We hear this question all of the time. Our members are dedicated to living right today so they can live well tomorrow, and a big part of that is ‘knowing your numbers.’ But what does that mean? How can genetic testing fit into this?
We recently took these questions to Pathway Genomics, a genetic testing laboratory, to combine with our own knowledge of tracking biomarkers to create a useful and comprehensive answer. Below we list the benefits of each, and how they can ultimately complement each other for the best results in prevention and on-going wellness.
Catching Problems Before They Exist
Aging doesn’t sound fun. But the alternative is dying young, so it’s important to make the right decisions in the early years to fully enjoy the later ones. Some of this is intuitive: eating healthy, staying active, going to the doctor every once and awhile. Preventing specific diseases and disorders is where it gets tricky.
Genetic testing provides the unique ability to identify an individual’s propensity to certain diseases. Interventions performed according to the details around these areas of high-risk have the greatest yield. For example, efforts to reduce the risk of a heart attack are a lot more valuable if you have a 30% risk than a 2% risk.
A blood panel gives a snapshot of the body’s internal physiology. For example, high fasting glucose and hbA1c levels suggest a possibility of developing diabetes, regardless of genome.
With the plethora of different factors genetic testing highlights, it can be difficult to know what to prioritize. Periodic blood panels provide a clearer picture of the body’s current state in order to track and tackle issues in a manageable manner. On the other hand, blood panels won’t be able to pick up on genetically predisposed conditions if said genes have yet to turn on. In this case, genetic testing can provide extra prevention by identifying potential problems long before warning signs
Dealing With Pre-Existing Problems
Genetic testing can provide possible explanations for pre-existing conditions and problems. This offers a unique potential affect: morale boosting. For example, someone who has fought obesity most of their life learns they may be genetically predisposed to weight gain. This can relieve some of the ‘guilt’ society has attributed to being overweight. With the proper knowledge of the body’s specific needs the person can have the confidence and motivation to make appropriate changes and receive results.
Blood analysis highlights imbalances in the body, which can lead to the proper diagnosis and treatment of an existing problem. For example, a recent WellnessFX customer with a bad case of asthma discovered she had high hs-CRP readings, indicative of excess inflammation in the body. A consult with a physician informed her of the possibility of a gluten intolerance, which could be responsible for her inflammation and asthma.
Genetic testing may give more insight into how to fix an existing problem. For example, genes around obesity might suggest which foods work best for weight loss; a blood test can only inform, for example, that carb levels are too high due to glucose/hbA1c readings. However, blood testing can actually identify a problem. Dangerously high cholesterol might not be reflective of unique genetics. In this case, only a blood test would identify the problem.
Genetic testing excels at identifying effective interventions. Knowledge of sensitivities to a certain supplement, exercise-type, or dietary change from genetic information can help create the best regimen. Avoiding interventions that are of little yield (if one is insensitive to aspirin or statins, for example) can save time and money.
Periodic blood tests allow a continually evolving response to the body’s specific needs. For example, WellnessFX’s CEO, Jim Kean, tracked how his inflammation levels responded to too much or too little vitamin D. He eventually found the optimal supplementation specific for his biology.
The Best of Both Worlds
Now that you know how they differ, the next logical question is: which is better? The answer: it depends. On your goals, your current health status, and what it is, exactly, you want to know.
Think of it like owning a house. Genetic testing lays out the body’s genetic blueprint, where future problems may be identified. Still, after the house is built, periodic inspections are important to check on those potential problem areas while also ensuring any unexpected hiccups don’t get out of hand. For complex problems, visible current indicators (like cracks in the piping) can be analyzed in light of relevant blueprint specifics (like where the water pressure in the house can be safely increased) to form a plan that’s both safe and effective. Optimal upkeep calls for both knowledge of the floorplans and periodic inspections.
Consider Sarah, an overweight individual who suspects she has the genetic propensity to gain weight. After she meets with her health care provider, who orders a genetic test from Pathway, to her surprise, there is nothing in her genetic test results that support this. Frustrated, she tests her biomarkers and discovers her thyroid numbers are all out of whack: she suffers from hypothyroidism. She consults with a physician, deciding to also share her genomic testing results. This ends up being a smart move because she turns out to be insensitive to many of the several possible treatments. By using both her genetic and biomarker information, Sarah and her physician are able to identify her problem and craft an effective treatment plan specific to her needs.