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GENOMICS: WHAT IT IS AND WHAT IT MEANS TO YOU

In this new millennia, our technology has taken us to all sorts of places; we’ve been seeing how far we can get in the universe, we have a rover in Mars, and we have banished and accepted back a planet. But then those are the big things. The ones that we cannot really see day to day. What about those small things? The things that philosophers say we are made up with, and reflects in the stars? Our little bits and pieces, the molecules, the atoms, the quarks and neutrinos? What about those?

When we talk of genes, and testing genes, it is usually with regards to finding out one’s identity; like on a really trashy talk show, it is usually about paternity tests. While that is worthwhile and yes, it does help, what is not realized is that genetics, at least nowadays, goes deeper than that.

There is a new movement in healthcare, which is based upon prevention and personalization rather than being reactive. It revolves around nutrition and mostly, a new kind of genetics. It is about knowing yourself, and how your physical body reacts to certain things, such as food and medicines; this means that rather than just plugging in a catchall paracetamol tablet, you will know how your body is able to absorb this tablet that is given.

Let us step back first and ask, what is all this? This is the study of genomics. Genomics is defined in Wikipedia as: “…a discipline in genetics that applies recombinant DNA, DNA sequencing methods, and bioinformatics to sequence, assemble, and analyze the function and structure of genomes (the complete set of DNA within a single cell of an organism).” In layman terms, it means that it studies your DNA make up, those little twirly things that you see in some pictures.

Because we are individuals, and no one has the exact same genetic makeup, it is reasonable to think that this applies to our ways of reacting to things we ingest as well. Take for example say, your everyday vitamin complexes, the ones you take as supplements. Because Person A and Person B, even if they are twins, are not strictly the same person, the vitamins that they take are or should be completely different taking into account what their bodies can absorb and need. That is to say, just because Person A is allergic to shellfish, it does not mean Person B is allergic as well. Taking that example further, if Person A and B are twins, if Twin A is allergic to shellfish, it does not mean that Twin B will be allergic as well. There is a high chance that may be true, but there is also a big chance that it is not.

Here in the Philippines, there have been moves made to slowly get to understand and implement ideas and practices of genomics. One of the forefront in this is LifeScience in Fort Bonifacio. There are functional medicine practitioners and doctors on hand to talk to if you have any questions. A functional medicine practitioner is a doctor who specializes in the filed of knowing how body parts work with each other and how to make the way they work reach their maximum potential.

The definition of functional medicine from functionalmedicine.org is: “Functional medicine addresses the underlying causes of disease, using a systems-oriented approach and engaging both patient and practitioner in a therapeutic partnership.” It is a more solid relationship between yourself and your doctor in trying to figure out your ailments. It is not the usual, you go to your doctor for a checkup or you go to the hospital because you do not feel well. It is more of, you go to the doctor to ensure that you do not even get sick. You fix the things that are troubling you long term, so that those ailments that hit you short term are completely taken out of the picture. You try to see more of what your body needs to work well in the long run, and because you are unique, theoretically, every approach to a person is unique. Personalized healthcare.

This is where genomics come in. There are genetic tests everywhere in the world, touting this and selling that. The Gene test that is the most comprehensive is now here in the Philippines, available in LifeScience. It is the Gene test, which primarily tests the way your body absorbs and reacts to food and medicines. It can also tell you your predisposition to certain illnesses, such as a panel on periodontics. There are panels that are specifically for men or for women, such as the prostate panel for men, and the breast cancer panel for women. These will tell your if your genetic makeup is predisposed to these diseases and if you are, will the medications usually given for these be effective on you and your condition. It can also show if what you are eating is actually hurting your health.

Genetic tests have various practical applications. On the one hand, they serve to confirm suspected diagnosis (such as the case of cystic fibrosis – the CFTR gene) or they can be used for risk assessment for the first-degree relatives of a patient (as aforementioned, breast cancer – BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene).

Nutrition is vital for any person doing high performance sports, or activity. Genetic variations affect how your body responds to different nutrients and food ingredients, and how efficiently your body uses different nutrients. Since your diet plays a vital role for your health, we can now analyze your genes and adjust your diet so that more than 20 potential metabolic problems can be prevented.

Essentially, they have test “panels” that can answer the following, but aren’t limited to, these questions for each individual:
• What is the best diet for controlling your triglycerides, your cholesterol, and your homocysteines?
• Will Vitamin B2 lower your homocysteine?
• Can your body adequately detoxify from ash, soot, smoke, pesticides, weed, solvents, and heavy metals?
• What foods and nutrients will help detoxify your body?
• How strong is your body’s defense against oxidative stress?
• How can you help your body fight free radicals?
• Can your body convert coenzyme Q10 to the active form?
• How quickly does your body metabolize caffeine, and what influence does this have on your caffeine consumption?
• Are you predisposed to excessive alcohol consumption?
• Do you have a high need for iron, or should you absolutely avoid iron-rich foods?
• Is your typical calcium intake reduced?
• How can you improve the health of your joints through targeted nutrition?
• What foods should you avoid?
• What food ingredients should you consume?
• What quantity of 20+ different vitamins and minerals is recommended?
• How can you alter your diet to prevent more than 20 metabolic problems?
• How can you adjust your diet, so that you follow all of these?

While some genetic traits cause a disease, most traits only increase an individual’s risk of developing a disease. Since the development of many diseases depends on a combination of circumstances between genes and the environment/lifestyle, new possibilities arise, for preventing these diseases.

Naturally, this seems daunting and scary for some. There is a recommended consultation with a doctor prior to the test. The test itself is pretty easy. It is just cotton swabs on the sides of your mouth and the worst thing is you cannot eat or drink 45 minutes before the test. Certainly easier than a blood test!

The price seems a little steep, but really, what are you paying for? Currently, LifeScience’s test prices are the most competitive in the country. It is more comprehensive and has the highest level of accuracy, yet their prices are lower than most being offered locally. The level of specialization that is required to run these tests is very high, specimen samples are analyzed using a fully automated lab located in Salzburg, Austria that is run by geneticists and scientists.

Seems to good to be true, but are there any disadvantages? It is said that any person who undergoes genetic testing will have n idea of his or her predisposition to certain diseases. That might be scary for some or downright depressing. That is why only a person who is ready to know about their genetics will be allowed to do genetic testing and only when advised by a qualified doctor so that the practitioner can give the proper and appropriate guidance and support.

There are certainly many things that can be told with this test, and will be able to help you whether you are 20 or 78. The more you know, the better you will be prepared, or that is what they say at least. If this is a road you feel you want to explore further, call LifeScience at (632) 828-LIFE (5433) and book your appointment. They are in Fort Bonifacio and are easy to get to.

Originally published in the 2015 Special Issue of Om Magazine.