If you want to know more about your genetic makeup, there are some great options available now. The cost of carrying out testing has decreased over the past 10 years and is now available to the general public at a very reasonable cost. This helps us understand what our genetic code is.
What genetic testing does not do is help us understand the way our genetics are expressing in our bodies, in real time. So, I compare genetic testing to giving us a birds-eye view of a road map, without telling us where we are on the road right now. In my practice, I see genetic testing as true but partial in terms of the information we can gather. It gives us an understanding of our genetic Achilles heel(s), which can be very helpful, but it is also important to understand this information within the context of the ‘‘here and now’.
As human beings, we have over 23,000 genes. Science is still unravelling the role our genes play in terms of our health. As such, there are only a small number of genes that have sufficient research to give us evidence-based data on how they impact health. Additionally, we have to remember that having a certain code for one of our genes does not mean it is expressing in a way that is contributing to health challenges.
Let me explain…
Changes in the genetic code, known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP’s) can have the effect of altering the function of specific enzymes in the body, making them either more or less active. It is these responses that can contribute to health challenges. For example, a certain SNP may make you more effective at converting a vitamin into its needed active form in the body, so this SNP is considered highly beneficial. But, just having a certain SNP does not mean they are switched ‘‘on’ and working to capacity. There are many factors that impact this switching on and switching off process, as highlighted in my recent post titled 13 Factors That Influence our Genetic Expression.
There are some SNP’s that have been well researched that highlight how genetics impact our health and wellbeing. Let me share a few examples with you.
This is one of a group of SNP’s that are involved in the methylation cycle. This cycle is an important pathway in the body, required for over 200 functions in the body. When methylation isn’t optimal, due to poor functioning of the methylation cycle, there can be flow-on effects. Downstream effects can occur in folate metabolism, antioxidant production, detoxification processes, neurotransmitter production, cellular clean-up, cellular repair, energy production, immune system function and inflammation. For people with a particular code on this SNP, there can be significant downregulating of the methylation process.
The COMT gene determine how we process various compounds in the body such as oestrogen, neurotransmitters like dopamine, and stress hormones like adrenalin and noradrenalin. If we have certain coding on the SNP’s in the COMT gene it can either speed up or slow down the rate we process our hormones, neurotransmitters, and stress hormones. If we have SNP’s that lead COMT to run less efficiently, some of these compounds can stay in our body longer than they typically would. In the case of adrenalin, if it is hanging around longer than is useful, it can lead to a variety of physiological and psychological effects such as workaholism, difficulty relaxing, intensity and irritability.
If we have SNP’s in COMT that lead it to run more efficiently we can process through stress hormones and neurotransmitters more rapidly, which can leave us a little too chilled out. This impacts our ability to get things done, but it can also show up as difficulty paying attention, lack of enthusiasm, or lack of excitement.
The NOS3 gene influences the production of nitric oxide, which is important to keep the heart and circulatory system healthy. If you have SNP’s that affect the function of this gene, you may have trouble producing sufficient nitric oxide, leading to blood vessels not dilating sufficiently and platelets becoming stickier than they typically would be. Both of these factors can contribute to a propensity for blood clots. For those with a family history of strokes, atherosclerosis, heart attacks and high blood pressure, being aware of SNP’s in NOS3 will be important.
It's not a done deal
Remember that these examples are only 3 genetic SNP’s out of 23,000 that I have used to explain the way genetics can impact our health. Our genes all work in conjunction with one another. We may have one that speeds certain processes up, and another that slows the same process down, leading to a net result of normal functionality. It is very complicated, and as stated before, researchers are only beginning to understand the interplay between all these factors. This is why, in addition to looking at genetic tests, we need to consider general pathology testing too, that way we can see the impact our genes are playing in the here and now
Understanding the role epigenetics plays in our health gives us scope to take back control. We can make a difference in our health and give our genes the best shot at functioning optimally. How? You guessed it. It all comes back to diet and lifestyle.
For more information on how to improve genetic expression, see my post on 7 tips for improving genetic expression.