What is DNA? DNA is the genetic code handed down to us from our parents, which determines everything from our sex to our eye and hair colour. It is the foundation of who we area and, unless you have an identical twin, no one else will have the same DNA as you.
Why test it? A DNA test is a preventative tool that could help reduce the risk of serious disease. It identifies gene variants that could increase or decrease your chance of developing illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, hypertension and depression, plus your susceptibility to obesity. Knowing about your increased likelihood to develop certain conditions means you can take action to try to reduce the risk through diet, exercise and supplements. But even if you do have a certain gene variant associated with, say, cancer, it does not mean you will definitely suffer from it. Your lifestyle, environment and other genes can all influence your health and wellbeing, so the outcome is far from certain.
What does a DNA test involve? Within minutes of arriving at the Dr Susan Jamieson Integrative Medical Practice in Central I was whisked off to have the inside of my mouth swabbed with a giant cotton bud. The saliva-soaked stick was then sent to a laboratory in Europe for testing. You can choose to be tested in three areas: health, diet and sport. I chose health and diet. The reports arrived three weeks later and I was invited back to discuss the results with Susan's team.
What does the diet report cover? Based on your genetic profile, it tells you which of three diets plans you should be following – low fat, low carb or, in my case, Mediterranean, and offers advice on the type of exercise you should be doing and how frequently. It also uses your results to indicate your risk range (none, low, medium or high) for saturated fat, carbohydrate and obesity.
And the health report? This is divided into sections such as bone health, detoxification, inflammation, insulin sensitivity and food responsiveness, which covers excessive iron levels, lactose intolerance, and sensitivities to caffeine and salt. Within each section the name of the relevant genes are listed on the left next to descriptions, and on the right your result will appear, along with an explanation of the possible health risks and recommendations about diet and lifestyle changes that could help reduce them. Your results can range from beneficial (not common, I’m afraid), no impact and mild impact to, the most worrisome, high impact.
Can you give us an example? Sure. Under detoxification, my report noted that my GSTM1 (a gene active in the detoxification of the liver) was missing an enzyme, which could lead to increased risk of cancers, deficits in lung function and coronary artery disease. My result was high impact and came with the advice not to smoke, to increase antioxidants in my diet and to substantially increase my intake of cruciferous (Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale) and allium (garlic, leeks, onions) vegetables and to start taking a supplement called DIM (diindolylmethane), a food-based compound found in cruciferous vegetables.
Sounds confusing... It is, which is why Susan recommends you make an appointment to go through your test results with her, or one of her team, rather than opting to be sent the report and going through it alone. I’m glad I met with Susan and her practice’s nutrition and health coach, Monica Proctor, as the jargon was confusing and potentially alarming. I found their advice and recommendations reassuring and walked away with a clear sense of what I needed to do to improve my health and wellbeing, but also a sense of relief that I was seemingly healthy in other areas such as bone health.
Would you recommend having a DNA test? My key takeaways from the health report are that I need to be taking a double dose of good quality fish oil and two capsules of the supplement DIM every day, drinking a lot less alcohol, not smoking, using an air filter at home, drinking filtered water, exercising regularly, in particular high-intensity sports such as weight training, and reducing my intake of red meat and saturated fats such as cheese and butter. This information is hardly revelatory but, somehow, seeing a report on my own DNA and hearing about the potential risks, helped me take the advice more seriously than when I read it in scaremongering health articles in the media.
Monica also provided me with a personalised detox program, including a daily regime of supplements, including Liver GI Detox, Stress Relax adaptogens and Liposomal Glutatione. She devised a 21-day detox diet plan. An average day starts with a glass of warm water with lemon follwed by a breakfast of gluten-free porridge topped with seeds, berries, cinnamon and milled flax seed. Lunch and dinner ideas range from mountains of steamed vegetables or salad, a detox broth (recipe included), and raw veggie sticks with tahini, accompanied with precise measurements of protein and complex carbs. I was also asked to keep a food and exercise journal, which we will discuss at a follow-up consultation after the detox.
As a result of this test I instantly started making positive changes to all aspects of my life and feel all the better for it. And you only need to do the test once as your DNA does not change, so what do you have to lose?
DNA Analysis at Dr Susan Jamieson Integrative Medical Practice, Central, Hong Kong, drsusanjamieson.com