Over the years this has been the go to argument for many people for why they are obese or overweight. They maintain that they eat a well balanced diet and don’t over indulge, so they conclude they must have a genetic predisposition to gaining weight. And in general, we scoffed. Shows like secret eaters demonstrate how naive we are to what we actually consume, and many of those individuals who had no idea why they were gaining weight, suddenly realised it was their secret snacking, or portion control that led them there.
According to the Office for National Statistics, men would typically consume more than 1000 calories over and above what they estimated for the day. Women fared slightly better at 800 calories.
It’s no wonder then that the general public are quick to criticise anyone who plays the genetics card, but there is a growing body of research that suggests certain genes do give us a predisposition to gaining weight and controlling appetite. In 1997 team from Cambridge University first discovered a problem in one their subjects’ genes that caused congenital leptin deficiency; leptin is produced by fat cells to tell you that you’re full up. If that gene is faulty, you feel hungry for longer and eat more despite not needing the calories. Since then, a number of different genes have been identified that could affect how our bodies respond to nutrition.
Of course, the counter argument to anything genetic is that they merely give us a predisposition to something. As humans, we have the greatest gift of choice, and it is us alone that chooses what goes into our bodies. The choice might just be made that much more difficult because of the signals our bodies are telling our brains, and that is when we must rely on willpower or a deeper understanding of our bodies so that we can be aware of our predispositions and proactively prepare to combat them. This is where genetic testing is becoming so fashionable. For as little as £125, and a simple cheek swab by post, you can have a full DNA profile at your disposal.
One such company is Evergreen Life, and they asked me to review my DNA profile. This is something I’ve been fascinated with for a long time. I’ve followed the work of a number of geneticists now, and what they have found over the last 20 years is simply astonishing, so was enthusiastic to have this done. The process is simple: you choose which DNA profiling you would like between those genes that affect Diet, Metabolism, Fitness, and Skin, or you can elect to have all 4 tested (and is the most economic option). You are then sent a DNA testing kit with an oversized cotton bud that you vigorously rub inside your cheek, pop it into a sealed container and then post it back.
Interestingly with Evergreen Life, they are trying to be as up to date as possible, so you will need to download an app to get your results. The app is designed to be a one stop shop for all your medical needs allowing you to book appointments with your GP, order repeat prescriptions, check test results, link with fitness trackers, and generally monitor your health. The app is actually very slick, and professionally put together, and more importantly easy to navigate, the downside though, is that what you have is a long list of raw data.
On the left you have a summary of each of the DNA markers that have been tested and on the right you have the detail of the results. If you are an experienced nutritionist, personal trainer, or geneticist, you will have some idea of what this means and more importantly the implications of it on your lifestyle. You will then be able to put in place some mitigating measures to make these results work to your advantage. Unfortunately with the £125 package you do not get an executive summary, or profile recommendation sheet, although Evergreen Life have told me that they are actively working on a way to include a telephone consultancy as an add on to the package, and for me it was invaluable as it gave some added insight as well as confirming some of the ideas I had already considered.
So what about my results, what did I discover?
Actually the majority of what I learned made absolute sense and corroborated the anecdotal results and experiences I’ve had over the last 20 years or so, but here is a summary of the consultation:
- I have a predisposition to increased salt cravings so need to monitor salt intake.
- I am a fast metaboliser of caffeine, so unlike some of you, I will be able to have a coffee before bed and still sleep soundly. I don’t, but you know, I could. This actually helps because I know it means I can take preworkout before an evening session and know that it will not affect my rest and recovery afterwards.
- I am likely to be lactose intolerant. This hasn’t manifested yet, and emphasises the point that these genetic markers are just indicators of a predisposition. I love my dairy, and so far I haven’t experienced any symptoms of lactose intolerance, but is something I need to be aware of should I have them in the future.
- I am unlikely to overeat. This is where genetics only plays a small part in our dietary habits. I am an emotional eater, and my psychological reasons for eating clearly overpower my genetic predispositions because one thing I do all the time is overeat. While this means my leptin response is absolutely fine, I consciously or subconsciously choose to ignore it and keep eating.
- I need to take a multivitamin, or eat a shed load of nutritious stuff every day. I have an increased likelihood of a deficiency in vitamins A, B12, B6, C, D, and E. My body is less efficient at metabolising these, so the easiest option is to supplement.
- I have a predisposition to higher levels of LDL cholesterol (commonly called the bad cholesterol) but am likely to have typical levels of overall cholesterol. This means that I should have a split cholesterol check to see what the LDL/HDL balance is rather than just relying on an overall reading. Interestingly there is a lot of research into cholesterol and it’s implications on heart disease, or not as the case is slowly being shown.
- I am likely to have a reduced carbohydrate metabolism. In fact, of the 7 markers for carbohydrate metabolism, not a single one showed normal or increased. They were, for the first time my consultant had ever seen, all showing a reduced metabolism of carbohydrates. I have always struggled on carbs, my body performs so much better on fat and protein heavy diets, and this could be an indicator of why. Of course, rather than relying on the Glycemic Index of a carb, we should all be focused on the Glycemic Load.
- I am likely to gain weight easily. Yes, yes, and yes.
- I am likely to have a reduced metabolism of monounsaturated fats, so wouldn’t benefit from a high fat diet. So based on my results, it would appear the optimum diet for me is a one that’s high in protein, low in carbs primarily focusing on ones with a low Glycemic Load, and one with moderate to low amounts of fat.
- Everything about my DNA profile suggests that I am more likely to perform better doing endurance style training rather than strength. This doesn’t mean you can’t train to combat your DNA limitations, you simply need to be aware that it may take a more professional approach if that’s your goal.
- I am likely to gain muscle mass easily. I wish someone would please tell my calves that!
- The DNA giveth and then it taketh away, I am more likely to experience high levels of inflammation following endurance exercise but not following power training. So while I may be genetically predisposed to endurance training, for health I should focus on dynamic, powerful, plyometric style training.
- This was a big shocker for me, but I am unlikely to burn fat specifically from doing endurance or strength training exercises. My fat burning is more likely to be as a result of diet rather than exercise. That said, if I were to implement power exercises like hill sprints, interval training, Tabata, the overall calorie demand will be greater post exercise leading to a greater overall dietary deficit.
If you are about to start a weight loss, fat loss, or muscle building venture, knowing all of that information could prove absolutely essential in determining whether you are likely to succeed or fail. This sort of thing really excites me, so would recommend it to everyone, but without the executive summary or consultation as standard, I’m not sure how much benefit it would be to the layman. The alternative would be to take the results to your personal trainer or nutritionist and ask them to tailor a plan for you based on your results.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a free DNA testing kit in return for this review. All views are my own.