In my blog post Why a DNA Test is Important to Fine-tune Your Health, I described DNA testing and differentiated between a genetic test and a genomic test. I also provided concrete advice on how to find a DNA (genomic) test that is right for you.
You can probably guess that I am a huge fan of genomic testing. In fact, I believe that it is one of the most insightful tools that has ever available to health and medical experts.
Through genomic testing, we can create a story of how you, as an individual, are “built.” From your story, we can fine-tune the inner workings of YOU (we call this biochemistry) so that you can live your best and longest life.
Sitting with individuals like you, and piecing together the picture of your health through the patterns of your DNA, is indeed the most POWERFUL work I have done in my 25 years of in nutrition science and education.
Given my passionate feelings about genomic testing, I’d like to take you behind the scenes of how genomic information (Your DNA) is read, organized and re-assembled to create that unique blueprint or directive that drives a health plan that is unique to you for the rest of your life. Let’s go!
Getting your DNA information
Compiling your unique health picture requires a sample of your DNA which you provide, usually by swabbing the inside of your cheek and sending that sample to a lab that specializes in DNA analysis.
Just to be clear here, the DNA analysis I am referring to is an analysis of single nucleotide polymorphisms which are the unique twists in your DNA that describe the strengths and weaknesses of your specific gene behavior. I am not talking about gene mutations which can have life-threatening consequences. Read more about genomics here.
Once the lab has processed your DNA sample, they send their analysis (report) to clinicians who are trained to interpret genomic information. The report describes specific genes, their variants and provides basic insights into how these variants influence the biochemical pathways that make you human.
I have read many reports from different genomic testing companies around the world. No matter how clearly they describe the link between your genes and your health, they are not easy to read. Sometimes the reports are confusing, even appearing contradictory. This is the nature of DNA!
This is where the mind of a trained clinician is critical as their training allows them to decipher the twists and turns and establish order to your genomic information.
Unpacking Your DNA Report
Your report in hand, what does a clinician do next?
For many of you, glancing at genomic information in your report might be akin to starting one of those jigsaw puzzles with a very detailed picture and hundreds of pieces. Where do you begin?
Clinicians who specialize in genomics, understand the unique nature and impact of each piece of genomic information and where it fits into human machinery we call biochemistry. Biochemistry describes the inner workings of human machinery. When I read a genomic report, I’m looking for patterns in your genes that describe how efficiently your biochemical machinery is operating, and where some of your roadblocks are.
Interpreting a genomic report is all about deciphering patterns and making sense and order out of them!
What happens next?
Once I see patterns in your gene information, I look for two different things: Firstly the level of impact of different genes, and secondly the number of biochemical systems they impact in your body. What does this mean?
Level of impact describe how compromised specific genes are. Genomic science studies human genes and how they influence or compromise functions in your body such as blood pressure, cholesterol management, blood sugar levels, toxin removal and so much more. My first step is to look at the extent to which specific influential genes are compromised in your body.
Areas of impact describes the extent to which your compromised genes are impacting the biochemical business of your body. For example, building bones is a complex business and involves many genes working together to ensure you have the right nutrient components to build and maintain your bone structure. If I see a number of compromised genes, I notate “potentially compromised bone metabolism.”
I go through this same pattern recognition process for many biochemical processes in your body to include: fat metabolism, blood sugar management, blood pressure, inflammation, oxidative stress, neurotransmitter production as examples.
I end up with an organization of your genes that I have mentally sorted into different “piles” that describes YOU.
Going back to the jigsaw puzzle analogy, you have pieces with straight edges that make up the border, and pieces with similar colors that make up a specific part of the puzzle. You organize these pieces into little piles so that have a place to start with your puzzle. And so it is with your gene information.
Organizing Your Genes to tell YOUR Health Story
Now that I have created a series of little gene piles (think of a filing system), I can create a picture of you. I assemble your gene piles into an organized pattern that is the story of you!
The organized pattern that I create is a reflection of your unique biochemistry. Your biochemistry might indicate weaknesses in how your body absorbs and uses B vitamins. Maybe you don’t convert beta-carotene from plants into the user-friendly form of vitamin A that your body needs. Perhaps you have a hard time breaking down estrogen which can become quite toxic to your body. Or you have a number of weaknesses in cycles that create important neurotransmitters or messengers for your brain.
Your Genes Never Lie
Your genes never lie. Each time I open the page of a client’s gene story (YOU), it is a revelatory.
Your gene story either confirms what you have told me about your symptoms and concerns. In this case, I can now explain why for you.
Or your gene story points to a problem we might want to take a closer look at, through some additional lab testing before it becomes a big one. This is preventive medicine at its very best.
Imagine hearing that “how you feel” is NOT “in your head.”
That you are not imagining fatigue, pain, malaise, or that you simply don’t feel right.
Does this sound familiar to you?
Wouldn’t it be nice to get confirmation from your gene picture that things are a little haywire in your body and that we have a plan to address some of the underlying imbalances that are creating your issues?
This is what genomic testing tells us. Genomic information is a signpost in the medical toolbox, providing guidance on where to look and what to do next. It removes some of the guesswork from “what’s wrong.” It takes away that horrible experience when you don’t feel yourself and yet your labs are all “normal.” How many of you can relate?
Many people can. They come to me and my clinical colleagues, looking for answers and guidance. A way forward. Genomic testing is not perfect. It will not necessarily resolve all your health problems. But it does drop clear beacons that illuminate a pathway forward. One that you can understand.
Explaining Your Gene Story
Translating your story into a plan that is useful, empowering and meaningful is the next step in the process.
Your gene story provides me with a roadmap on what to do next. If your gene picture suggests you have potential weaknesses in bone formation, I suggest lab testing to assess nutrient levels, or even a DEXA – bone mineral density scan to evaluate the health of your bones. Your gene story might suggest a predisposition to poor blood sugar management. Therefore, I recommend a fasting blood sugar and fasting insulin, even an HBA1C that provides a snapshot of your blood sugar management history. In other words, labs are mapped to your story. No guesswork. Precise work.
My gene story for example, strongly suggested I might have poor bone building and maintenance. We peaked at my bone mineral density scan, and I did have some weaknesses. But my bone metabolism markers are all optimal. My genes told me where to look and what to look out for in the future. But lab work validated that all is ok with my bones right now.
This is powerful
Here’s what you need to know. Your gene story suggests where to look with additional testing. However, just because your genes suggest you might have some biochemical weaknesses, does not mean you do! Genes are guides and not your fate!
Putting YOUR Gene Story Into Action
Genes suggest where your strengths and weaknesses are. Laboratory information validates those strengths and weaknesses. From this information, I know how to support you. No guessing.
Gene support is often provided through food that provides the missing nutrients you need. I may add in supplements when food cannot provide enough of the nutrients you need. Yes, genes can be demanding! Once I provide that nutrient support, I can recommend we test again to see whether you have achieved optimum nutrient level, or we adjust your plan a little more. Precision work!
Sometimes I need to remove some of the contaminants that are blocking the work of your genes. This might mean cleaning up the personal care products you are using, or those cleaning products you’re using at home. Even switching out some of our food choices that may contain heavy metals such as some seafood varieties.
And don’t forget stress and exercise. Your genes are manipulated by stress which means getting a plan in place to soften the impact of stress in your life. And too much, or too little exercise also influences gene behavior. Changing up your exercise regimen can often kick the right genes into gear, or prevent injury and inflammation through over-exercise. Genes provide that powerful direction for what to do.
This is the power of genomic testing and I can no longer imagine working without it.