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By the time you’re getting to your 30s, I think you have to resign that there are a lot of things you can’t change – a lot of things that are just down to your DNA. I’ve seen people talking about these sorts of DNA tests a lot, interested in their ancestry (origins of distant ancestors and ethnic heritage) but your DNA can actually tell you so much more than that; personal traits, your response to different types of exercise and even food intolerances! Atlas Biomed have designed this DNA test specifically to include any potential risks of sport related injuries so you may well have your Achilles heel revealed! Even your eating behaviours can be determined by your DNA; your metabolism, reactions to certain foods and, weirdly, taste preferences. It’s not all fun and games, though – this test will also show you if you’re a carrier of 326 hereditary conditions which is a bit scary to some, though it will also give you actionable advice and recommendations based off of your results. I am all about actionable results so I was super keen to try this out and find out what’s wrong with me after years of complaining – this is the part where you hope it’s actually nothing bad, but a few hereditary pointers to blame for my sweet tooth and lack of energy would be ace for my guilty conscience. The test prides itself on being 99.9% accurate and you can even download your own raw data to analyse yourself…I definitely wouldn’t know what to do with it, so after my test I’ve just let them do it for me. The test is pretty steep at £149 (but you can get 10% off with code: gemmaedward) so better to get the full service and check out their interpretations! Keep your eyes peeled, though, as I often see opportunities for discount. You order the test online, it arrives through the door and once you’ve followed the instructions to give a saliva sample (including registering your personal kit number via the app) you just pop it into the post box and wait. I was gifted this test (you can see how it looks here) on the basis of this review so let’s get stuck in!
I did my test just before Christmas and got the result six weeks later which I took a look at via the app (really easy to use!) and have led to many interesting conversations with friends and family but have been meaning to take a proper look on my computer, so this Blog is a great excuse to fully analyse my own results! The disease risk comes up first and I have been rated from low to high risk on 19 different conditions. I’ve been marked high risk for hypothyroidism, ulcerative colitis, Chrons disease and Alzheimers disease (the most common type of dementia in the UK). It’s not nice to see Alzheimers disease written down like that, especially as no one in my family has suffered with it as of yet so it was a little surprising when compared with Chrons Disease, which my Dad has. For Alzheimers alone, they have analysed 20 different genes thought to be associated with the development of the disease and given a percentage of how prevalent each one is to make the development of this disease more or less likely – you can even click each gene individually to take a look at that gene-specific result in the raw data. However, it’s important to remember that these are risk percentages; this is not a report saying that I have Alzheimers, or even that I will definitely develop it. Just that something in my genes is making it more likely that I will develop that condition than any of the many examples that are low risk for me, such as; heart disease, diabetes or osteoporosis – besides, we are all going to develop something in our old age. Aside from the DNA test itself, Atlas Biomed also later ask you to fill in a lifestyle questionnaire which can also change these likelihood of each condition but you can review these DNA results separately – which I wanted to do, as I like to see specifically what they have come up with via the DNA test rather than what I’ve told them because that’s too easy! Each result is further backed up with scientific papers explaining the analysis of certain genes in relation to each condition (great reading if you’re into that kind of things, bit confusing if you’re not) as well as giving you actionable pointers to decrease the risk of the disease at hand. For Alzheimers, they’ve recommended that I add coffee into my diet as apparently this is known to help reduce risk. But, no more than a cup a day as I am also pre-disposed to caffeine sensitivity, meaning I metabolise it slower and more likely to get negative symptoms like headaches etc. Caffeine is something I’ve been careful with over the last ten years as I used to get a lot of headaches and I swear I still remember like it was yesterday back in university when I drank so much tea I got the shakes. I drink decaf everything now unless I’m out and about and they don’t have that option but I guess I can just opt for a normal coffee now and again to start introducing caffeine back into my diet.
I was also marked high risk for hypothyroidism (under-active thyroid gland) which isn’t the first time this has come up in my medical history, so I was pretty interested to see detailed results. It can be associated with iodine or selenium deficiencies amongst other things and can lead to difficulties metabolising protein and carbohydrates. The symptoms include lots of those typical ‘could-be-anything’ symptoms like tiredness, poor concentration, dry skin, sensitivity to cold, weight gain, bloating etc etc so a lot of people will likely have a lot of these symptoms…We’re all tired and cold in England, but it doesn’t mean you need to worry about hypothyroidism. Fortunately, this can be tested easily with a blood test with your GP (which the test recommends) so purely because I do have a lot of the symptoms, I booked an appointment to check up on it and it came back fine – although, NHS vs private health care do have different levels for what ‘fine’ is but it at least means it’s nothing severe, so that’s good. This is another condition caused by prolonged deficiencies and is more likely to rear it’s heard with age, so could be something I develop later on down the line but not an issue right now.
Ulcerative Colitis and Chrons disease (both types of Inflammatory Bowel Disease) are both high on my risks (but still considerably lower than hypothyroidism which was flying off the top of the scale) and I was neither shocked or worried about this revelation. Some of the things that make this disease more prevalent is being a woman (oops) and taking oral contraceptives which is crazy, but I stopped taking them years ago for many reasons all health related. It’s pretty scary to know they are taking that into account though! I’m not particularly worried about these assessments but I think I’ll know a little more detail when I get the results for the Microbiome test that I did, as these diseases are heavily influenced but diet and your general gut health.
As for carrier status, this is much more important if you are hoping to have children (which I’m not) as even if you are a perfectly healthy, unaffected carrier, depending on what your partner is carrying, this can be passed onto children (who may then also be healthy carriers…bringing you back to school with the probability tables) but you should always discuss results like these with your doctor as they can be unnecessarily worrying. The test checks for hundreds of different hereditary traits, keeping track of things like EDS, cleft lip/palate, Sickle Cell Anaemia, Cystic Fibrosis amongst many others I’ve never even heard of. I am a healthy carrier of Haemochromatosis Type 1, hooray! This is a metabolic disorder which prevents the body from metabolising iron properly and can lead to all sorts of issues and even states bloodletting as part of treatment (yikes).
The DNA test also covers vitamins you’re predisposed to be deficient in, and I was ready to be deficient in basically everything but it wasn’t actually too bad. Iron comes up the worst, which is expected as I’m anaemic. Aside from the typical ‘I bruise easily’ and being tired, iron deficiency prevents enough oxygen from being transported around the body and to the muscles, causing shortness of breath and low haemoglobin levels which is something I really struggle with when attempting to exercise but I didn’t realise that was actually anything to do with iron, especially as I’m already asthmatic so cardio doesn’t exactly come naturally to me. Another thing I’m predisposed to be deficient in is Docosahexaenoic acid which is an omega-3 found in some fish, and Alpha-linolenic acid which can be found in walnut and pumpkins seeds as well as vegetable oils, so that’s definitely something I can take into account and try to correct with diet alterations, although I don’t eat fish. People with my genetic profile are also more likely to be deficient in Vitamin E, which is interlinked with anaemia so unsurprising and can also be improved with a diet involving nuts, vegetable oils and soy. Vitamin E is just one of many vitamins that is better synthesised naturally, as taking supplements can actually lead to having too much of it sitting and accumulating instead of being utilised. The test also showed that I’m also predisposed to a gluten intolerance – so it doesn’t mean I have one, just that I’m likely to develop one – which I’ve also booked in a test with my local GP as it’s something I’ve questioned in the past. Annoyingly, if you’re sensitive to gluten the only way you can really tell is to have three months or so with absolutely not one ounce of gluten and see if there’s any change with any symptoms you may have. However, it’s really important to eliminate the diagnosis of Coeliacs Disease and a wheat allergy before self-treating intolerances which is why I’ve booked to speak to my GP.
The main reason I wanted to do this test was in relation to my fitness routine and to see if it brought up any answers to explain my incredibly slow progress, as I’ve seen it can pin-point several different factors in this and it didn’t disappoint. I am pre-disposed to slow muscle growth because of low IGF-1 levels as well as very low EPO levels. Erythropoietin (EPO) is a hormone that regulates the formation of erythrocytes (red blood cells, which I also have low levels of) which are responsible for transporting oxygen from the lungs to tissues and organs (similar to some of the others reveals noted above) and having low levels like this is basically like anti-doping, not great for work outs! It’s also shown up that I’m prone to inguinal hernias, which is so strange as it’s a hernia type commonly expected in overweight older men but I actually had this exact hernia two years ago from chronic coughing (second to the hernia I was born with, can’t wait for my third) so I know they got that diagnosis right! The advice here is to strengthen my abdomen but avoid weightlifting and powerlifting. Whilst I have no plans to venture into powerlifting, I do like weightlifting and it’s hard to know what they would consider as heavy, plus, lifting isn’t how I got the hernia in the first place and I’ve been fine up until now. I think this is a ‘common sense’ kind of recommendation – weightlifting is fine but if you’re straining and doing it wrong, then that is not going to be fine for anyone, but especially not if you’re susceptible to hernias like I am. It’s risky advice as could easily put someone off working out at the gym which is a shame as weight-training is beneficial in so many ways.
There are a few funnier things that can be determined by your DNA as well – like, the fact I’m not sensitive to bitter tastes or coriander. You might have seen stuff online about coriander specifically, that depending on the person there are two very different tastes from this ingredient (specifically a chemical within the herb called decyl aldehyde) and some people find it unbearably disgusting (and apparently, soap like!) but this goes past personal taste and is actually visible in the analysis of your DNA. The bitterness sensitivity is prehistoric and a strong reaction to bitterness was used inherently to keep us away from poisonous leaves. Obviously less of a worry now, but if you’re less sensitive like I am, you’re more likely to have a healthier diet filled with veggies pretty much because you don’t find them bitters and awful…Which is pretty helpful when you eat a heavily plant-based diet. I’m also not pre-disposed to be hyper-sesnsitive the smell of malt, violets or – wait for it – asparagus-smelling urine. This is hilarious because I’ve heard from a lot of people that ‘asparagus makes your pee smell weird’ and I have never noticed this, but it turns out this only happens to some people and is actually in your DNA – who’d have thunk! Atlas Biomed also discovered that I am pre-disposed to early greying…I’m already completely grey so, that’s definitely true. Apparently, some people are even born grey so I guess I at least had a few years on this earth before my greys set in! The test detected a polymorphism in the IRF4 gene that is responsible for premature and significant greying…Significant is correct! There are twelve different traits that can be analysed.
Finally, my ancestry! I am part of maternal haplogroup V18 (the same as Bono…) and 100% European which is exactly what I was expecting, although they do break the composition down into percentages taken from all over Europe! British is my highest percentage followed by German, Czech and Hungarian with a peppering of everything else in small amounts. I am less Neanderthal than the average person, whatever that means. My sister understands this kind of stuff much more than I do! All services provided by the Atlas Biomed test are intended for educational, informative purposes only and are not intended as medical advice so you should always seek your GPs advice on any of the points you’re worried about and any big changes to your diet, fitness routine and lifestyle. To wrap up, I’m going to aim to increase my intake of nuts, seeds and soy, with a small cup of coffee a day, whilst limiting gluten. I’m also going to look into Omega-3 and BCAA supplements!
Any questions, please feel free to drop them in the comments and I’d love to hear your experiences with tests like this! If you fancy treating yourself to one of these DNA kits then make sure you use my code: gemmaedward for 10% off (I don’t get anything for it, but you get money off so yay)