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7 Pieces of Advice my Genes Gave Me

Fri, 11/09/2012 - 4:26pm | by aliascrazy

About 6 weeks ago, I spent $100 on a DNA kit.

I had already embarked on my hereditary heritage with National Geographic's Genographic Project. Great to know my DNA hails from Scandinavia! My current relatives from England didn't originate in England. They might be the ancestors of Danes or Norsemen who came to the Isles of Great Britain so many centuries ago. Always did feel an affinity for Vikings....

What the Genographic Project does is fun, but it doesn't give you any hard facts about your DNA as it is today. All the questions about if I'm at risk for certain diseases, or what I might pass on to my children, based on my genetics were swimming in my head. Then, I found out about

I bought the test online. It came in the mail a few days later. I conjured up what seemed to be an inordinate amount of spit for them. Then, sent it off to be tested.

Now, I've received my results! And there were some non-shockers (my earwax type is wet, so I have to get rid of it with Q-tips), some fun facts (I will definitely be able to smell asparagus in my own urine), and then the good stuff... the crux of why I did this in the first place...and I found out some surprising things about myself.

My genes, those little buggers, were speaking to me, letting me know how I can live a better, healthier life! Amazing! Here's what they told me...

1. Eat less, exercise more.

I will be much more likely to lose weight if I reduce energy intake and increase energy outputs. There was a study done in Japan, in which the effects of behavioral intervention on weight loss were documented and compared with study participants DNA. Women with two copies of the more common A version of rs4994 (that's me!) tended to see weight loss that directly correlated with both reduction in energy intake and increased amount of walking. My truth? Smaller plates, more bike rides.

2. Keep learning.

This is where it gets real. I have a 43.4% risk of developing Alzheimer's - that's 6 times higher than the average. The heritability of Alzheimer's is estimated at 60-80%. This means that genetic factors contribute more to individual differences than environmental factors do. What can I do? Keep my heart healthy, learn my family history of Alzheimer's, and remain in "student mode" for most of my life. Time to learn another language!

3. Don't eat too much iron.

I carry a variant for Hemochromatosis, which means I am at risk for post-menopausal symptoms of what's called HH and it can lead to liver failure. Symptoms include: arthritis, chronic fatigue, abdominal pain, high blood sugar levels, and loss of sex drive. Luckily, I'm a woman and monthly menstruation equals blood loss. Blood loss equals reduced iron levels, so only about 1% of women with two copies of the mutation (c'est moi) will ever develop symptoms. Never did I think that bleeding on a monthly basis might be saving my life.

4. Make sure to get all my shots.

I am NOT resistant to malaria. I am NOT resistant to the stomach flu. I am NOT resistant to HIV/AIDS. I have a slight susceptibility to Tuberculosis. Now, this might seem obvious to you. But apparently, some folks have a genetic mutation that gives them a greater ability to fight off diseases like malaria and HIV. So, next time I want to travel the world... I'll be taking every single shot the doctor prescribes!

5. Go ahead, drink two cups a day.

I remember not being effected by big amounts of sugar or caffeine when I was a youngster. Turns out, I am a fast metabolizer of caffeine, so the intake of caffeine will not result in a heart attack. For me at least, I don't have to worry too much about how much coffee or tea I drink. Granted, I should really be drinking water because that's hydrating. Caffeine is a dehydrator, so that's why I try to stay away. Good to know I can have an espresso or two just because I wanna!

6. Try sprinting or strength training.

I could be a sprinter if I wanted because my muscles have fast-twitching fibers. Genes can determine up to 80% of the variation in traits like oxygen intake, cardiac performance, and muscle fiber composition. There are more than 150 genes that have been linked to different aspects of physical performance. Crazy! One of the more obvious associations is seen with a gene called ACTN3 that is turned on in a type of muscle fiber used for power-based sports. Ooh la la ma cher ~ yours truly could be a power athlete in disguise!

7. Talk to my doctor.

Not only does all the above information make me really curious to talk to my doctor, I left out a whole mess of information that my 23andme results provided. I have so many tidbits to clue my doctor in on - like what medication NOT to give me - that I'd be a really stupid person if I didn't at least bring up the fact that I have had these DNA tests. I can even share my results via email with my doctor!

Now that I've shared with you, will you share with me? Will you go online to and see what your DNA can teach you? What do you know already about your family medical history that might help you lead a healthier life?



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