Genetic Testing – is it right for you ?

Since the human genome was sequenced back in 2003 the demand and interest in genetic esting has boomed ! As a result, many are interested in finding out if they are likely to develop breast cancer or perhaps Alzheimer’s. This curiosity is part of the new healthcare revolution and is changing medicine as we know it. The question has become whether getting your genetic profile is more helpful or harmful? But one thing is for sure – get an expert to read and analyze your results.

Facts To Consider:

1. Most diseases with the exception of a few are multifactorial, and as such, several factors contribute to their onset. It has been said that “Genes may load the gun, but the environmental factors pull the trigger”- especially for chronic degenerative diseases like cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and Alzheimer’s. Genes are really your potential and require a certain environment in order to be expressed.

In other words, your lifestyle choices – the food you eat, your level of activity, exposure to toxins, your life experiences and even your mindset can override your genetic predisposition.

Beside your genome we all are impacted by the epigenome – a group of chemical compounds that can tell the genome what to do. These proteins and chemicals can modify and regulate gene expression.

The genome is comparable to a computer’s hardware and the epigenome is the software. The fact that our software is influenced largely by environmental factors is good news. This means we can influence the outcome!

2. Genes are also modified by other genes. Current testing is limited to SNPs ( snips) which are small genetic variations that, for example, may indicate how someone metabolizes nutrients or responds to an environmental toxin or specific drug. SNPs can be overridden.

3. Given the complexity of genomics, it’s seems advisable to have trained expert read your results. Traditionally trained physicians are not well versed in understanding or interpreting your genome and the results. Experts in functional medicine who are trained to examine the root causes of disease not just the symptoms will have greater expertise or will put you in touch with someone who does. This doctor, for example,  might use genetic testing to help pinpoint biochemical imbalances or to reveal a compromised detoxification mechanism.

4. How would you respond – positively or negatively knowing your results. Optimists react very differently than pessimists. What will you do with the genetic data? You need to know in advance what and how much information you want or don’t want and make that clear to your healthcare provider.

5. Privacy Concerns – some are concerned that their genetic information will be made public or possibly used against them. 23andMe have struck deals with Genentech and Pfizer  who have struck a deal to access their genetic database- although the information is  supposedly aggragated and anonymous. However, the US Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 prohibits health insurance companies or employers from discriminating on the basis of genetic information. This doesn’t, however, extend to long term care insurance, life insurance or disability insurance. It has been suggested to simply use an alias – ” don’t put a name to your genes.”

6. What do you hope to gain from the testing ? What are your goals and expectations?  Remember, the vast majority of diseases are mutifactorial. From a disease oriented perspective many people fear their genome. They need to realize that genes can be turned on or off!

Disease risk is only partly encoded in our genome. The majority of illness and disease including aging are driven by our environment, lifestyle choices including our mindset,  thoughts and beliefs. Experts point out that our epigenome is variable whereas our genome tends to be quite rigid.

Bottom Line: Most diseases and aging are prevented and driven by healthy lifestyle choices. The real keys to optimal health and living are still eating right, exercizing, managing your stress and getting restorative sleep – whether you test or not !