of more popularized versions of genetic testing such as Ancestry.com and 23andme, more people than ever are getting to know their genetic makeup and becoming aware of potential risks for their health. I am an huge advocate of this, both for ancestry and health purposes. For example, I found out that I’m not partially Native American, as I always thought, and instead I’m a combination of English, French and Spanish ancestry. I also discovered a few proclivities towards health issues that already have manifested themselves in the lives of my family or myself. I am proactively treating these issues and living a much happier and healthier life.
I am sad when I see friends constantly plagued with health issues but who have not taken the opportunity to be aware of their genetic framework because they are just putting a bandaid on the underlying issues that are fueling their issues. Life doesn’t have to be that way, and you can live with more knowledge and attention to the genes that sustain you and also create some issues for you and your family members.
Our bodies are sustained and disease prevented by our genes, but some genetic variances (or what scientists call “SNPs”) make a significant difference in our health and in our personalities. Once you understand the SNPs and how to interpret these, you are well on your way towards healthier living and the prevention of disease through intentional diet choices and some supplementation. For example, I discovered that I carry a fairly common homozygous genetic variance called MTHFR (don’t try to say that out loud!) that decreases my gene methylation process by approximately 70%, preventing my brain and body cells from forming and operating at maximum capacity (my friends will tell you that this explains a lot!). What difference does that make? I’m susceptible to all kinds of brain and body issues, from depression to Parkinson’s Disease. Concerning, but good to know.
That can be scary news when isolated from the good news about genetic variances — we are not doomed! First, genetic variances are rarely determinative of any specific outcome (just because I am homozygous on MTHFR does not mean I will have Parkinson’s Disease, for example). Rather than bury our heads in the sand and deal with what comes our way, it is better to be aware, relax, and take action. Genes are not our destiny necessarily. There are ways that we can reverse, treat or arrest these variances from having control over our current or future health. We can eat and drink more intentionally, we can live a more balanced lifestyle with sleep and exercise, and we can strategically choose some vitamins and supplements that address these issues. After a few years of reading and research, I discovered how to lead an happier and more energetic life by taking these 5 steps.
Five Steps to Increasing Energy by Knowing and Treating Your Genes:
1. Sign up and complete your Nutrition Genome profile. You can do 23ndme.com, and follow the steps below in #2. 23andme.com provides you with ancestral and health information, a great value at $199. However, 23andme.com does not have the data and privacy protections you will enjoy with NutritionGenome.com, and NutritionGenome interprets the DNA technical information for you and provides you with diet, blood testing, pharmacology, and health notices all in one report, eliminating the steps below in #2 as well as the substantial amount of self-interpretation. I highly recommend Nutrition Genome then do Ancestry.com for the ancestral information. Regardless of the service you choose, you will spit in a vial, which is harder than it seems, send it off, and then receive an online report in 4-6 weeks.
2. Upload the technical report from 23andme.com to Strategene.com to learn your key genetic variances. Strategene will walk you through these simple steps. The Srategene report from Dr. Ben Lynch, functional medicine doctor and author of the book Dirty Genes, will unlock the important information you need to know about your genes, allowing you to take actionable steps to live a more energetic and long life. In particular, you should pay careful attention to those SNPs where you are homozygous (+ / +, meaning both parents gave you that gene gift) because these have the most impact on your health and lifestyle. Also note that Promethese.com has an additional report which contains helpful informationon pharmacology and other health issues. For example, I discovered that my body does not process antacids quickly, which has born out in my real life observation of my reaction to TUMS or Prilosec. Once you know your SNPs, you are ready to take action and some control back over your life and future.
3. Read Dirty Genes by Dr. Ben Lynch. This book will provide you with a general diet and lifestyle plan to address genetic variance issues, and specific instructions for addressing the most common and impactful SNPs: MTHRFR, COMT, DAO, MAOA, GST/GPX, NOS3, and PEMT.
4. Choose your diet to address genetic issues and supplement to assist your body in functioning despite your genetic makeup. I recommend two steps here. First, begin with the list of recommendations for the above SNPs in the book by Dr. Lynch. If you have variances not addressed by the book, you also can hire a nutritionist who is knowledgeable about genetics (“functional nutritionist”) to help you develop a diet and supplement plan that addresses these underlying variance issues. I recommend an integrated medicine consultation to help you understand your variances and suggest appropriate supplementation. A service is available here. For example, I have struggled all of my life with a severe type of indigestion that creates a choking sensation when I eat stringy meats such as steak or roast. I completely eliminated this from my life with a daily probiotic suggested by my nutritionist, The Gene Queen (see Sarah’s very helpful podcast My Gene Queen).
One note: Be careful about purchasing supplements and vitamins at drug stores or discount stores like Walmart or Target. Many of these are a waste of money because they are not manufactured in ways that deliver the nutrition to your body effectively. Use a reputable company like SeekingHealth.com or one recommended by your nutritionist. I order mine from Seeking Health on a recurring cycle so that I do not have to monitor these purchases regularly.
5. Use Notes and the app Cronometer on your mobile device to keep track of your diet and supplement goals. After I read Dirty Genes and consulted with Sarah, I made a list in my phone’s Notes of foods and supplements I must eat every day. I review it before I choose my lunch and dinner, and I don’t go to bed until I have at least had those basic foods in my diet. I also track my diet and all vitamins I am receiving from my food using the excellent app Cronometer. I look for the trends in my nutrition, noticing what vitamins or electrolytes I am tending to miss in my regular diet.