Skinny genes

By Dr. Eve Ashby

“Why do I eat all the right things and exercise all the time and still I can’t lose weight?” Sound familiar? Maybe you’re not listening to your genes. Up until now we have relied on general dietary information, our family history and the latest “fad” to help guide us in our weight loss efforts. Finally there’s a new tool in town that isn’t a new diet craze, new exercise regime (aren’t you supposed to lose a ton of weight with spinning??), or even a diet pill. Look no further than your own DNA.

Last April marked the 10th anniversary of scientists mapping the human genome, which continues to provide insight into various cancer and diseases and can possibly lead to better treatments and cures. Earlier this year, Angelina Jolie found out through genetic testing that she carried a dangerous gene mutation increasing her risk of breast and ovarian cancer and made the brave step to decrease her odds of dying of that disease by having a double mastectomy. She raised awareness of the benefit of genetic testing for risk of disease so that a specific, personalized snapshot of your health can help you live stronger and longer.

OK back to YOUR genes. Many genetic tests are on the market specifically looking for mutations showing increased risk for breast cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, coronary heart disease, etc. These tests are available but variably covered by Medicare and private insurance companies.

Healthy Woman Insight DNASM is a new saliva test administered right in your doctor’s office that will look at various genetic parameters like eating behaviors such as food desire, satiety, snacking, as well as genetic risk for nutritional needs such as Vitamin B12, vitamins C and D. It also looks at your metabolism, response to dietary fats, and even will give you a diet type to match YOUR genes. This test also focuses on what type of exercise may be best for you based for your insulin sensitivity and endurance.

For me, the most important part of this test is that it looks at your risk factors for high cholesterol which lead to heart disease (even if you’re skinny you may have increased risk). Equally as important, this saliva test can tell you if you have increased risk of diabetes, osteoarthritis, and venous thrombosis (blood clots). Lastly, it can also tell you your genetic response to medications such as estrogen supplementation, warfarin (a common blood thinner), drugs to treat high cholesterol, and codeine (used for cough, pain, etc). This is invaluable information for you and your doctor.

Why am I writing an article about this? I think it’s important to take an active part in your own health and be proactive about maintaining a healthy weight, knowing your risk factors for disease, and knowing what supplements you really should be taking instead of all of them.

Earlier this year I found out that I am at a three times higher risk for venous thromboembolism (blood clots) which may lead to stroke or even death. While there’s more of a workup to do, I will absolutely take this into account and try to lower some of my other risk factors for vascular disease. We have a strong family history of strokes but I just thought that was due to all the Italian food and pastries! I also found out that I have an increased tendency to snack (I figured that) and now knowing that my genes are making me do it, I’m making sure to only have healthy snacks around like celery, carrot sticks and almonds. Additionally, I will be using this tool in my practice to help assess a woman’s risk of blood clots with postmenopausal hormone replacement and maybe consider non-hormonal medications to help decrease her symptoms if she’s at higher risk.

This company also provides other saliva testing panels for pre-pregnancy testing for genetic carrier states as well as looking at a patient’s DNA to identify genetic variants that affect the metabolism and efficacy of psychiatric medications. This can greatly guide a physician in picking the right medication for you and  avoiding the ones that might have an adverse response (side effect) or not be effective. In the near future, this company will be providing saliva genetic testing looking for increased risk of GI disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, and various cancers.

This is the future of medicine- focused care to prevent disease and maintain your health. Is it covered by my insurance? As I understand it, the tests are covered by Medicare and private insurance is patient friendly.

Beaufort has entered the age of gene-directed medical screening and care. Ask your doctor about it, you owe it to your genes.

Dr. Eve Ashby is an OB/GYN with Lowcountry Medical Group, Beaufort,SC.

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