Three things I learned about my health from genetic testing

older woman getting DNA cheek swab

It’s been my lifelong mission to reach optimal health.  Like everyone, I am always looking for shortcuts. More often than not, I exercise four to five times a week, try to get enough sleep and eat dark, leafy greens. But like most humans, I am fallible: I have a kryptonite-like weakness for fancy craft cocktails, rich foods, and staying up late. But life is short and those things make me happy.

It doesn’t take a genetic scientist to point out that my indulgences are not good for me. Yet I harbor a secret fantasy that if I just knew everything about my specific genes, I could concoct the ideal regimen to avoid any health problems. While that may never happen, it seems more likely these days than ever before—the genetic testing market has grown exponentially over the past five years with no signs of slowing.

For people like me, this creates myriad available genetic test options that can be daunting to navigate. Many of the available wellness-related ones provide insights on an individual’s genetic likelihood of developing specific diseases, but few provide actionable information on what to do to reduce these health risks. That’s why I jumped at the chance to take a test called Mindful DNA® from Genomind®, a personalized medicine company. What makes their test different is that it includes evidence-based recommendations that can help me improve my health.

The company assured me that they won’t sell my data and that my results would be scientifically sound. It is also one of the few genetic testing companies that has College of the American Pathologist (CAP) accreditation, meaning it meets the highest standards for accuracy, consistency and laboratory quality.

Using a gene sample collected from a cheek swab, my test report provided personalized genetic results to help my doctor and I figure out the best lifestyle, diet, and supplement choices to improve my health.

The findings were separated into six categories: cognition, cardiometabolic, emotional well-being, gastrointestinal, inflammation, and sleep.

If a genetic result in any of these categories indicates a risk to health, the summary report will provide recommendations that may decrease these specific risks. This information is helpful to adults of any age, but what’s most appealing for us older adults is that we don’t just want to survive, we want to thrive.

The test alone can’t tell someone which of these risks are the most relevant to their health—that’s why it’s a tool for doctors to use in tandem with a patient’s medical history to map a path forward. Here’s what I discovered from the test:

  1. Magnesium can help me sleep:  My penchant for late nights might not just be behavioral.  My results also revealed I have a gene variant that is often linked with sleeping problems. This can partially explain why even when I avoid all light and other stimulants, I still have trouble winding down at the end of the day and staying asleep through the night. Luckily, I learned that taking magnesium supplements in the evening can help me sleep. This natural alternative is far preferable than the usual prescription sleeping pills I typically rely on, and it has already been effective for me.
  2. I might have to bid adieu to baguettes: I’ve tried “elimination diets” but they haven’t revealed the culprit in my diet that causes my frequent indigestion. I’ve also noticed that after I eat a carb-heavy meal (say pizza or pasta), I feel really sluggish the next day. Celiac disease runs in my family and I’ve long suspected that I might have it–but I never wanted to be one of those people who demonizes bread and asks waiters endless questions about food preparation. That may all change soon because I have a gene linked with a higher likelihood of developing Celiac disease. Now I know it’s time to make that long-overdue appointment with a gastroenterologist to get tested for it. If I do have Celiac, any foods I eat containing gluten are blocking my body’s ability to absorb other nutrients. Better to nip this in the bud sooner and avoid more damage.
  3. Omega-3s are my friends: I have eight gene variations that confer a much higher risk of developing heart disease. Again, because of a strong family history of heart problems, this was not surprising. What I didn’t know, however, is that given the combination of genetic risk factors I have, it’s very important for me to eat a lot more foods rich in Omega-3s (like salmon and walnuts) to increase the likelihood of reducing my risk of cardiac problems. Of course, I need to keep up with my exercise regimen and leafy greens too.

With all of the health advice out there, I really appreciate having this tool to point out the most important issues for me to focus on.

I realize that genes are not your destiny. Environmental factors and lifestyle choices can have equal, if not more, influence on anyone’s health. I’m not planning on becoming a teetotaler who goes to bed at sunset, but I do have a roadmap for becoming the healthiest version of myself. I’m also more committed than ever to sticking with my exercise routine and eating foods that will support, not undermine, my health.

The best part is that although I know my health will change over time, my genetic code will remain the same, and this provides a valuable, lifelong reference for me and my doctors if and when future health issues arise.

* * *

Elizabeth Farrell is a writer, editor and communications consultant based in Washington D.C. As a journalist, she has covered everything from breaking financial news to food trends in college dining halls for outlets including The Wall Street Journal, PBS’s Nightly Business Report, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. She has never owned a car but is an avid user of her feet to get around D.C. and cities all over the world.

Genomind® is a personalized medicine company that develops genetic testing for use by medical practitioners with their patients. The Mindful DNA® genetic test helps both clinicians and individuals understand the impact of their genes on their health so they can develop a plan to stay well and prevent disease.


No Comments Yet

Comments are closed