Why A DNA Test Could Change Your Life
Teacher gives demonstration in a science class, 1960. Photograph by Mr Henry Grant/Mary Evans Picture Library
How your hardwired coding might affect the diet, fitness regimen and even grooming products that are right for your body.
If the past 10 years have taught us anything about the human genome, it’s that our predispositions are, for the most part, up for grabs. No longer do we have to abide by a fatalistic view of life and dejectedly blame our genes (or, indeed, our parents) for our shortcomings. The woe of a potential illness, an ever-expanding waistline or a particularly unfortunate ageing process is now controllable. In short, if we know our genetic profile, there’s a chance we can take greater responsibility for how things pan out.
By mapping out the 20,000-odd genes in the human genome, we have gained a deeper understanding of how we work as individuals. And since we don’t have the exact same genes switched on at any one time, there can be no “one-size-fits-all” when it comes to medication, diet, fitness, wellbeing or even skincare. Forward-thinking direct-to-consumer businesses have picked up on the potential of increasingly affordable and quick DNA testing and are revolutionising the health and cosmetic industries.
Granted, the science is still in its infancy – and far from foolproof – but we are entering an era where customised programmes will help us make better life choices that determine the way in which our genes are expressed. And all that’s required is a simple cheek swab.
Bespoke skincare has been a buzzword for a while, but only a handful of companies are using DNA analysis to concoct customised anti-ageing potions. According to a 2009 study published in JAMA Dermatology, 60 per cent of our ageing is based on our genes while only 40 per cent is determined by our environment. Most skincare brands on the market are focused solely on the 40 per cent. Companies like ALLÉL, Beautopia and GeneU, however, look at Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (DNA markers) for ageing and work from there.
Given that the ageing process is so multi-faceted, it makes sense to test for as many markers hidden in our DNA as possible. Of the 16 that skincare brand ALLÉL analyses, five biomarkers are given priority: the structural integrity of the skin formed by collagen and elastin fibres, glycation, skin tone/pigmentation, sensitivity and, of course, oxidative stress. To counter each issue, there is a bespoke unguent and/or supplement available. The princely sum of £1,500 will buy you a three-month subscription service, including testing. As DNA testing in the beauty industry becomes more commonplace, prices will inevitably come down.
The data amassed about the human genome has revolutionised the medical arena, but years of rigorous testing will be required before public healthcare starts testing individual people as a matter of course. That hasn’t stopped the likes of Dr Sohère Roked, a general practitioner with a specialist interest in integrative medicine, from using genetic profiling to improve the wellbeing of her clients. She has chosen to analyse 100 of the best researched genetic markers that can be impacted by diet and lifestyle. These results can reveal whether the supplements you guzzle in the morning are of any use at all, or whether the latest vegan/paleo/ketogenic/Fodmap diet is suitable for your body.
If your GP hasn’t uncovered the source of your incessant lethargy, compromised immune system or “weird rash thing”, then a DNA test might be the solution as it puts diet, methylation (the process that changes the activity of a DNA segment), detoxification, hormonal balance and allergies under the microscope.
Gym rats have a smug and rather overbearing way of insisting that their personal regime – whether that’s interval training, circuits or simply massacring your body CrossFit style – will yield results. But even if you’ve followed their advice diligently there’s a strong possibility that their method didn’t work for your body. This is often the case for those looking to lose weight.
US-based companies like FitnessGenes, Nutrigenomix and DNAFit analyse the markers for fat loss, muscle mass, endurance and metabolism. Armed with this information they deliver a customised diet and fitness plan that promises results. Given how many genes and alleles are associated with conditions like obesity, the reliability of these results are negligible. A statement published in the British Journal Of Sports Medicine says the science is still in its infancy and that there are too many variables for a test to offer conclusive information. That doesn’t mean the anecdotal success stories haven’t been flooding in or that gyms will be relying on DNA analysis in the coming years.