All you’ve got to do is harness the power of your genetic code
I’m not the biggest fan in the world of medical authorities.
If you’ve been reading my Nutrition & Healing newsletter and my Health eTips for a while now, you’re well aware of this.
But, even though it is tough to admit, every once in a while they still manage to surprise me… in a good way! And that’s what happened earlier this year.
On 6 April, the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved direct-to-consumer genetic testing for a total of 10 medical conditions – which basically means that patients can now order their own genetic tests without a doctor’s order.
This is so exciting, because I am a big fan of DNA – and, when it comes to your genetic material, knowledge is power.
Armed with the knowledge from these genetic tests, you can take charge of your own health or even help educate your loved ones about their health.
With advancements like these, we may one day see a future in which no disease is ‘incurable’ – and no test result is a ‘death sentence’.
Changing the genetics game in 6 ways
You might have heard of this company, called 23andMe – named after the 23 pairs of chromosomes found in a normal human cell.
The company has put a lot of money into marketing to people just like you, even before the FDA had approved it!
When this test started getting ‘big’ in 2013, the FDA actually stepped in and severely hampered its progress by banning 23andMe from marketing it as a ‘health tool’. The company wasn’t allowed to give any genetic interpretations of the results.
About two years later, the FDA calmed down a bit – and although they didn’t allow 23andMe to make definitive statements about the testing, they did allow some comments on some genetic ‘traits’.
So, the general public thought that this test was just a gimmick to figure out your ancestry and see your chances of having a unibrow, cleft palate, male pattern baldness, etc.
But even that is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what this test can do.
This test is so robust that it has six major factors that make it powerful:
1. It offers 10 FDA-approved tests for 10 different diseases.
2. It includes data for genetic flaws for 40 other diseases, such as cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anaemia.
3. It provides data about many general body characteristics, about a wide range of health issues – such as the genetic tendencies for sleep, lactose tolerance, caffeine and alcohol tolerability, and some genes revolving around weight and food choices.
4. It includes many other genetic tests that have incredible power in the right hands (especially since they provide all the ‘methylation’ genes.
5. Its ancestry testing gives you the breakdown of your heritage and can even help you find long-lost or unknown relatives.
6. Since your genes don’t change, you only have to do the test once – and once it’s been done, you own the data forever and can do what you please with it.
The test is extraordinary even if you just consider the incredible number of genes it tests! Even though I studied hard in medical school and am a voracious reader of medical information, I’d never heard of many of these genes.
But with the aid of technology and geneticists, we are unravelling the genetic code and unlocking its power.
Considering the frantic pace at which technology advances these days, there’s bound to be some advancements in the near future about how to further sift this data and evaluate the full plethora of genes.
Get to IT before it gets to YOU
The big issue with genes is that you get a copy from your mother and a copy from your father. Therefore, for each disease, there are three possible outcomes: You can have two good copies of the gene, one bad copy and one good, or two bad copies.
To put it another way, either both your parents blessed you with good genes, both parents screwed you with bad genes, or one parent blessed you and one parent screwed you.
It’s not an all-or-nothing situation. You can have one bad gene and still have characteristics of the disease… or you can have one bad copy of the gene but some of these genes can be functioning only at 50 per cent.
As 23andMe explains, having one or even two faulty copies of these genes does NOT guarantee ‘getting’ the disease it is connected to – and that’s because the genetic defect isn’t the root cause of the disease.
A gene with a particular mutation is like having a loaded gun – it won’t fire a bullet until an inciting factor pulls the trigger.
For example, if I were seeing a 30-year-old patient who had a genetic ‘snip’ in the Parkinson’s gene, I’d advise him to not take a job where he’d be exposed to toxic chemicals (like a gardener).
I could on and on with circumstances of each of the genes tested and life choices… but you get the point.
The old wise saying ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ definitely rings true in this instance.
Therefore, if you’re educated properly about some genetic defects for some of these diseases, you can at least make educated choices about your diet, environment and supplement intake.
That is, having the genes for any particular disease could motivate you to do the ‘basics’ – like not smoking, eating healthier, keeping your weight in check, and exercising more.
On top of that, you could be more diligent about taking supplements preventatively!
You could start so many helpful treatments for so many diseases – before any symptoms start – if only you had the knowledge at an early enough age.
No such thing as too much information
This is an instance when the conventional medical world has created a technological advancement that’s a few steps ahead of where conventional medical doctors and even Big Pharma are right now.
Unfortunately, that means the conventional medical community doesn’t know what to do with almost all of the data! (Hence, the scuttlebutt with the FDA in 2013.)
Pretty much all of the diseases that 23andMe tests for can’t be cured by a drug, so many conventional doctors think this test a dud… because supposedly since there are no drugs to treat these diseases there’s nothing you can do to protect yourself against them.
Their theory is: Why would you pay money for a ‘death sentence’ and a lifetime of misery and depression, knowing you were doomed to possibly get some of these fatal diseases?
In fact, you probably won’t find a conventional medical doctor who will not be annoyed that one of his patients did this testing on their own. Ever since the FDA snub in 2013, and continuing through the recent approval, many conventional medical doctors have basically been disparaging this test in the media, making unfounded comments about how useless and ethically and medically dangerous this test is.
But while the conventional approach to health and disease is a defensive one, the integrative medical world takes the offensive approach – which involves prevention (which I’ll get to in a minute) as well as finding the root cause of disease.
Integrative medical doctors have answers and treatments for many of these conditions or defects, whether you are half positive or double positive to the gene tested.
This is where integrative medical doctors shine: For almost every disease tested on 23andMe, there’s usually a nutrient and/or vitamin deficiency, a toxin, or a chronic infection involved.
If I’d known then what I know now…
The two major genes that caught my eye are related to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
I have to admit that I’m almost jealous that this testing has only become available recently. I would’ve loved to have had this knowledge about my genetic make-up two decades ago – long before
I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease myself.
The set of data behind the two genes tested is quite strong and, therefore, can provide the impetus and the information needed to start supporting your nervous system and taking charge of your health. I’m sure I would’ve applied some of my knowledge back then about antioxidants, nutrients, and lifestyle changes to ward off this neurological disease.
Particularly fascinating is the Alzheimer’s gene, called the Apolipoprotein E (or APOE) gene, which is really responsible for how your body processes fat.
As you already know, the brain is made of fat – and how your body processes and deals with fat is crucial to the functioning of your brain. It’s also why most integrative doctors like me feel that statin drugs are so detrimental to maintaining optimal brain health because they rob the fats!
Knowing that you have a defect in the APOE gene can, in effect, teach you how to eat – like being careful about the fat intake in your diet and how else what you eat can affect the expression of your genes. (You can read more about this in a book called The Perfect Gene Diet, written by Pamela McDonald, N.P.)
The most influential test out of the 10 could be for the coeliac gene (the ‘gluten gene’), because it can alter every piece of food that you put in your mouth!
There are a fair number of people who do not have coeliac disease but DO have ‘some’ genetic flaws hinting toward coeliac disease… and yet have NO IDEA. In that case, giving up gluten for a period of time is TOTALLY worth it!
Trust me when I tell you that there are millions of people who are walking around with gluten issues and yet are clueless about them.
But you’d be shocked to see what gluten does to your brain, joints, mood, and energy.
Knowing is half the battle
The other test listed that really interested me was the ‘hereditary hemochromatosis’ gene for one of the most common hereditable diseases in Caucasians, specifically in the US.
This is a disease in which the human body erroneously ‘holds on’ to iron, which can lead to a dangerous build-up of this mineral. The elevated iron levels literally ‘stain’ major vital organs and can destroy the pancreas, liver, testicles, and brain.
Once again, knowing that you are a single carrier of this gene also is unbelievably useful because it can force you to have your doctor check your iron level to see if it it’s higher than it should be.
Iron levels are rarely ever checked as part of routine screening of men or pre-and post-menopausal women. And what’s more, the conventional medical world only treats this condition if your levels are super high and you’re a double carrier of the gene.
But if you know you’re a carrier of one bad copy of the gene… and you have slightly high levels of iron… you’ll therefore be aware that you should eat less red meat and stay away from supplements with iron in them.
And since the conventional treatment is with phlebotomy – that is, donating blood – that’s something that you can do on your own that’s both good for you and good for others, too.
The final test that’s been approved by the FDA that I find clinically useful is for the Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (or G6PD for short) gene. Believe it or not, all integrative doctors are intimately involved with this gene… because having a defect in it makes using high dosages of intravenous vitamin C (IVC) dangerous.
Therefore, we usually check the function of this gene before initiating any patient on high-dose IVC.
There are also certain foods and drugs that you really shouldn’t use if you’ve got this genetic defect – and even if you’re just a single carrier of it, this insight can clue you and your doctor in as to why certain drugs may be causing some unwanted side effects in your body.
Listen to your chromosomes… and take charge!
As you can probably tell, I truly believe in this complex and important testing – so much so that I’ve already been using it at my own practice.
Many other cutting-edge integrative doctors have been as well.
I think that’s actually better than going the direct-to-patient route, as this test is so robust that it’s actually TOO good and provides TOO MUCH information for someone who doesn’t have a medical background.
Even trained medical professionals in the conventional world don’t always know what to do with these results, so you really need someone from the integrative world who can interpret them for you, rather than pressing the panic button if something seems awry.
If I have a patient with a genetic ‘blip’ in some of these genes, I’ll first look for the root causes of some of these diseases (such as heavy metals and toxins) and then start leveraging some of the techniques, herbs, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that you’ve read about right here.
Removing gluten from their diet, for instance, is one of the most rewarding and amazing things that I’ve done as an integrative doctor for many of my patients – and, for some people, being shown that they have a genetic susceptibility to an ingredient that’s in almost all breads is the impetus that they need to give a gluten-free diet a chance.
I wholeheartedly feel that, when it comes to some of these diseases (especially Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s), you can alter these genes and protect your body from its genetic flaws.
Please also remember that if you carry these genes, then there is a chance that your children or grandchildren carry one of these genes. Therefore, if you believe (as I do) that ‘knowledge is power’, then knowing that they have these genetic flaws can help you educate them about the supplements and lifestyle choices that they can make.
I’m so excited about this testing – and the spotlight that the FDA approval has focused onto it – because now you’re even more empowered to take charge of your health.
And so many other people are, too!
Wishing you the best of health,
Dr. Glenn S. Rothfeld
Nutrition & Healing
Full references and citations for this article are available in the downloadable PDF version of the monthly Nutrition and Healing issue in which this article appears.