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This year sees the 20th anniversary of the completion of the Human Genome Project, which mapped the sequence of human DNA.
Your DNA contains around 20,000 genes. In this article, you’ll learn about how testing your unique genetic makeup can empower you to take control over your health.
Your DNA is your genetic template handed down from your ancestors. The information in it forms your body’s instruction manual. Your genes direct your body to make specific proteins, sparking off biological processes telling your cells what to do.
Many people equate genes with immovable physical characteristics like height and physical appearance. But did you know tiny genetic variants affect how crucial biochemical processes in your body work? This means your body operates very differently from mine.
Variations in DNA make each human unique but can impact health. Most chronic diseases are the result of combinations of common genetic variants and environmental factors.
Your personal genetic makeup dictates how well you’re able to utilise specific nutrients. Genetic variants mean some people need greater amounts of certain nutrients, including vitamins A, B12, C, D, K and folate. If this is you, you’ll need some nutrients in a certain form for them to be of any use. For example, most people can make vitamin A from beta carotene, found in plant foods like carrots. But your genetic predisposition may mean you can’t do this very well, in which case you’ll need to consume vitamin A from sources such as fish and eggs.
A gene called the LCT gene enables you to digest lactose, and if you don’t have this gene, you’ll be predisposed to suffer from lactose intolerance. This can cause wind, bloating, pain and diarrhoea. Proteins produced in response to other genes known as HLA genes help your immune system to tell the difference between parts of you and invaders like bacteria and viruses. Certain variants in these genes are associated with auto-immune diseases, when the body attacks itself. People with this gene are susceptible to suffering from coeliac disease, an inability to digest a part of gluten.
Another gene called the FUT2 gene affects your gut lining and therefore interacts with your gut microbiome. Some genetic variants encourage the production of substances supporting the growth of friendly Bifidobacteria in the gut, important for good health. On the other hand, this genetic variant could make you more susceptible to infection by the bacterium H pylori, causing stomach pain, and you wouldn’t be able to absorb B12 very well. Other variants don’t support a diverse microbiome but make it less likely H pylori will develop, and B12 is absorbed more efficiently. So, depending on which genetic type you are, you might need to pay particular attention to your microbiome health, or to your B12 intake.
Other genes determine how well and quickly you metabolise caffeine, influencing how it affects you and how well you can tolerate it.
Other tiny genetic changes have even more widespread effects on your body’s processes. They dictate your susceptibility to infection and inflammation, and how effectively hormones like oestrogen are metabolised. They can alter how efficiently your body manufactures certain chemicals, or how well it detoxifies substances like heavy metals, hormones, environmental pollutants and some medications.
Genes also influence your susceptibility to high blood pressure, how well your blood sugar is controlled, and whether you’re an early bird or a night owl. Genes can even affect your appetite by determining how sensitive you are to a hormone called leptin, known as the ‘satiety hormone’.
Although your DNA sequence is fixed, your genes do change depending on outside influences, such as your environment, stress levels, diet and lifestyle. Little tags called epigenetic markers sit on your genes and react to signals from the outside world, instructing genes to turn on or switch off. Because these epigenetic changes are not static and influenced by nutrition and lifestyle, this means you have more control over your genes than you might have realised.
Knowing your personal genetic picture can help you maximise not only your ongoing health but that of your future descendants, too. Understanding the interactions between genetics and diet and lifestyle means a proactive and preventative approach can be taken to wellbeing.
Specialised genomics tests will highlight your inherited genetic variations, illustrating not only how your body responds to food but also your susceptibility to certain health issues. This knowledge gives you the power, with the support of your therapist, to optimise your diet and lifestyle with the most appropriate nutrients and lifestyle measures aligned to your genes. In other words, genomics testing takes away the guesswork and helps your diet and lifestyle to be fine-tuned to your specific needs.
Would you like to discuss Genomics Testing? Then book a free 15-minute discovery call to see if Functional Medicine is for you.
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