What can I learn from my genes?

Why should I care about my genes?

This is something that I hear a lot!

People often think that their genes ‘are what they are’ and that knowing more about them doesn’t change anything. 

The key here is to understand your genetic variants so you can personalize your diet and prioritize lifestyle choices. 

There are so many nutrition gurus and doctors on TV and the web that seem so sure their solutions are right for you. You know what I’m talking about — the guy on YouTube in the tight t-shirt telling you to eat more saturated fat or the other guy with a white coat on TV  telling you to never eat saturated fat. 

Hypothetical situation:

One health guru claims that drinking carrot juice is all you need to do. This will give you all the vitamin A you need — keeping you healthy, thin, and able to leap tall buildings. 

You buy the juicer he’s selling and drink gallons of carrot juice. A year later you notice that your skin is orange, your night vision isn’t great, and you can’t leap tall buildings. 

What’s going on? Time for another example.

Example time: The BCMO1 gene is responsible for the enzyme that converts beta-carotene into the active form of vitamin A needed by your body. SNPs in this gene cause it to not function as well, possibly leaving you deficient in vitamin A if you are only eating carrots. There are two SNPs to check here, and carrying genetic variants in both SNPs can decrease your conversion of beta-carotene by 69%.
Check your genetic data for rs7501331 (23andMe v4, v5, AncestryDNA):
  • C/C: typical
  • C/T: decreased beta-carotene conversion
  • T/T: decreased beta-carotene conversion
Members: Your genotype for rs7501331 is .
Check your genetic data for rs12934922 (23andMe v4, v5):
  • A/A: typical
  • A/T: decreased beta-carotene conversion
  • T/T: decreased beta-carotene conversion
Members: Your genotype for rs12934922 is .
How can you use this information? If you carry variants in both SNPs and have problems with night vision, dry eyes, rough skin (signs of vitamin A deficiency), you may want to get your vitamin A levels checked – or add in retinol sources of vitamin A such as beef liver to your diet. Read the whole article on vitamin A

I like to break down using genetic data into a couple of different compartments:

  • optimizing diet (do I need carrots or liver?)
  • preventing diseases (am I at risk for diabetes?)
  • finding the root cause for things that plague me

Disease Prevention:

Let me give you a quick example of preventing diseases. One completely preventable genetic disease is hemochromatosis, which is caused when too much iron builds up in the body and damages the organs. Eventually, this can lead to liver failure, diabetes, pancreatitis, joint pain, and more. 

Normally, the body tightly regulates iron absorption, but mutations in the HFE gene can cause you to absorb too much iron from foods. 

For someone with an HFE mutation, giving blood is an easy way to reduce iron and keep it from damaging organs. Simply knowing that you have the genetic mutation can help to prevent all the complications from storing too much iron. 

Example time: You can check to see if you carry the genetic variant (HFE C282Y) that is the most common cause of hemochromatosis. (Other rare mutations can also cause hemochromatosis, so you can’t rule it out completely based on this one variant.)
Check your genetic data for rs1800562 C282Y (23andMe v4, v5; AncestryDNA):
  • A/A: two copies of C282Y variant, most common cause of hereditary hemochromatosis, highest ferritin levels
  • A/G: one copy of C282Y, increased ferritin levels, hemochromatosis possible but less likely[ref], check to see if combined with H63D (below) – combo increases the risk of hemochromatosis
  • G/G: typical
Members: Your genotype for rs1800562 is .
Read the whole article on hemochromatosis

To recap:

  • Learning about your genetic variants can help you to optimize nutrition, such as dialing in your need for certain vitamins.
  • You can use your genetic data to find out which chronic conditions you’re at risk for.
  • Genetics can help you to figure out the root cause of different chronic issues.