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What’s In Your Genes? Genetic Testing Can Tell You More About Who You Really Are

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Dr. Deborah Gordon.WELLNESSGenetic testing was once done only for medical research or personal disease risk where there is a strong family history. No more! Anyone can now obtain detailed information on tens of thousands of genes (amid a total of 3 billion different human genes) by visiting 23andMe.com and sending in a little tube of saliva. You get a limited amount of health information and a whole lot of “raw data,” or descriptions of your individual genes.

Think of a gene as a programming tool, one that might regulate your eye color or how well your body is able to use a specific vitamin. A gene is actually composed of pairs of instruction sets, each pair with a list from your mom and a list from your dad about what to do. You might have half a dozen different pairs of instructions about how to handle vitamin B12, and each pair consists of data from each parent. If dad’s version of the gene would have you working with B12 easily, but mom’s not so much, your ability to work with B12 will be compromised.

The most important piece of information to understand, though, is that unlike the color of your eyes, many of the genes currently reported by 23andMe are malleable—their programming instructions are highly modifiable depending on your own personal “operating system.” If you provide your body with excellent forms of B12, to use the example above, you can overcome some of the limitation imposed by the impaired ability to use B12 that you inherited from your mom.

I recommend to my patients that they obtain 23andMe testing ($199) because working with the results can be fun, interesting, and highly relevant to you and your health and can influence your lifestyle choices!

The fun part is available to anyone. Websites such as athletigen.com offer free and limited interpretation of a handful of your genes. Just in case you ever wondered whether you should be an endurance athlete or try lifting weights, athletigen.com will give you some advice on your likely natural talents!

23andMe.com provides you some “ancestry” information; that is the interesting part. As a child, I wondered why many of my dreams featured Asian people: almost 8% of my ancestral DNA comes from East Asian and Native American origins! And maybe that 0.2% of Sub-Saharan African genes endowed my blonde-haired, blue-eyed daughter with her skill in African dance!

The highly relevant portion of information is to be found in your genetic “raw data” where you can ask general or specific health-related questions. The website promethease.com can answer questions about disease risk. As an example, I have a strong family history of maternal breast cancer, but no increased risk in my genes, so no extra risk passes through me to my daughter.

The greatest treasure in your raw data has to do with epigenetics, the ability of your lifestyle choices to influence your genetic programming. If your genes suggest you can’t convert the beta carotene in carrots into the vitamin A your body needs, you will be healthier if you include animal foods with pre-formed vitamin A in your diet. If you can’t “activate” vitamin B12, you will be healthier if you include lots of leafy greens in your diet. Or you can take vitamin A as retinol and B12 as methyl B12, both the activated forms.

The gene people used to fear learning about is the ApoE gene. Most of us inherit the ApoE 3 form from both parents, so we are ApoE 3/3. About 20% of people inherit ApoE 4 which markedly increases the risk of Alzheimer’s and heart diseases. Who wants to know that? Only people who are willing to make the lifestyle changes that can prevent or reverse Alzheimer’s!

Next month I’ll share with you the story of a woman who inherited two “4”s and as an ApoE 4/4 started getting “early onset” Alzheimer’s Disease. She reversed her symptoms and now hosts the website apoe4info.org with lots of information for any other ApoE 4 carriers who want to keep their brains healthy!

So, how about you, do you want to know what’s in your genes?

Read more of Dr. Deborah’s healthy insights at www.DrDeborahMD.com.

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