Genetic testing kits with promises of personalized wellness and nutrition are surging in popularity; thousands of us bought them as holiday gifts – but are the results really meaningful?
OUR GENES ARE NOT OUR DESTINY
It’s important to understand the influence of our genes on weight and health, says Dr Chis. D’Adamo. director of the University of Maryland School of Medicine and Assistant Professor at the university’s Center for Integrative Medicine, and expert in the field of nutritional genetics and personalized nutrition.
Genetic influence is largely out of our control, but our wellness habits absolutely within our control, says Dr. D’Adamo. And a healthy lifestyle can trump genes, or at least impact the expression of our genes.
HOW TO INTERPRET YOUR DNA WELLNESS PROFILE RESULTS
When it comes to the DNA health reports, there is a lot of content to wrap our heads around. At first glance, all of the results look equally strong, with the same level of validity. Upon closer inspection, however, we start to see that our results can vary widely in terms of what’s relevant, what is truly rooted in our genetic make-up, and what is simply population-based data that has been compiled by the DNA testing company.
UNDERSTANDING THE DATA
Within a single report, our DNA test results vary greatly in significance and should not be interpreted with the same level of relevance. Test results typically fall into one of three main categories:
Results are strongly correlated to the genes tested. In this case, the genetic variants are in fact directly linked to the specific traits or predispositions that the individual displays or is a carrier for. This means that when an individual has this specific genetic variant, there is 100% likelihood that they will exhibit the related trait or predisposition – think cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia.
Results are loosely correlated to the genes tested. A trait or predisposition may be based on dozens or even hundreds of genes, so the one, two or three genes that may have been tested for that particular condition will reveal just a very small part of the full story for that particular trait or predisposition.
Results are not based on our genetic profile. For some traits or predispositions listed in DNA reports, these results are not actually based on our specific genetic makeup at all. Instead, our risk or tendency for these conditions is based on data compiled from other participants’ responses, then, loosely based on our personal genetic profile, the company’s statistical model determines our likelihood for these conditions.
THE BOTTOM LINE
DNA tests are useful when it comes to telling us our risk for specific diseases and traits. But when it comes to prescribing a nutrition plan or supplement regime to follow – the science just isn’t there yet. Instead, view your DNA test results as a source of inspiration to take control, be mindful and purposeful in our food choices, focusing on the core pillars of wellness: nutrition, movement, sleep and stress management.
For more on personalized nutrition and genetic-based diets, check out Molly’s article on DNA Diets: Everything you need to know.
Molly Kimball, RD, CSSD is a registered dietitian + nutrition journalist in New Orleans, and founder of Ochsner Eat Fit nonprofit restaurant initiative. Tune in to her podcast, FUELED | Wellness + Nutrition and follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at @MollyKimballRD. See more of Molly’s articles + TV segments at www.mollykimball.com.