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Can DNA Testing Make You Fitter?
The latest trend in wellness uses a simple cheek swab to predict a path to better health.
Imagine for one moment that you have a document containing personalized instructions for the perfect wellness program. This document has nothing to do with the latest trends; instead, its guidelines are based on your genetic makeup. And since no two people are exactly alike, these guidelines are unique to you alone.
If you are a fan of wellness optimization tests and biohacking, you’ve probably heard about these types of DNA reports. If you are new to the world of epigenetics and wellness optimization, consider this your initiation to a whole new way to think about fitness.
Driven by DNA
In 2017, 23andMe became the first company to receive FDA approval to market DNA information in relation to genetic risks and conditions. At the time, the emphasis was on seeing which illness-related genetic markers you had, like those for Alzheimer’s, Celiac disease or Parkinson’s. Although it was insightful information to have, it was not until the next iteration of genetic tests that the focus switched to using DNA to determine a person’s optimal path to wellness, including additional dietary- and fitness-related data.
Today, you can choose from a host of companies that will provide you with wellness-enhancing information via an easy at-home saliva or swab test. Though some DNA companies provide premium-level packages that include personal nutritionist access and skin care information based on your test results, the baseline for most of these DNA wellness optimization tests includes the following:
· Wellness and Health Traits
· Nutrition and Dietary Intolerances
· Fitness Optimizing
· Genetic Health Risk
· Carrier Status
The health information you receive reflects your current status, as well as risk factors that might inform your approach to disease prevention. “Advances in genomics and precision medicine will improve understanding of human diseases in healthcare,” says Lee Akay, CEO of Fitgenetix, one of the DNA-testing companies based in Newport Beach, CA. In the near future, based on your unique genetic makeup revealed in these tests, doctors may be able to diagnose symptoms and offer personalized treatments—known as genomic medicine.
Tapping Into Your Genetic Potential
The wellness portion of your DNA report can be exhilarating to receive. These results deliver advice far beyond hitting the gym or grabbing your shoes and going for a run. Some reports will determine the types of workouts best for you (team sports or solo? Walking or swimming?), while others analyze your muscle composition and let you know if it is similar to genetic variants commonly found in elite power athletes. (Specifically, the testing captures the presence of a protein called alpha-actinin-3 that's found in fast-twitch muscle fibers of elite power athletes.)
You may also receive information on your nutrition and dietary intolerances—plus advice on how to improve your eating. For instance, the DNA-testing company Vitagene grants customers access to their genetic and nutrition experts via an internal messaging option on their website once you purchase your report. Many companies also offer customized meal plans based on your test results. Here’s how that works: Let’s say that after your DNA has been analyzed, your results come back showing that you are more likely to be a slow carbohydrate metabolizer, prone to gluten sensitivity and at risk of being lactose intolerance.
That’s a bummer if you are someone who likes to include dairy, gluten and carbohydrates in your meals. But with a weekly personal meal plan option, you’ll receive recipe ideas that work for your DNA as well as your personal dietary preferences. Some genetic tests also include a “supplement report,” in which your DNA is analyzed for specific markers that suggest the potential for deficiencies in certain areas. You’ll also be asked for a family health history and fill out a personal goal questionnaire. Together, this information is combined and a supplement package—which ostensibly fills in areas of your nutrition where you are lacking—is presented as a convenient subscription.
Weighing Your Options
Of course, none of this comes cheap. A DNA test can set you back anywhere from $200 to $800, and that doesn’t include the add-ons like meal plans and supplement packages. Critics suggest that much of the advice doled out comes down to basic nutritional common sense—eat less saturated fat, more lean protein and swap simple sugars for complex carbs. But for fitness enthusiasts or athletes looking for a performance edge, there may be little downside to learning what a genetic test reveals about your nutrition and fitness tendencies—provided you’re comfortable with the price tag.
The bottom line: It’s an exciting time to be alive and athletic. The cardinal rules of drinking plenty of water, getting a good night sleep, eating healthy and working out consistently will always be necessary for optimal health. But with the expanding science of DNA testing and the reports now easily available, there is more room for nuanced guidance. You can zero in on specific foods groups to pay attention to and analyze your fitness report to apply it to your workouts to boost your athletic performance. And you’ll discover any genetic health risks so you can maximize prevention methods. In an era where information is everywhere, this is one set of data that can truly do your body good.