Five things you can learn from your DNA

To check your DNA results – or not to check them? That really is a 21st century question. The fate of your health used to lie randomly in the lap of the Gods. A few hundred years back, medicine was more concerned with whether or not the local blacksmith could successfully wrench a sword or an arrow out of your back without causing you mortal harm; in Victorian times the best you could hope for was that the surgeon happened to wash his hands before operating. Today, however, the medical world really is your oyster and the latest DNA tests open up a world of multi-layered possibilities, offering you a clear picture of your genetic strengths and weaknesses.

What is DNA?

DNA is a unique genetic code that each of us carries in every cell of our bodies, that details everything about you. The colour of your hair and your eyes, the strength of your teeth, your height, weight and even your personality – it’s all down to your DNA. Remember those pictures of DNA’s fascinating double helix? That twisted, two stranded ladder-like shape holds the code to your genetic history and the instructions for your life.

And now, for the first time in human history, you can access those instructions.

For more or less the price of a decent dinner for two, you can buy a DNA test kit online, take a mouth swab (just like they do in CSI and NCIS!), post it off to the lab and sit back and wait for a report to arrive a couple of weeks later. You can even have a ‘genetic counsellor’ work through the results with you.

DNA testing – the answers all lie within you, written in your genes. Are you tempted to look?

You now have the opportunity to find out all sorts of things – but do you dare?

1 DNA Paternity and Relationship Test

We have probably all, at one time or another, watched Jerry Springer and his confrontational guests, many of whom appear to embody all that is unattractive about the human race. Paternity tests seem to loom large in the lives of many – and now you don’t have to queue for a slot on national TV to solve any doubts you might have. Get a legal letter telling you you are in line for a share of a vast inheritance? Double check it’s not an email from a Nigerian scammer first, but prove your genes and hey presto! And if you need proof of your ancestry for immigration purposes, no government agency in any land will now be able to dispute your history. No more arguments and dissent - DNA testing has it all in hand.

2 DNA Skincare and Ageing Test

Are you likely to be one of those people who look decades younger than their biological age? Or very much older? Either way it may be useful to know whether you need to start saving for Botox and laser treatment – or can blow it all now on a round the world cruise. Most of us have endless pots of half used face cream that didn’t work, sitting dusty in our drawers. But now, the answer to what will work lies, once again, in your genes. Are you at low, medium or high risk of developing wrinkles? How fast does your collagen and your elastin degrade? Are you genetically predisposed to sun damage and pigmentation? How strong should your sun protection factor be? And how are your antioxidant levels? That fresh glow of youth we all yearn for is determined by their numbers and their success at fighting off the free radicals that age you. Check your genes – and tailor your skincare accordingly. Make sure you get to be the one that looks 20 years younger than your biological age!

3 DNA Obesity Test

Have you tried every diet going, and struggled to shed even the barest of pounds? Looking at your friends, who gaily eat raw carrots and green juice for a couple of days and fit into the same clothes they wore when they were eighteen, life often doesn’t seem fair. But think again. It seems it is not just willpower and starvation that does it, but down to your DNA. Do you have genes that help you to lose weight and keep it off? Or genes that sabotage you? What sorts of fats, carbs and proteins work for your genetic makeup? What minerals, vitamins and nutrients might you be genetically deficient in? Identify the problems and then work with your genes and you just might achieve your weight-loss goal that much faster.

4 DNA Coeliac Test

Gluten-free is the buzz ‘must-do’ of the moment. So many people seem to have problems with wheat and are gluten intolerant. But are they really? Or do they have something more serious? Coeliac disease is an auto-immune issue that is triggered by gluten intolerance, inflaming your gut and preventing nutrients from being properly absorbed. Around 83% of sufferers haven’t heard of the problem and don’t even know they might have it. But the solution lies in your DNA and coeliac disease can be identified – simply and definitively – simply by sending off a mouth swab. No coeliac genes on the test results (they will be looking for HLA DQ2 and DQ8 specifically) – no coeliac disease – ever. And even if you do carry them, it doesn’t mean you will necessarily ever develop the problem. The test merely flags a possible weakness. More useful still is the fact that if you aren’t coeliac, then the symptoms you have been trying to sort by cutting out gluten are probably down to something else entirely and there is very little point in giving up those slices of toast or turning down the daily office doughnut.

5 DNA Genetic Predisposition Test

This tests your genes for up to 34 different diseases, giving you a percentage chance of your likelihood of developing a range of conditions. Think carefully, however, before you gaily send off for the test. It grades your chances for Lupus, Multiple Sclerosis, Psoriasis, Heart Disease and Aneurysms. Diabetes, Osteoporosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Glaucoma are also all on the list, along with many other debilitating conditions. Knowledge is power, they say. But will the sight of a ‘high percentage’ risk of cancer send you into a tailspin? Or will the relief of knowing that you are ‘low risk’ for some condition that has blighted your family balance any unexpected surprises? And there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s. Will the fear generated by a ‘high’ genetic tendency overshadow your later years? Having said all that, as technology develops so do medical and pharmaceutical solutions, and DNA testing may, at the very least, give you the gift of awareness, allowing you to play a significant part in the long term management of your health.

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Written by health advocate Sara Davenport, founder of one of the UK's leading breast cancer charities, Breast Cancer Haven. With over twenty years' experience in holistic health, Sara's digital dose of wellness teaches you to listen to your body, tweak your lifestyle and improve your health. 

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