Kati Hess is the marketing director at Your Wellness Connection, my practice in Kansas City. Like many of the experts who have joined us, she has her own story of healing.
Kati started dealing with symptoms, including chronic fatigue, migraines, and nausea, in the 7th grade. As a young teenager, her symptoms affected everything from her schoolwork and her after-school activities to her family life. Her parents were proactive and took her to almost every doctor in Kansas City. The doctors tried their best, with different diets, plans, and regimes, but when nothing helped, Kati says, “finally they just told me it was all in my head, that nothing was really going on.”
About a year ago, Kati came to see me and I recommended that we get her genetics tested. With the genetic testing, the doctors were able to identify trouble areas in her liver and intestines and order more specific labs that lead them to diagnose an infection. They used this information to create a new plan with supplements and food, now she says, “I have been feeling great for about 4 months now.”
What is it?
Scientists have been working to understand our DNA and how specific parts of our DNA are linked to diseases. As the National Institute of Health explains, “Genetic testing is a type of medical test that identifies changes in chromosomes, genes, or proteins. The results of a genetic test can confirm or rule out a suspected genetic condition or help determine a person’s chance of developing or passing on a genetic disorder.”
With genetic testing we can understand what genetic conditions are present in bodies.
Why do our genes matter?
You might be thinking, but if the genes are in my body, there is nothing I can do about that, so what’s the point of knowing?
This is where the field of epigenetics has made huge strides in recent years. What research now shows is that you can have a gene that causes a body to be obese and your neighbor can have the same gene. You might actually be obese, but the neighbor is not. Why though, if you both have the same gene?
The field of epigenetics studies what turns your genes on or off. In our example, you have the obesity gene turned on, meaning it is actually expressing obesity in your body, while your neighbor has the gene, but it is turned off. Your neighbor has the genetic potential to become obese, but somehow has turned that gene off. Epigenetics shows us that diet, toxicity, digestive health, or a significant trauma can all play a role in gene expression.
Our genes matter because they show us what is possible. When we see the cards in our hand, we will know that we have cards we want to play — genes for a long life, genes for healthy digestion, genes for strong bones — and we have cards that we don’t want to play. Unlike a card game, we can’t discard those cards, but we can plan our lifestyle so that we don’t lay them face-up on the table.
There are many factors with diet and lifestyle that we can control that can contribute to turning our genes on or off.
Several different companies make it possible for you to get your DNA sequenced and see exactly what is in your genes. My favorite is the company 23andme. They sell a health and ancestry DNA kit that you order online and have mailed to your house. All you have to do is spit into a tube and then mail it back. In 6 – 8 weeks, they will email you all your results.
As 23andme explains, “Human DNA is about 99.5% identical from person to person. However, there are small differences that make each person unique. These differences are called variants. Your DNA was passed down from your parents–and their parents and so on. Variants can be linked to certain health conditions, traits, and ancestry groups.”
The main health report will include information about genetic health risks and carrier status.
What are the outcomes?
I have been working with Dr. Brian Lum for the past several years. He is a functional medicine doctor and specializes in how genes affect the body. After he read all of Kati’s genetic test result, he was able to put together the plan that made her feel awesome.
With just the genetic test you may look at that as interesting information. But with a trained doctor, information about your genes can open up a world of information about how your body processes vitamins and minerals, how your body responds to stress, and what current conditions are contributing to your symptoms. With that information, together you can make a plan and improve your health.