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The Top 3 Benefits of Genetic Testing

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Using a multichannel pipette to transfer liquid into a microtiter plate.
Using a multichannel pipette to transfer liquid into a microtiter plate.

Are you at-risk for Alzheimer's? Are you predisposed to Parkinson's? Do you have an increased chance of cancer? A new breakthrough in science lets you stop guessing and start knowing.

The science of genetics exploded in the last decade as researchers completed the Human Genome Project, which mapped the 25,000 genes in the human genome. This large step in genetic science produced a massive amount of collected data on DNA that is now benefiting so many people through widely available genetic testing. Genetic testing gives us a glimpse into the DNA we inherited from our families: the good, the not so good, and the downright dangerous.

Only a few years ago, genetic test services were rare, costing thousands of dollars per test and requiring a stomach-churning six month wait for the results. Now, there are laboratories offering testing services for fees as low as $150 with a short six-week turn-around for results. Affordable public access to these tests is at the cutting edge of health care, allowing each person to customize a personal plan for optimal health.

While genetic testing may sound futuristic, the procedure is simple. DNA is collected from saliva and/or blood, The lab analyzes the number, arrangement, and characteristics of the chromosomes in the DNA and identifies abnormal and mutated genes as well as markers for inherited diseases.

Benefits of Genetic Testing

There are hundreds of benefits to getting tested. Here are my top three:

  1. The test may reveal that you have the DNA sequence of a genetic condition or disease. Armed with this knowledge, you and your doctor can take steps to avoid triggering the disease. The test can also confirm the diagnosis of a genetic condition and help guide you in to proper disease management. For example, you can find out if you have the SNCA (PARK1) gene mutation that may prompt Parkinson's disease. Tests also screen for markers of inherited cancer risks like BRCA1 and BRCA2, which are linked with breast cancer. If there is a mutation in these genes, there is an elevated risk of breast cancer.
  2. A genetic test can identify mutations that lead to insidious enzyme deficiencies. For example, there is an enzyme deficiency called MTHFR. The enzyme involved is responsible for many biochemical reactions in the body including B12 assimilation and regulating detoxification pathways. Low levels of this enzyme wreak havoc on health causing a wide range of issues, from anemia to Epstein Barr to Lupus to cancer. There are over 50 genetic variants of MTHFR mutation. The ones most commonly screened for are C677T, A1298C, P39P, and R594Q.
  3. A genetics test tips the scale of health in your favor, allowing you to design a lifestyle that avoids activating problematic genes. Your DNA is not your destiny.

"It's in my genes. I can't control it!" More than a lame excuse, that line is also a misleading myth. At any one time, 10 to 15 percent of your genes are "turned on" and thus dictating what happens in your body. What you do and how you live regulates which of these genes are expressed. Epigenetics is the science of gene expression and the practice of managing specific genes with food, supplements, exercise, stress, environmental exposure, and sleep.

If your genes were tested when you were a baby, then right from day one, using epigenetics, you would have a plan for your nutrition, medical care, and lifestyle choices targeted to silence health-compromising genes and turn on health-optimizing genes.

As a window into your past, present, and future health, genetic tests put the power of maintaining your well-being in your hands. Genetics laboratories have made testing so easy that there is no excuse for not doing it. Simply order a kit online from a laboratory offering the tests you want. Depending on the lab and the type of test, you will need to swab your cheek, collect a small vial of saliva, or blot a finger-prick of blood on a card. Mail it back to the lab, and in a few short weeks you will have your results. Be sure to share the results with a doctor or practitioner who is familiar with genetic testing and can effectively use the knowledge to optimize your health.

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