Is Genetic Testing for You?

May 25, 2016 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

There’s so much breakthrough research underway, it sometimes makes my head spin.

But when I take a clear-eyed look around, I’m hugely encouraged. So many breakthroughs lead us in the same direction.

It’s nothing less than a sea change in how we all can achieve or maintain tip-top health.

Welcome to the epigenetics revolution

Epigenetics, as you can guess, is the field of study of genes.

I call it epic genetics. That’s how momentous our thousands of discoveries about genes are proving to be.

I’ll sum it all up with two overarching statements:

  1. It’s about the rise of genes. We can now identify many individual genes and what they can and can’t do. We can identify people, for example, who have a gene that makes them more at risk for Alzheimer’s than people without the gene. Extraordinary.
  2. It’s equally about the fall of the genes. A predisposing gene, like that for Alzheimer’s, was once considered a no-options medical sentence. Got the gene? You’ll get the disease.

But not anymore. Genes don’t control us. We control them.

In fact, we now know we can change the action of 80 percent of our genes with lifestyle choices—diet, exercise, social interactions, time spent in touch with nature.

One size does not fit all.

Conventional medicine has said, for example, that chemo or radiation therapies are always options for many cancers. Both are harsh interventions—like antibiotics—that harm innocent cells along with the targeted cancer cells—and don’t always work.

We now know those cancers can be treated by “switching” specific genes on or off, along with lifestyle changes.

It’s custom tailoring. It’s one size fits oneyou.

Should you jump into your gene pool with genetic testing?

Do your genes make you more or less vulnerable to various diseases? You can find out. All it takes is a few drops of blood or saliva.

If you’re interested:

Be aware that screening can cost from a few hundred dollars to $1,000 or more—and it’s not always covered by insurance. Know what you’re likely to pay.

Look for certification from the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) organization, which holds testing laboratories to strict quality requirements. Another source is the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

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What tests are available?

These are several kinds, depending on your current status and your need(s) to know.

  • Diagnostic tests can identify a disease that’s making you ill—invaluable when deciding how to treat it.
  • Predictive and pre-symptomatic tests can find genes—like the Alzheimer’s gene—that increase your likelihood of developing a disease. Again, vitally important in making lifestyle and healthcare decisions.
  • Carrier testing can see if you “carry” a disease-linked gene. You may have no symptoms, but you can pass a linked gene on to your children, who may develop the disease or become carriers themselves. Consider this test if you have a family history of an inherited disease, or your ethnic group has a higher risk of certain diseases.

Be emotionally prepared.

Whichever test you might take, prepare for what’s often, understandably, a life-changing, emotional experience. Learning that your genes pose no threat to your health can be exhilarating, just as learning you have or carry a dangerous gene can be terrifying.

Be aware also that there have been cases where test results have resulted in workplace or insurance discrimination. “You’re at risk of a genetic disorder? You’re fired / your premium just skyrocketed.”

Appalling.

And finally: today’s tests don’t always give you a complete story. You won’t be sure, in some cases, whether you’ll ever show symptoms of a disorder, their severity, or whether they’ll get worse over time. In some cases, as well, the best treatment for a disorder is not yet known.

To dive or not to dive?

Should you test? It’s a very personal decision. What are the best- and worst-case outcomes?

Best case. You learn that your genes seem to pose no health threats to you or your children. In that case, unhealthy lifestyle and behavior are the real risk.

Worst case. There isn’t one. Knowing the state of your health can never be bad. Even if we don’t yet know how to “switch off” or otherwise treat a health-threatening gene, lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of an unhappy outcome.

Those changes—in your diet, activity level, social and intellectual engagement with friends and family, and your new habits (or departure from old ones)— take time to work.

I get that. I’ve made those changes myself.

That time is an investment—with the payback of a longer, healthier life.

As always, the decision is yours to make. Talk to your doctor about whether to get tested.

When it’s a choice between knowing and not knowing…isn’t it better to know?

References

  • CLIA Home – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Clinical Laboratory Improvements Amendments.” https://wwwn.cdc.gov/clia/
  • Genetics Home Reference. “What are the risks and limitations of genetic testing?”
  • https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/handbook/testing/riskslimitations
  • US FDA Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA). http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/DeviceRegulationandGuidance/IVDRegulatoryAssistance/ucm124105.htm
  • International Organization for Standardization (ISO). https://www.ihs.com/products/iso-standards.html
  • NIH National Human Genome Research Institute. Frequently Asked Questions About Genetic Testing
  • https://www.genome.gov/19516567%20NIH%20national%20human%20genome%20research%20institute
  • Your Genes are Not Your Destiny: The Promise of Epigenetics. http://www.newportnaturalhealth.com/2014/04/epigenetics/

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