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Genetic Testing: A Cornerstone in Modern Preventative Care

When the topic of genetic testing comes up most people think about determining diseases, paternity or a criminal’s identity. With the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2004, genetic medicine has evolved exponentially. The advances in human genetics allow for preventive health care advice to suit each individual’s unique genetic profile. Patients can now partner in their own well being, a necessary shift that requires limited expense. Commercial analysis of genetic information aids personal decisions about nutritional needs and lifestyle modifications to help reach wellness goals. This level of testing is not diagnosing disease, but instead offering information to help guide supplementation, food choices and lifestyle activities which can enhance beneficial–or minimize problematic–traits.

Our DNA library is made up of about 30,000 genes and has fueled widespread interest in the coded information therein. DNA contains all the instructions required to make cells. Genes are short segments of DNA. When cells replicate, mistakes are often made and a gene that was originally supposed to code for something specific instead codes for something else. A single molecular change is called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). While most variations are harmless, others can influence a body’s response to its environment. By identifying your own unique gene variations, you can customize lifestyle approaches and nutritional supplementation to maximize your genetic potential and promote optimal health.

Researchers have identified genes associated with various body systems that can be altered by diet and lifestyle activities. The cholesterol metabolism gene CETP can predict the response of fat molecules to dietary changes.1 Variations in the Vitamin D receptor gene VDR has been associated with bone health and is adaptable to diet.2 Variations of the IL-6 gene have revealed how nutrition, particularly fish oils, can modulate immune function in the inflammatory response.3,4 Other SNPs  include antioxidant and detoxification pathways and glucose balance.

With genetic testing, comes an awareness of the interaction between diet and genes.  This results in new ways to optimize and take responsibility for one’s health. By looking at the influence of diet and genes, testing provides powerful resources to use nutritional molecules to influence genetic variations and the biological system as a whole.5  However, public access to genetic tests and associated nutritional and lifestyle advice are posing legal and social controversy. Consumer directed marketing of genetic tests has become fertile ground for overcharging, false claims, and unproven dietary supplement recommendations.6 Regulation is needed to keep individuals safe from unscrupulous business activities with regard to genetic information. Therefore, consult your wellness doctor when evaluating tests.

Where does the advent of genetic testing leave the consumer? Can it help you make better choices? Will you use the information to determine how best to enhance your personal health? Technology has afforded the ability to optimize health via nutritional intervention.5 Information gleaned from genetic testing is ushering a new era of individualized medicine allowing consumers options for preventive self-care based on scientific data.

Dr. Lucy Rojo is a licensed, natural medicine doctor working with Robert Steinberg, M.D. in Palm Desert. Desert Integrative Medical Center can be reached at 760.340.2260.

References: 1) Wallace, A., et al. Variants in the cholesterol ester transfer protein and lipoprotein lipase genes are predictors of plasma cholesterol response to dietary change. Atherosclerosis. 152: 327-336, 2000.; 2) Ferrari. S.L., Osteoporosis, vitamin D receptor gene polymorphisms and response to diet. World Rev Nutr Diet 89, 83-92 (2001); 3) Grimble, R.F., Nutritional modulation of immune function. Proc Nutr Soc 60, 389-397 (2001); 4) Grimble R., et al. The ability of fish oil to suppress tumor necrosis factor alpha production by peripheral blood mononuclear cells in healthy men is associated with polymorphisms in genes that influence tumor necrosis factor alpha production. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 76(2): 454-459, 2002. 5) Mutch DM, Wahli W, Williamson G., Nutrigenomics and nutrigenetics: the emerging faces of nutrition. FASEB J. 2005 Oct;19(12):1602-16. 6) Castle D, Ries NM., Ethical, legal and social issues in nutrigenomics: the challenges of regulating service delivery and building health professional capacity. Mutat Res. 2007 Sep 1;622(1-2):138-43. Epub 2007 May 5.

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