Personalized Genetic Nutrition & Fitness Reports: Are They Worth It?

This question will have different answers depending on whom you ask.

Given the rapid expansion of genetics and genetic testing that ushered a better understanding of the fact that almost everything is genetic, it comes as no surprise that this concept has transgressed into nutrition. You may have heard of personalized medicine—designing drugs based on each person’s genetic profile. With nutrition, it is essentially the same, namely designing diets and the perfect nutrients, as well as offering dietary advice based on individuals’ genes (again, carried out through genetic testing) to ensure long-term health.

This is not to be mistaken with the field of nutrigenomics and nutrigenetic testing that is taking a whole genome approach as a way to minimize the risk of diseases based on lifestyle changes, such as cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and other chronic diseases. There is evidence to suggest that some foods have been linked to increasing the chances of developing a disease, and nutrigenomics looks into that. In other words, this areas of research will tell you whether or not you have genetic markers that will turn on a disease based on the foods you eat. This area, however, still remains to be developed a bit further before any conclusions can be drawn.

But let us get back our topic at hand—personalized genetic nutrition and fitness reports.

So, the way this kind of genetic testing works is, you order a kit online that arrives at your house. You take a cheek swab for a saliva sample and send it back to the company. From there on, your cheek swab is used as a source of your DNA that contains genetic information pertaining to genetic variations and your nutrition. Depending on which company you decide to get tested with, you will find out several things. Your report will contain info regarding food sensitivities as well as what kind of foods are best for you and other nutrition recommendations to maximize your overall health. The report may also contain information pertaining to food allergies such as lactose intolerance. It may also contain dietary recommendations as it pertains to which foods are best for you if you are looking to lose weight.

Some of these tests may tell you that you are sensitive to caffeine as well as a few other things. Overall, you may find out about foods that your body craves more than others. You may find out what exercises are better for you. In other words, you will find out what to change in terms of diet and exercise based on your genes, rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach that may not fit everyone the same. The information you obtain from these reports may urge you to make some lifestyle changes that will have beneficial effects.

 Take a cheek swab, sending it back to a lab

This sounds incredibly convenient and easy, right? Take a cheek swab, sending it back to a lab and wait for results to tell you what you should be eating and how you should be exercising. Some of these so-called “lifestyle tests” will analyze a staggering 22,000 of your genes for an affordable price.

A lot of people who have looked to this to improve their diet and lifestyles to incorporate physical activity and cut out things like sugar and saturated fat as means to lose weight, get fit, and improve cardiovascular health have considered this approach useful. They have seen this as the quick fix they were looking for to jump start their diet, weight loss, and fitness routines. However, physicians that have been asked about these tests to warn that there is no quick fix to achieving the aforementioned simply by cutting out a little food and dabbling at healthy eating. While your DNA information may help you realize some things about foods and your body’s reactions to them that you did not know before, your behavior has a much bigger impact on your diet than your genes.

Overall, according to experts, DNA is apparently not very useful in this particular regard. While these tests do find out some information that is guiding individuals in the right direction, physicians warn that only a small fraction of nutritional information and benefits can be gained from DNA tests. They highlight that lifestyle changes ought to be made and appropriate dietary as well as physical exercise habits ought to be implemented regardless of what our genes may or may not say about the potential risks we will face if we do not do that. Furthermore, experts also highlight that the useful genetic information pertains to the biological responses to food safter they are eaten. For example, while sugary and starchy foods may be bad for everyone and ought to be avoided, the difference is in how our body responds to sweets. Some people’s blood glucose levels may be much different than others’ after eating sugary and overly starchy foods. And those things could be predicted with a DNA test. This begs the question of whether you should be consuming sugary and starchy things if your body’s glucose system does not act out after consumption? The answer is probably a no—if you are looking to be healthy. You are still ingesting calories, and you did not necessarily need a DNA test to tell you that.

So, to wrap things up, you may find out information about yourself through a personalized genetic nutrition and fitness report that you would not have otherwise had the chance to find out. In other words, it may help you find out what foods to completely avoid (and you may have been doing that even before the test simply because those foods may have made you feel worse) and which foods to focus on more. These tests may also be helpful in telling you what types of exercises may yield the best results, which could also be helpful. However, whether the tests are completely useful to a point that they are life changing is difficult to say. Personalized genetic nutrition is a fairly new discipline, and more research is warranted to truly be able to say yes or no to our initial question of the usefulness and worthiness of them.

However, if you are still curious about your body in this regard, go ahead and order a test. A cheek swab does not hurt your cheek, and the money you spend will not break the bank (depending on which test you decide to go with).

Laura Day