The start of a new year is often a time to reflect on values and set intentions for the months to come. For many, health is often at the top of the list. Many strive for ‘better health’, but what does this actually look like for you? More energy, happiness, better sleep, weight loss, perhaps reducing symptoms or onset of disease? While eating a healthy diet, exercising and improving sleep is the foundation to cultivating optimal health, the question of ‘how’ is often the missing link. Advances in technology, mainly genetic testing, are proving to be a key tool in determining the best approach for a personalized approach.
Personalized medicine, also known as precision medicine, is an approach to health that considers individual differences in people’s genes, environments, and lifestyles. It aims to provide more personalized, effective treatments for diseases by considering each person’s unique genetic makeup.
One way that genetics is used in personalized medicine is through genetic testing. Genetic testing can help identify genetic variations that increase a person’s risk of developing certain diseases or conditions, and importantly what interventions are key to reduce said risk. For example, if a person has a genetic variation that increases their risk of developing type 2 diabetes in response to certain types of carbohydrates, they will benefit more from a low glycemic diet and regular screenings to identify early signs of insulin resistance and prevent diabetes from developing. On the other hand, other genetic variations can increase risk of developing T2 diabetes in response to a high fat diet. In this case these individuals will benefit more from a low saturated fat diet.
- Studies show that those with the TT genotype of the TCF7L2 gene (rs12255372) have a larger decrease in BMI, total fat mass, and trunk fat mass (all P<0.05) after 6-months on a low-fat diet (< 20%) compared to CT and CC genotypes. In addition, those with the TT show better glycemic control with reductions in plasma glucose and insulin while consuming a low-fat diet.
- Variants in the CRY1 gene (rs2287161) influence insulin secretion, HOMA-IR (marker for insulin resistance) and the risk for type 2 diabetes (T2D). Individuals with the CRY1 CC genotypes who consume a low carbohydrate diet (< 41.65%) that is made up mainly of complex carbohydrates rich in fibre, show an improvement in insulin sensitivity better than the other wild-type genotype.
Genetic testing provides a framework
When you’re planning the ‘how’ to reach your goals, it is helpful to create a plan. Lifestyle genetic testing provides a framework to address key areas that contribute to overall health. This includes:
- Dietary guidelines including macronutrient ratios (how much fat, protein and carbohydrates) and requirement of specific nutrients and minerals (B vitamins, vitamins A, C, D, and E; iron).
- Risk for common diseases that result from environmental and lifestyle factors and importantly the interventions to reduce risk, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, and obesity.
- Behaviours that influence weight gain including meal timing, snacking tendencies and propensity to overeat.
- Tolerance and recovery for certain types of exercise (vigorous, endurance, high-intensity interval training) and risk for tendon-based injuries. This helps to guide what types of exercise to focus on and how to minimize excessive wear and tear.
- Stress tolerance and personality traits
- Detoxification enzymes and susceptibility to environmental toxins, allergies and food intolerances (particularly lactose intolerance).
Genetic testing helps to uncover an individual’s unique predisposition and specific changes that can be made to their environment to overcome these inherent risks. Overall, the use of genetics in personalized medicine has the potential to improve health outcomes by providing more personalized and effective treatments for diseases.
By Dr. Robyn Murphy, ND
Scientific Advisory Board Member