The 9 Genes That Can Determine Your Health
Your genetics influence almost every aspect of your health. Everything from your weight, mood, hormones, and immune system can be traced back to your DNA. As humans we want to know as much about ourselves as possible and because of this the demand for direct-to-consumer genetic testing has grown. For only $100 you can get a kit delivered right to your house for you to send in and get a complete summary of your genetics and ancestry. You can identify distant cousins around the world and conclude what percentage Neanderthal you are because really, who doesn’t want to know that?!
As a functional medicine practitioner I am less concerned with your particular ethnic heritage and more with what role genetics play in your health and how knowing your DNA can make you aware of your risk factors for certain illnesses. But are these tests really worth it or just an easy way for the health industry to make a few dollars? Let’s find out by first looking at the two most popular tests:
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This test allows you to either just determine your ancestry or, for a little bit more, find out both your ancestry and health information. When looking at ancestry you can see a map with the percentages of where your DNA originated from. There’s also an option to chat with distant relatives! Talk about awesome. If you opt to get the health report as well you’ll see if you’re likely to have certain physical traits and if you have any increased risks for particular health issues.
2. Ancestry DNA
You won’t get the detailed health information with this test but you’ll still be able to see the percentage from each place that your DNA is from with the addition of a cool family tree.
How Can These Tests Optimize Your Health?
While you may learn if you are part Italian, if you are more likely to have curly or straight hair, or how likely you are to have heart disease what can this information do for your health? Good question! My job is to take that obscure genetic information and practically apply it to your life. Even though you can’t change your genes, knowing your genetics gives you the ability to mitigate risk factors. I always look at these main genes when helping patients:
This enzyme is responsible for breaking down the amino methionine by converting S-adenosylhomocysteinase into pro-inflammatory homocysteine. Mood disorders are common for those with a double mutation but typically do well with SAMe (1) supplementation.
The BHMT gene directs the enzyme responsible for the amino acid methionine, the building block in the choline oxidation process for optimal brain function. Changes in this gene are associated with ADHD.
No, not the television network! It actually stands for the enzyme that makes the amino acid cystathionine. A mutation of this gene will lead a person to produce more sulfur end products and as a result will need to limit sulfur-rich foods such as legumes and dairy. These foods can increase ammonia levels and contribute to existing health problems. NOS and SUOX are two other genes that can increase sulfur and are linked to immune disorders like asthma.
This gene is responsible for creating a healthy balance of neurotransmitters and, in turn, a healthy brain. A double COMT gene change is associated with increased risk for anxiety, OCD, bipolar disorder, and ADHD.
The main role of the MAO gene is to clear out excess neurotransmitters like serotonin. When changes to this gene occur it can create an imbalance in neurotransmitters leading to increased rates of anxiety and depression. Those with an MAO mutation, as well as the MTHFR gene mutation, can have a higher rate of histamine intolerance. Because of this even healthy foods such as fermented foods, bone broth, and vinegar can increase inflammation.
This is not an acronym for a swear word guys, get your mind out of the gutter. The biggest thing I use DNA testing for is to assess methylation, a biochemical superhighway that help your gut, brain, hormones, and detox pathways function properly. This process happens a billion times every single second so if methylation isn’t functioning well, neither are you. Since I often deal with a variety of gut, brain, and hormonal problems in my clinic it is important to see if my patients methylation is working well.
The MTHFR enzyme is responsible for converting folic acid into folate which acts as fuel to the methylation process. A1298C and C677T are the two main MTHFR mutation. When A1298C is altered it can lead to mood disorders due to its important role in neurotransmitter function. C677T changes can cause higher levels of inflammatory homocysteine. Both of these are linked to autism and autoimmune conditions like autoimmune thyroid issues.
These are necessary for B12 production, another methyl donor. Those who have this mutation need higher intake of B12 because their body uses it faster than it produces it. Oftentimes people who have this genetic change can also be low in lithium which is needed for mood regulation. We can easily check lithium levels through testing blood and hair.
VDR stands for vitamin D receptor. Every single cell in your body uses vitamin D. Other than your thyroid hormone, no other nutrient or hormone can claim that importance. It is responsible for over 200 different pathways in the body. Mutations in this gene make it really difficult to absorb vitamin D. It’s important to know if this is the case for you in order to supplement higher doses on a consistent basis to make sure you are getting enough of this vital nutrient.
9. Detox genes
I also look for changes in your detox genes such as CYP1A2, also known as your caffeine gene. This can show just how well you can tolerate caffeine and whether or not it can be harmful or beneficial to your health.
Is your DNA your destiny?
Now that we’ve gone over the cool science behind your genes are they really everything when it comes to your overall health? Heck no! Thankfully, research estimates that 90 percent of longevity is due to controllable factors. The old view of genetics was that it was an immutable force. You could look at your family members and almost see your future, that if they had a certain disease it would be just a matter of time before you were diagnosed as well. But today, science takes into consideration the field of epigenetics – the environmental factors that affect your DNA expression. Bad and good genes can be turned on and off by the choices we make in our lives.
Stanford even estimates (2) that 77% of our immune system is determined by things we can control such as the food we eat, toxin exposure, stress, and medications. These factors are what can really determine the majority of our health. Knowing your genes can help you make the best choices to support your weaknesses and make the best lifestyle choices for thriving health.
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- S-Adenosyl-L-Methionine (SAMe): In Depth NIH January 2017. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/sadenosyllmethionine-same-in-depth
- Brodin P, Jojic V, Gao T, et al. Variation in the human immune system is largely driven by non-heritable influences. Cell. 2015;160(1-2):37‐47. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2014.12.020
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.