Your genes carry a vast amount of information about you.
That information determines what kind of traits you have inherited from your parents, both of which pass on half their DNA on to you which, of course, was passed on to them by their parents.
You are the product and have genes of both your parents’ ancestors stretching back many generations.
Both your parents have blue eyes? Then it’s very likely you will have them too. If one of your parents has a heritable disease then it’s possible you may inherit it too.
You are not a slave to your genes however and your lifestyle and the health choices you make can affect how your genes are expressed.
It’s nature vs. nurture. Nature is your genes and nurture is your lifestyle.
What kind of actionable insights can you get from your genetics?
New genetic discoveries are being made all the time so the data you can get from a genetic analysis is growing constantly.
In the following I’m going to show you how I used a number of genetics services to understand:
- My genetic risk to certain diseases
- The foods I should be eating and avoiding according to my genetics
- My sensitivity to macronutrients such as carbohydrates and saturated fat
- How well my body absorbs certain essential micronutrients
- If caffeine affects me positively or negatively
- If I’m lactose tolerant or intolerant
- The type of exercise my body is more suited for, my recovery rate and my risk to injury
- The optimal time I should go to bed on an evening
- My aggression levels
Having an understanding of the above from a genetic point of view will help me make a range of health based decisions.
What you need to get started
Analyzing your genes. Begin with 23andMe
When the first genome (the complete set of DNA and genes) was sequenced it cost around $3 billion. These days it costs around $1,000 so the price is plummeting.
That said, $1,000 is still expensive. There is an alternative however.
Consumer personal genomics company 23andMe offers a partial sequencing for around $200 (£125) so more in the realms of affordability to most people.
Once you’ve mailed a sample of your saliva to 23andMe you’ll receive your results in around two weeks via an online login on the 23andMe website.
These results come in the form of:
- Health risks – both elevated risk and decreased risk of catching specific diseases and conditions
- Inherited – these are inherited genes where you may be just a carrier of a condition but you could pass it on to your children
- Traits – these are certain characteristics that are inherited from our parents. Things like eye colour for example
- Drug response – your genes that can determine how your body reacts to certain drugs
Analyzing your disease risk
23andMe is good for providing information on your genetic risk to certain diseases. As you can see in the image above, my results show I’m a slightly higher risk (12.6 percent) of getting Alzheimer’s than average (7.2 percent).
That means I should meditate, drink at least three cups of coffee a day and consume turmeric, all of which have shown to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
I’m lucky that my genetic risk for a range of different diseases is low according to 23andMe. If these percentages were above average or indeed exceptionally high I would look at what I could do or foods to supplement with to protect myself from them.
Your genetics API
In 2012, 23andMe opened up its API program allowing third-party developers to access a 23andMe customer’s genetic information provided that customer permission is given.
This means your vast genetic data can be crunched, analysed and interpreted by third-parties to give you new and insightful information about your own genetic makeup.
Increasingly more and more third-party companies are developing new services to tap into 23andMe growing database. Some of which are included below.
Nutrigenetics – learning the foods that are best suited to your genetic makeup
Nutrigenetics is a growing field of genomics and looks at the interplay between nutrition and your own personalised genetics. In other words, what’s good for one person’s diet may not be good for another’s.
Nutrigenetics personalises an individual’s diet based on the types of genes they have and makes recommendations on foods to eat and avoid.
One platform that offers such a service is Nutrahacker which analyses your genes related to nutrition and advises on the types of food you should be eating and avoiding. Give it access to your 23andMe data and it will do the rest.
Foods it said I should be consuming are:
- Possibly ketogenic diet
- Potassium (sweet potatoes, yoghurt, carrot juice, fish, bananas)
- Microbiotics (yoghurt, dark chocolate, kombucha tea, miso soup, soy milk
- Riboflavin (B2) (Almonds, beef, eggs, mushrooms, spinach)
- Rosemary and sage (for the Vitamin D receptors)
- Vitamin A foods (sweet potatoes, carrots, dark leafy greens, red peppers, tuna) for the RS75501331 which has reduced catalytic activity of beta-carotene
- Vitamins B12, B6, C, D3, K
- Zinc – Beef, lamb, spinach, nuts, cacao, pork, chicken and mushrooms
Foods it said I should be avoiding are:
- High carb diets
- High-fat diets
- Calcium – for the rs7652589 Snp which is associated with kidney stones
- Estrogen foods. Flax seeds, tofu, soy yoghurt, soy milk, multigrain bread, hummus, garlic, dried apricots
- Green tea
- Vitamin E
Using Ingeneius I found that when it comes to my body absorbing nutrients it struggles in a number of ways.
Since receiving this report I supplement with vitamin D, C, K and zinc.
Fitness genes – using your genetics to dictate your training and exercise
Using your 23andMe API again, DNAFit will provide you with an analysis of your genetics related to fitness.
Using this I discovered:
- My genetics are more suited to endurance than power sports since I lack the fast twitch muscle. This confirmed what I suspected since my body feels more suited to long distance cardio activity, like running and walking, over power-based activities.
- My VO2 Max potential is high. I have since had my VO2 Max analyzed and the results confirmed this.
- My recovery rate is quick
- My injury risk is high. I’ve never suffered any big injuries as of yet so can’t confirm this.
- I have low carbohydrate sensitivity
- Low saturated fat sensitivity
- Lactose tolerant
Looking at my metabolism my Ingeneius analysis gave me peace of mind that I have no potentially bad genes.
Behavioural genes – understanding the genes that impact your behaviour
This takes a little time to put together since there are no services available that profile you based on your behavioural genes.
For this I use Promethease which, again, uses your 23andMe data alongside SNPedia which is a wiki catalogue of human genetics and their traits.
Whenever some research is published around specific genes and their traits I’ll search my Promethease database to see if I have it. From this I’ve found:
- I can handle pressure well
- I’m more aggressive than average
- I’m good at making snap decisions and learn quickly
All of the above are associated with the Warrior gene which I’m a carrier of.
- I’m a late sleeper and more productive at night
I have the CLOCK gene which means that if I go past a certain time before going to sleep I can stay awake all night. This is true for me as I’m at my most productive from 11pm until 5am. I can literally work none stop during these hours but it’s not good for my social life.
- I don’t have the feel good gene
Oh well, life ain’t all sunshine and rainbows.
Putting it altogether
Personal genomics is still a new area. Science makes new discoveries in this area regularly. It’s still early days in this field of science so what holds true today may not in a year.
That’s the nature of the game and it’s one I’m willing to play. My interest in this area allows me to disregard any potential false assumptions based on the data we have at this time.
To get an understanding of your own genetic makeup you have to make both a financial and time investment.
A financial investment in paying for each of the services available that provide you with different analyses of your own genetic data.
A time investment because the science is deep and unless you’re a trained geneticist it will take time to make sense of it.
For me it’s something I’ll continue to do to ensure that I’m doing the most to maintain good health as it allows me to make positive lifestyle decisions based on the data.
In five to ten years there will be exponentially more information around how our genetics impact our lives and more services with more comprehensive offerings helping us understand and apply them.
For now you have to take a cut and paste approach which, for the inquisitive like me, is not a problem.