Atlas Biomed: Genetic Counselling


Photo by me featuring gifted Atlas Biomed test for the purpose of review.

The Atlas Biomed DNA Test is the most comprehensive DNA test on the market – just the one saliva sample alone will offer results on over 400 traits and indicators across five categories; health, nutrition, sports, ancestry and personal traits. I’ve already blogged extensively on my personal results from this test (as well as their Microbiome test!) but more recently they have launched the added service of genetic counselling for their UK and European customers, meaning you will be able to speak to a medical professional about your results who can go through everything you’ve learned with you and what it means for you personally, as well as discussing any solutions, queries or worries you might have.

The genetic consultation lasts thirty minutes and scheduled as an online appointment at a time that’s convenient for you. Mine was with a licensed genetic counsellor called Erin who first explained to me how our genetic information determines everything about us as well as the ways in which it can be tested. Erin also explained to me that our body reads and interprets our genetic code via packages of chromosome pairs that signify certain things about us, such as the colour of our hair or that we might be pre-disposed to have or carry certain conditions. DNA testing looks for any changes in the sequencing, finding anomalies or invariants that are either benign or potentially hereditary disease.

Photo by me featuring gifted Atlas Biomed test for the purpose of review.

The likelihood of you developing a certain disease can be worked out using a polygenic risk score. Your DNA is analysed to see if the genetic code shows any invariants that may be associated with the disease in other patients. They use a tonne of data to do this – for example, a study done on patients with Alzheimer’s DNA put through the same test will show certain anomalies, if your DNA shows some of the same anomalies then your risk will increase. Mine is 12.5% which is considered high risk as this is in the top 10% of the study however this doesn’t mean that I have Alzheimers or even that I ever will as there are so many multifactorial conditions besides your genes that can affect the likelihood of developing diseases like this one, from your lifestyle, diet or even where you live. With Alzheimers in particular, a family history of the disease will contribute to a much higher risk factor but as it’s such a common disease in old age Erin assured me that even a high risk diagnosis like mine is nothing to worry about. However, using the dashboard of results from Atlas Biomed there are certain potentially preventative measures I can take such as adding a cup of coffee a day into my diet to help reduce risk, which I have been doing since getting my results through. It’s nice to have simple steps like this that you are able to take yourself!

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Next up, we spoke about Hypothyroidism which is when the hormone producing gland is under-active – it’s easy to treat using hormone replacing medications but Erin did advise that if I’m worried about it I should check in with my GP or see a specialist if I’m concerned. I’ve already had tests with my Doctor who was happy with the results but this is definitely something I will keep an eye on as I get older. My risk was only 9%, but as the national average is 4% she advised that that is still considered high risk and worth checking up on. The signs include lots of ‘could-be-anything’ type symptoms such as tiredness, poor concentration, dry skin, sensitivity to cold, bloating etc so a lot of people will have a lot of these symptoms and it be nothing to do with the thyroid…We’re all tired and cold in England!

I was also flagged as high risk for ulcerative colitis but Erin explained that whilst my risk was double the national average at 4.8% it’s still pretty low and that since I’m not having any abdominal pains or bowel issues, I’m probably okay. My dad has Chrons disease, though, which showed up as one of my ‘increased risk’ diseases (meaning you are within the top 20% of results) but as this is something that can be heavily influenced with diet and I’m not suffering any symptoms, there’s no need for me to worry, even though the fact my Dad has been diagnosed with it would heighten my already higher than average results. Like many of the results I was given, they’re more information to be packed away in the back of your brain for a later day rather than worries to freak out about.

Finally, the last ‘high risk’ disease for me was gout…Which is much more than just getting a mouldy foot, who knew?! The average risk is 1% mine is 1.22% so mine’s higher than average but not huge. Erin explained to me that this can show as symptoms such as bad joints, which I do suffer with sometimes, so advised that it was a good thing to keep in mind if I ever end up back at the doctors with unexplained joint issues as it wouldn’t hurt to ask. The classic story everyones heard is gout in the joint of the big toe but it can actually appear anywhere and is a form on inflammatory arthritis cause by excess uric acid in the bloodstream.

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When looking at hereditary diseases as opposed to disease risks, Atlas Biomed DNA testing is looking for variants in the gene that do actually cause the disease, rather than the benign similarities. This can mean that you are personally at risk for the disease or simply that you are a carrier, so could potentially pass it on to any children you might have. Erin explained to me that I had been screened for 100 conditions and that the test studies the 46 chromosomes we have, which come in 23 pairs – one set from mum and another set from dad. We each have two copies of each gene, and each gene is a small unit of genetic material that can determine all sorts of physical or personal traits like hair colour, diseases etc so you could show up an invariant in just one gene in the pair, making you a carrier, rather than both genes having the same mutation.

During my genetic consultation, Erin made clear that the Atlas Biomed test is not an exhaustive list of everything that could ever be tested anywhere. They do test for a handful of known and understood variants but there are thousands of others, so getting a negative result unfortunately doesn’t mean you aren’t at risk as the abnormality could be within a piece of genetic information that went unanalysed this time around and, as I mentioned earlier on, family history plays a huge part in potential risks. Cancer for example, when diagnosed young (under 50years) or in multiple members of the family can indicate its hereditary in which case you can visit the doctor to discuss options for a more comprehensive screening to keep an eye on your own health. A DNA test isn’t the only source of information to rely on, as everyone has an option of meeting with a professional at your local GP surgery to discuss anything you’re particularly worried about free of charge – I would always advise that you go to your Doctor with any medical issues you are worried about, mental and physical.

My test came back with good results, no diseases here, but I am a carrier for Haemochromotosis. Lots of the diseases tested for here you need to have a problem with both chromosomes in the pair, meaning it’s come from both parental lines. For me, the anomaly is showing in just one chromosome in the pair, so I am a carrier but it’s unlikely i will have this condition myself. It could still be detected thorough more specific testing but its okay on here and I’m not too worries as Erin explained to me it’s the most common inherited disease. It’s a disease where the blood doesn’t process iron correctly, so if you were to have children and your partner was also a carrier theres a 25% chance this could pass to your child. Mine is a very mild variant, so if a partner and I both had this same variant (which only seems to be common in those of northern European decent) it would still be very likely to show any symptoms in a child as it’s such a minor variant. Only if my partner had a more severe variant for the same disease would it be more problematic. so if you wanted to start a family you would order a carrier testing through your GP for the further variants. This isn’t something that’s so serious that would affect anyone choosing to have children, just something that you would keep an eye on as it’s easily treated when diagnosed using certain medications or blood letting to deplete iron stores and start again. Testing these kinds of things in advance can really help as it allows you to know risks and what options are available later should anything show up. for example, IVF can help to test embryos for the disease and then transfer back the healthy embryos – but thats only really for the more serious risks and not something I’d even need to be thinking about with this particular result.

If you are the carrier of a certain disease, like I am with this one, there is a chance that your parents and siblings could also be carriers so with something serious it would be wise to let them know just incase anything crops up in the future! I have an iron deficiency so I wasn’t massively shocked by this diagnosis, but you can have anaemia and not stuffer from Haemochromotosis or you can have both, so it’s still good to know and interesting to learn about regardless.

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As for my Ancestry there were absolutely no surprises – 100% European! The genetic counsellor did explain however that they can be really specific with this kind of ancestry due to the amount of people of similar nationalities taking these tests which all helps with research so for those with ancestry further afield from Europe, they have less comparative results to work with but this is building up over time. I think this would be super interesting for anyone that has gaps in their knowledge about their ancestry and this is definitely that part people have been asking me about most. As well as discovering more about your roots, DNA testing with Atlas Biomed uses evidence-based techniques to provide ground-breaking insights into your personal health, wellbeing and nutrition that can’t be discovered in any other way. It’s super interesting to find these things out and learn more about yourself – plus, change is so much easier once you know where to start.

Find out more about Atlas Biomed: here.



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