Testing your Genes: Why Not?

By Dr Androulla Philippou RD, PhD

In April 2003, the Human Genome Project was completed, and with genetic sequencing becoming an affordable practice, scientists began exploring the world of nutrigenomics. The aim of nutrigenomics assessments is to provide us with insight into your personalised dietary and lifestyle needs through the study of the interactions between your genes and nutrition, and between your genes and various other lifestyle variables that can be tested.

The results of early studies from Harvard, Stanford and others showed that genetic differences predisposed individuals to lose different amounts of weight on different types of diets, but more recent studies have failed to show a statistically significant link between overweight people who eat according to their DNA and those who do not. Over the years, a multitude of studies in the field of nutrigenomics have shown the effect of genes on risk for obesity to vary between 35-85%. While this may seem like a huge range and not very definitive, the question of whether personalised nutrition, extracted from an understanding of ones DNA, can be used to help prevent and even treat diet-related disease and obesity, must only be seen as part of the complex metabolic pie that is the human metabolism. There are still hundreds of other variables that may affect metabolism and contribute to your risk for obesity, and some of these may be less/ more influenced by genetics than others.

No one weight-loss strategy works for everyone, and individuals (even identical twins) show remarkable differences in their responses to different diets. There are several ongoing studies looking at the possible causes (over and above genetics) for these differences in an individual’s ability to respond to different diets, and these variables include areas such as gut bacteria, sleep duration, stress, exercise, body fat composition, individual response to carbohydrates and individual response to fats.

It is important to remember that nutrigenomics is still a very young field of science, and while the idea of getting a clear-cut “do not eat ‘x’ and you will not get ‘y’” easily tempts us to draw more detailed inferences from a result that is in fact valid, nutrigenomics tests should most certainly continue to be used as a valid approach for improving target areas in our diets and lifestyles. We do however caution, that we stick to the facts and concurrently accept the likely contribution from several other modifiable factors in our quest to conquer obesity.

But to answer the question: Why Not?

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“do not do x, and you will not get y”


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