We live in a data-driven age where any imaginable type of data is easily collected, stored, analysed and shared. There are hundreds of apps and online companies offering anything from simple step and calorie tracking to blood tests and genetic data interpretation.
Let us take a look at the most common types of DNA health tests, plus nutritional and health data, its utility and importance of the results.
From a health optimisation point of view, a good genetic report should cover Nutrient Response, Energy & Metabolism, Methylation, Inflammation, Detoxification, Neurotransmitters and should provide personalised recommendations for each of these health areas. If you are a data-driven person, or interested in the prevention of chronic health conditions, or if you are considering a drastic dietary change, then genetic testing may provide some insights into your health and empower you to make a positive behavioural change.
When choosing a genetic test, download a sample report and see how comprehensive it is. Does it cover the health areas above or is it mainly focused on key nutrients and fitness? Are the recommendations provided actionable and personalised enough? Commercial tests mainly focus on the types of diets and activity that are right for you. Yet, there is so much more information you could extract from your genes. If you have already done any type of genetic testing (e.g. ancestry), you could use your existing raw data file to run a comprehensive report through a different company or a genetic software.
Commercial tests mainly focus on the types of diets and activity that are right for you. Yet, there is so much more information you could extract from your genes.
Points to remember when interpreting genetic results
1. Genetic testing shows your predisposition towards certain imbalances. It is not a diagnosis. No supplements should be suggested based on your genetic test results alone.
2. Epigenetic factors (e.g. diet, stress, physical activity, toxins) play a much bigger role in your health outcome, as they are capable of switching these genes “on” and “off”. Personalised recommendations in the report should provide you with a set of clear dietary and lifestyle priorities to focus on. If they are not sufficiently comprehensive, then a health practitioner could help you to implement them.
3. If your genetic analysis identified a certain area of concern, you should consider regular testing (blood, urine). This will ensure that your relevant biomarkers and the co-factors required for the proper functioning of this particular gene are at optimal levels.
If you are serious about your health and longevity, then blood testing should be routinely carried out, at least once a year in the absence of any health conditions. There are numerous ways of arranging a blood test: through your GP, privately through a health practitioner (like a nutritional therapist) or ordering a test online.
There are some basic biomarkers you should be testing and monitoring regularly.
• Complete blood count
• Lipid profile (cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL, HDL)
• Metabolic profile (glucose, HbA1c, insulin)
• Thyroid profile (TSH, fT3, T4, fT4, TPO ab, TG ab)
• Mineral deficiency screen (zinc, magnesium, selenium, copper, iron, ferritin, TIBC)
• Vitamin deficiency screen (A, B group, D3, E)
• Inflammatory markers (homocysteine, hsCRP, ESR)
• Omega 3 ratio
If you have a specific health concern, such as a digestive issue or a hormonal imbalance, there are additional biomarkers that could be considered.
Points to remember when interpreting results
(1) “Normal” results do not mean “optimal”. Always ask for a copy of your test results and do not rely on “your-test-results-are-normal” answer. “Normal” results may signify the absence of a pathology or disease, but you could be a long way from being in a state of optimal health.
(2) If you have a nutrient deficiency, you need to understand the cause. Supplementation without understanding the cause of deficiency is not the solution.
(3) If you are arranging a blood test online, ensure that the results are interpreted by a health practitioner who is taking into consideration overall patterns, your symptoms, medical history, and your medications. If this information is not requested, then any health and supplement recommendations would not be personalised.
(4) It is not uncommon for test results to be inaccurate or flawed.
HEALTH DATA MONITORS
There are multiple wearable devices and apps available on the market allowing you to track anything from steps and calories burnt, to the quality of your sleep. We are constantly collecting this data, but how do we use it effectively?
When considering a new app or a wearable device on the market, you should be asking the following questions:
• “Will this data provide me with new and accurate health information?”
• “Could I take any actionable steps or initiate a positive behavioural change based on this data?”
While some tools could be extremely powerful in creating healthier lifestyle habits, others may cause additional anxiety and stress. It may be driven by your personality as much as by an app or a device itself. For example, if your sleep app helped you to adjust your bedtime routine, then this is an example of a positive behavioural change, that we are looking for. However, if you’ve developed a compulsion to complete 10,000 daily steps following your app’s prompts, then clearly this type of data creates some negative emotions. For the record, no calorie tracking app would provide any insightful information about your health, nor would it initiate a positive behavioural change.
Genetic and functional testing along with the health tracking data are powerful tools in nutritional therapy. Your health practitioner would rely on these data to design the most suitable personalised health protocol, assess its effectiveness and, ultimately, change your diet and lifestyle for the better.
Article written for Thrive Magazine Autumn 2020 issue >>
Written by Elena Letyagina (MSc, DipION, mBANT, CNHC). Elena holds a Nutritional Therapy Diploma (DipION) from the Institute for Optimum Nutrition and is working towards BSc (Hons) Nutritional Therapy degree from the ION.