With the explosion of genetic testing that has now become available due to the 23andme lab testing, it’s time to elaborate more on what this testing is and how is may help us all maximize our health potential.
Firstly, 23andme is a lab that was set up by a cofounder of Google (called that name because humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes). Perhaps because she probably didn’t need the money, and hopefully because she believes everyone has the right to access information about their own ancestral genetic profile, you can literally have millions of “SNPs,” or genetic polymorphisms checked out for just $99 (or about £150 from UK including postage costs) and a simple saliva sample.
Please note that the recent FDA action simply prevented www.23andme.com from giving any health analysis, the lab is still CLIA certified and provides you with raw genetic data. There are now numerous other sites that will provide some analysis for you when you plug in your 23andme ID details into the websites, these include Dr Amy Yasko’s Know Your Genetics, Genetic Genie and MTHFRSupport.
Please note I STILL RECOMMEND EVERYONE CONSULTS A QUALIFIED PRACTITIONER when obtaining these direct-to-consumer reports online. If you are not a qualified health care practitioner, please don’t try to treat yourself based on these reports, I believe it would be unsafe and unwise – please work with a qualified health care practitioner.
At the moment this amount of genetic testing in the UK alone would probably cost £3000 or more – so suddenly, the cost has finally made “personalised medicine” or “eat (and supplement) right for your genetic type” available to many, many more people – which is a great thing, as long as the results are used safely and ethically.
I’ve heard quite a few people now express fear about finding out what genes they have or not, and I’d like to nip this fear in the bud right away and remind everyone of the revolution in understanding that geniuses Dr Jeff Bland and Dr Bruce Lipton started.
The vast majority of genes do NOT determine your health. The majority of genes do NOT control the outcome of activity inside your cells. Gene EXPRESSION is what counts. What makes a gene express and affect your biology is: the ENVIRONMENT. So how you think, feel, your diet and lifestyle on a daily basis is what affects your gene EXPRESSION.
This new field of environmental control over our genes is called EPIGENETICS and it puts YOU definitively in much more control over your health than you thought. None of us need be victims of the dogma of “genetic determinism” (ie. the belief you are a victim of your inherited genes which have ultimate control over biology).
In truth there has been an increased understanding recently that two different kinds of genetic mutations exist, “high penetrance” and “low penetrance” gene mutations. High-penetrance genetic tests are those where the link between genetic mutation and disease progression, is very strong, and identification of a specific gene mutation will in most cases result in disease progression. For example, the BRCA gene mutation that is used as a risk marker for breast cancer.
Low-penetrance genetic mutations, which by far make up the majority of our gene mutations, are minor gene variations that by themselves are insufficient to cause disease. Rather, their effect is to convey a susceptibility to disease, where the genetics will be one risk factor among many that might eventually result in onset of disease. The expression of low-penetrance gene variation is often modifiable with the appropriate dietary, medical or lifestyle intervention, and advance knowledge of the DNA can therefore mitigate disease risk if the correct interventions are implemented.
Genes mutations reported by Nutrahacker and so on above only deal with these low-penetrance genetic mutations. Some physicians would argue that even high-penetrance gene mutations can be affected by changing the environment, but in any case the key point take away is that your genetic information is POWER, so rather than being afraid note:
People who do not know their genetic polymorphisms are not likely ever to know their true health potential
Please watch the first 5 minutes of this video with the brilliant molecular biologist Dr Bruce Lipton author of the MUST READ book: The Biology of Belief. Dr Lipton explains better than anyone how how beliefs and perception can affect gene expression through the science of quantum physics.
The New Biology: From Victim to Master of Your Health! With Dr Bruce Lipton
The second genius in this arena is the pioneer of “nutrigenomics”: Dr Jeff Bland. Nutrigenomics is the study of how nutrition affects gene expression. Food is “information’ to your genes telling them whether to switch expression on or off. Dr Jeff Bland was the original founder of the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM), here world-leading physician and IFM faculty member Dr Mark Hyman explains in 2 minutes what nutrigenomics is:
What is Nutrigenomics with Dr Mark Hyman
The below is a guide to genetic testing that I wrote in 2010 in Get Fresh! Magazine – more relevant today than ever. For those who want to understand more what “SNPs” are, and want a 101 guide to genetics – this should tell you everything you need to know:
One of the ongoing challenges in both orthodox and holistic medicine is that there is a lack of personalisation of treatment recommendations made by practitioners. Conventional medicine treats the disease, not the whole person. Holistic medicine has improved on conventional medicine, as it at least treats the whole person – but still, in most cases, with a “one-size-fits-all” approach.
Holistic medicine still relies on therapies shown to be effective for the “average person.” Where there is research for a certain nutritional therapy, it tends to apply, epidemiologically and statistically, to the “average person” – but there is no “average person.” The “Medicine of the Mean” tells us everything we need to know about a person that does not exist! We are all biochemically different. An early pioneer of this concept was Roger J. Williams, PhD who wrote the book Biochemical Individuality in 1956. Also worthy of mention are Peter D’Adamo and his book The Blood Type Diet, Metabolic Typing by William Walcott, and lastly the work of Dr William Kelley and Dr Nicholas Gonzalez in pioneering personalised diet therapy for cancer.
The current pioneer of nutrigenomics specifically is Jeff Bland PhD who wrote: Genetic Nutritioneering:
Genetics involves the study of DNA: Deoxyribonucleic Acid. DNA is the assembly and operational guide for all living creatures on the planet. Chromosomes carry genes which contain the DNA, and there are 3 billion letters of code in the human genome. If the DNA of a single cell were unravelled, it would be two metres long. If the DNA in all of your cells were unravelled into a straight line it would reach to the sun and back − a thousand times. Genes do more than carry information. Genes literally respond to specific environments and to individual experience. Because genes respond to the environment we subject them to, the environment itself can be proactively manipulated in order to alter gene expression. Your genes are like the owner’s manual to your car; a biological instruction book written specifically for your “make and model”. Choosing the environment you subject your genes to is like choosing how you actually use your car: city driving, highway driving, off-road adventures, and so on. A “car” well suited to one environment may not be well-suited to another.
Getting to individuality
There are two equally important factors that cause disease: environmental factors (nurture) – toxins (microbes and chemicals), physical trauma, psycho-emotional factors, diet and lifestyle ans 2: Your genes (nature).
As molecular biologist Dr Bruce Lipton, PhD states in his important book, The Biology of Belief, your genes do not determine your health. Gene expression determines your health, and this is influenced by the environmental factors mentioned above. We all know that some people can smoke their entire adult lives and live to a ripe old age, while others die much sooner from diseases such as lung cancer in that specific environment. But disease is not caused by the fact that you have certain genes which make you susceptible to that illness. It is caused by a poor match between your unique genetic profile and your diet and lifestyle choices. To understand how our genes make us all individual, we need to understand the concept of “polymorphisms”.
Polymorphisms are small variations in the genetic code that have been passed through generations. Polymorphisms (along with our environment) are largely responsible for our biochemical individuality. As mentioned earlier, the most common type of polymorphism is known as a single nucleotide polymorphism, or SNP, where only one letter of the code changes, and the average person has about 3 million SNPs.
Why do polymorphisms exist?
Polymorphisms occur randomly, but they survive and are passed on to offspring because they confer some advantage in a given environment (natural selection). But by the same token, the same polymorphism may confer some disadvantages in other environments. If you buy 10,000 lottery tickets, each with different numbers, you have a much higher chance of hitting the jackpot than if you had 10,000 tickets with the same number. Similarly, diversity among offspring is the best strategy to ensure survival of at least some of your offspring, regardless of the future threats and hazards they may face. Most evolutionary biologists believe that the biggest driving force behind diversity is the pressure exerted by countless microbial epidemics. Only about 3% of your DNA actually codes for “you”; by contrast more than 30% of your DNA is of viral origin. In other words, viral infections can cause DNA mutations.
Genetic profiling: the four criteria
Some critics of genetic profiling suggest there is not yet enough scientific research to really confirm the usefulness of such testing. It should be possible to address this by using these four criteria for clinical utility: 1 Relevant – SNPs must make significant changes in biochemistry and physiology, 2 Prevalence – a SNP must be present in a significant percentage of the population in order to see its effects in studies, 3 Modifiable – the functional effects of a SNP must be modifiable using diet and clinical nutrition, lifestyle and behaviour, nutritional supplements and pharmaceuticals and 4 Measurable – we must be able to measure the change in function when we modify the effects of a SNP.
Good genes, bad genes?
A genetic polymorphism is neither “good” nor “bad.” A polymorphism will be advantageous in some environments and detrimental in other environments. Polymorphisms make us more or less susceptible to specific environmental factors. The very fact a polymorphism exists means it was definitely advantageous somewhere.
Genetic testing can allow a practitioner to personalise their treatment recommendations for patients and clients. Labs now provide genetic profiling for major common diseases – please note this testing can only be ordered by a qualified practitioner who has also attended specific training with the relevant labs.
Limitations of genomic testing
Genomic profiles cannot tell you if you are sick, and they cannot identify functional imbalances or diagnose disease. For therapeutic effectiveness, profiles must be combined with functional assessments, even when being used for primary prevention. Some critics of genetic profiling raise an ethical issue: that genetic information may be used to deny individuals access to health and life insurance, employment and education. However, this is based on two incorrect assumptions:
1 Genetic polymorphisms are always “bad”.
2 There’s nothing you can do about a genetic polymorphism.
The answers to complex chronic diseases are not to be found exclusively either in nature or in nurture but in the interactive symphony of the two. Key to understanding polymorphisms is to understand that every significant polymorphism exists because, at some point in human history, it provided advantages for survival by enabling those with the polymorphism to adapt better to a specific environment. Nearly all polymorphisms are beneficial given the right environment. Yet people still tend to see genetic information as “fate”.
It’s true that you can’t change your genes, but you can change the way your genes function by changing your environment. The philosophy behind the preventative genomic approach is to help individuals select the environment (diet, lifestyle, supplements and so on) for which their unique set of polymorphisms are best suited. It is only when we know our genetic polymorphisms that we are able to choose our optimal environment. People often think that polymorphisms reveal our limitations. But it is more correct to say that polymorphisms reveal not our limitations but our potential.
People who do not know their genetic polymorphisms are not likely ever to know their true health potential. Preventative genomic testing allows people to be at choice. It empowers people to make informed decisions about their health through dietary, lifestyle and supplement choices. Of the 3 billion letters of the epic human DNA, we are able to understand only a few simple words and phrases at this time. But soon we will be able to move beyond simple words and phrases and begin to understand the interconnected decision-making networks and hierarchies. Personalised healthcare, optimal disease prevention, and minimisation of trial and error in therapeutic recommendations are the right of every patient and the duty of every health care practitioner.
Final Interesting Points
The idea that “one diet fits all” or one type of supplement is best for everyone is nonsense,and it is the reason that “treatment protocols” for diseases like chronic fatigue don’t exist – treat the person not the disease! Someone could have completely different underlying causes/genetic mutations resulting in the same disease symptoms.
This is brilliantly expressed by one of the pioneering scientists of our times and founder of the Human Genome Projection Dr Craig Venter in this 1 minute video about why standardised Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs) of nutrients for people are truly redundant and a thing of the past:
Dr Craig Venter on Caffeine Metabolism