Proactive, Personalized Nutrition: Understanding Genetic Nutrition Testing

Improve Your Vitality with Nutrition DNA Testing

two generations of green eyes

133 million Americans making up over 40% of the total population, suffer from chronic disease.

If you are among those suffering from one or more chronic conditions, you probably want to know why your body is the way it is. What causes you to have a particular condition and your neighbor to have another?

Chances are you’ve tried medication and possibly even a specialized diet. However, unless you’ve attempted nutritional counseling based on your DNA, you haven’t given your body the right kind of fuel.

Have you ever wondered why your body behaves the way it does? Do you have a friend who eats pizza and ice cream without gaining weight, while you gain weight eating salad? Do you eat a restrictive diet but still suffer from digestive issues? Do you struggle with migraines no matter how many medicines you try? As humans, we sometimes blame ourselves when our health tactics aren’t working. We get frustrated, and sometimes we even lose hope of improving.

We all have the same basic physiology and chemical makeup, but why do some of us have challenges that others do not? Our genes are the blueprint for our bodies to follow for better or worse. Of course, we can’t change our genes, but by understanding the hand we were dealt, we can possibly improve the effect.

DNA genetic makeup test data

Take heart, increasing medical evidence shows that it’s not all about what you do. The answer is often genetic, and the clues can be found in your DNA. By doing a simple DNA test, for example we can estimate your body’s tendency toward inflammation, and as we’ve seen, where there’s chronic inflammation, there is a higher chance of disease.

How would you like to determine once and for all if you are set up to be gluten intolerant and dairy intolerant? We can actually see this in your DNA!

Keep reading to learn more about genetic nutritional testing, and how it can inform you how to make diet changes, especially if you suffer from an incurable chronic condition.

Along with receiving a genetic makeup report, Genetic nutritional counseling can help you understand and take control of your health. Dr. Threlkel offers insight into nutritional genomics and how genetic nutrition testing can reveal the genetic variants that can affect your health such as the MTHFR variant.

We can also gain insight into digestive function, energy, detoxification, antioxidant production, cardiovascular protection, and of course, the famous MTHFR variants and other genetic markers found from nutrigenomic testing. This information is extraordinarily important for those of us who have suffered from chronic conditions. If we can understand the way your body is put together and support areas of weakness, then your body can function better. The nutritional counseling provided after testing, offers insight into your chronic conditions, predispositions, and health risks, so you can unburden yourself of guilt, fear, and guesswork, and finally start to improve how you feel.

How Does Genetic Nutrition Testing Work?

All you have to do is get a simple DNA test done. This test will help you understand your genetic destiny.

A doctor trained in genetic nutritional counseling will help you create a nutrition plan to make the most of your genetic blueprint. DNA tests are easy and affordable. They will help you interpret your genes and explain their functions. 

After the test results come back, Dr. Threlkel and you will have a 1.5-hour consultation in which she will explain your personal genetic profile and makeup. You also get a 50-65 page color report with your results for you to keep and share with your family.

Dr. Threlkel will also use this time to create a plan of action for you. This will be a nutrition plan that can help reduce the effects of your genes and lead to better health. If you follow your special nutritional plan, you can expect to see improvements in your health.

genetic testing consult

Why Do Genetic Testing?

Limits of Conventional Medicine

While conventional medicine can work wonders, it can’t fix everything. Some symptoms stem from conditions conventional medicine doesn’t treat. In fact, certain ailments are actually exacerbated by the effects of conventional medicine. Often, patients take medicine for symptoms that have been improperly diagnosed. Genetic testing helps doctors determine the true root of the issue, so they can treat it safely and effectively.

Incomplete Symptom Resolution

Maybe your conventional treatment is helping your symptoms, but you still struggle with residual issues. Medicine can dull the symptoms, but it can’t always cure the underlying issue. Genetic testing identifies what’s triggering your condition, so you can tackle the problem completely.

Finding the Missing Link

Proactive, Personalized Nutrition: Understanding Genetic Nutrition Testing | Naturopathic Dr

If you’re like most people with chronic symptoms, you feel like you’ve tried everything to find relief. It’s a frustrating and discouraging battle to wage, if you don’t even know what “enemy” you’re trying to defeat. Conventional medicine doesn’t address the “missing link” in many ongoing ailments. That link is often a genetic variant, or predisposition to a specific condition.

Since symptoms manifest differently in each individual, trying to just treat the symptoms is often futile. For example, chronic headaches stem from tension, food allergies, depression, hormones, and countless other things. A genetic nutritional counselor can isolate the “missing link” with simple testing. Here are some common genetic variants that might be undermining your health.

Common “Missing Link” Genetic Variants That Affect Your Health

1. MTHFR: Short for methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, this gene has common mutations that lead to high levels of homocysteine in the blood and low levels of folate and other vitamins. It’s possible to have one (heterozygous) or two (homozygous) variants, and those with two variants are more susceptible to illness. These variants are inherited and are implicated in everything from depression, to chronic pain and fatigue, to pregnancy issues and heart disease.  

2. COMT: Catechol-O-methyltransferase generates enzymes essential to the prefrontal cortex. This region of the brain impacts personality, organization, behavior inhibition, abstract thought, emotion, and short-term memory. To work efficiently, the prefrontal cortex requires signaling by neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine. Catechol-O-methyltransferase helps moderate levels of these neurotransmitters. When functioning properly, it generates focus, buoyancy, mellowness, and calm. But variants lead to complications like fibromyalgia, alcoholism, and opiate addiction

3. DAO: This gene encodes for diamine oxidase, which is one of the major enzymes and primary defenses to metabolize histamine. Due to its location in the gut, DAO is a very important part of the defense for histamine-producing bacteria in food. A deficiency caused by one’s genetics, can result in high histamine. Knowing what foods support the DAO enzyme, will help someone who has a higher than optimal level of histamine in their body.

research genetics

4. MAO-A: The MAO-A gene provides instructions for generating the enzyme monoamine oxidase. This enzyme helps break down serotonin, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine. These neurotransmitters regulate things like mood, emotion, sleep, appetite, and stress response. The MAO-A enzyme also breaks down monoamines in our diet and helps with healthy brain development. Common symptoms of MAO-A variations are mood swings and food intolerances.

5. GST/GPX: The glutathione peroxidase gene catalyzes the elimination of hydrogen peroxide to protect cells against oxidative damage. It’s also essential in mediating signal transduction, mitochondrial function, and maintenance of the thiol-redox balance. Variations in the gene prevent adequate detox and create issues like poor cellular response to stress, complications with medications like acetaminophen and antidepressants.

6. NOS3: This gene generates nitric oxide which acts as a biologic mediator in neurotransmission and antimicrobial and antitumoral processes in the body. Variations in this gene are associated with conditions like coronary spasm, ischemic stroke, alopecia, high blood pressure, and preeclampsia.

7. PEMT: Phosphatidylethanolamine N-methyltransferase (PEMT) catalyzes phosphatidylcholine synthesis. Variants contribute to Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease which can progress to necrosis, fibrosis and cirrhosis of the liver. PEMT also aids the gallbladder, guards cell membranes against inflammation, lowers anxiety, and prevents damage from glutamate spikes while promoting healthy DNA.

What Sort of Health Questions Can a DNA Test Answer

genetics testing results

The DNA test can help you answer a variety of questions about your health.

It can help identify health concerns such as gluten sensitivity, production of energy, lactose intolerance, antioxidant capabilities, and cell protection. With these findings, you’re able to understand potential problems and take action to prevent issues from arising in the future. It can examine how well your immune system functions and how you process environmental toxicants.

You can find answers to questions like why your body reacts negatively to certain foods.

Things can get a little complicated for the average person when it comes to explaining the processes of your body. Things like whether you get frequent colds because your body isn’t converting carotene into vitamin A correctly. Or whether your methylation cycle doesn’t work quite right. This is why you need a specialized doctor like Dr. Threlkel to help interpret your test results. She then creates a nutrition plan to change the roadmap your DNA has created for you.

Why a Naturopathic Doctor Should Provide You With Genetic Nutritional Counseling After DNA Testing

1. Testing Companies Vary in Accuracy

DNA genetic makeup analysis

The evidence that genetic factors influence everything from weight loss to cancer has produced tremendous hope in the medical community for treating disease.

But, it has also produced countless companies offering to test your genes. This means you need to be careful who you trust.  Many companies now offer Direct to Consumer (DTC) options for DNA testing. You receive a packet in the mail to submit your saliva for testing, and then receive their suggestions for your health.

There are many reasons why DTC testing is not only questionable, but also inaccurate. Single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) number in the millions, but DTC companies typically test 30-40 genetic markers. They choose which genes to analyze and use proprietary algorithms that weigh genes differently than other testing companies, which yield inconsistent recommendations.  It’s imperative to partner with a doctor who knows which genes to test and how to interpret the data, so you don’t spend a fortune on a test with biased results. The bias is even greater with testing companies who sell their own branded supplements. 

2. Gene Categories Vary in Disease Likelihood

In addition, the person conducting the test needs to understand genetic categories. One important distinction is high-penetrance versus low-penetrance genes. High-penetrance genes are disease-risk genes, meaning they are directly linked to your likelihood of developing a certain disease or condition. An example of such genes is BRCA1, which carries a high likelihood of developing breast cancer. These genetic variants require the expertise of a doctor trained specifically in genetics and aren’t typically tested by nutritionists and DTC companies

Low-penetrance genes are modifier genes, meaning they affect the metabolic response to things like caffeine, gluten, lactose, or MTHFR. Rather than having a direct causative effect on disease, these genes increase disease risk by how your body processes certain things. For example, a variation of the CYP1A2 gene is not linked directly to disease. But it is linked to inefficient metabolization of caffeine, which in turn, increases risk of heart disease if you consume excess caffeine. 

A DTC testing company might say your results show you’re at risk of heart disease. You might then amp up your exercise and veggie intake, without knowing that your pre-workout coffee is what’s putting you at risk, depending on which genes were tested. But a naturopathic doctor like Dr. Karen Threlkel knows how to decipher the categories of gene testing and interpret the results to provide exactly what you need. 

3. Proper Interpretation is Essential

The interpretation of genetic testing requires proper training. There are nuances not only in interpreting the results, but also in recommending treatment to each distinct patient. Nutritional counseling based on your own genetic makeup  is an excellent tool with increasing promise in treating countless conditions. When done properly, this breakthrough is particularly helpful for those of us who suffer from chronic conditions.

The Effect on Your Life: How Genetic Variants Make You Feel

genetics testing

Variants are common, and as such, the counseling provided is advisable for everyone, particularly those with ongoing symptoms. Genetic testing not only identifies current problems, it also finds variants that signal risk of developing future illness. Often, the treatment you’re using for your condition is doing more harm than good, if the cause is genetic in origin. Here are 18 common symptoms that indicate someone can benefit from testing and counseling.

18 Common Symptoms That Warrant Genetic Nutrition Testing:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Brain Fog
  • Irritability
  • Quick Temper
  • Stress Intolerance
  • Insomnia or trouble staying asleep
  • Hormone Imbalances
  • Lack of Motivation
  • Workaholic
  • Asthma
  • Leaky Gut
  • Headaches/Migraines
  • Chemical Sensitivity
  • Poor Circulation
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Fatty Liver
  • Food/Environmental Allergies- ie: shellfish, citrus, wine, dairy, or fermented foods cause hives, itching, or runny nose

How is Genetic Nutritional Counseling Different from Traditional Nutritional Counseling?

Doctors and nutritionists have long studied how different factors affect health. Thus far, it’s allowed them to suggest treatment plans and healthier ways of living, but mostly through inference. They have to prescribe based on the law of averages, instead of your individual genes. This is why some people respond well to medical treatments, while others don’t respond well at all.  

For example, if you struggle with insomnia or restless leg syndrome, a medical doctor might prescribe sleep aids, anti-anxiety medication, or antidepressants. But if your symptoms stem from a genetic mutation in a GAD gene or MEIS1 gene, those medications may only worsen your condition. Naturopathic doctors use nutritional counseling based on their patient’s symptoms to customize a treatment plan with appropriate dietary, lifestyle, and supplement recommendations for safe and effective symptom resolution.

Genetic nutritional testing allows your practitioner to identify the markers and precursors of conditions to offer the best course of treatment. Not only can you avoid ineffective, or even harmful treatment, but you can prevent conditions you’re at risk of developing.

doctor talking to a counseling patient

How Does Genetic Nutritional Counseling Work?

Human genomes

Human genomes consist of about 3 billion base pairs, about 0.1% of which vary between individuals.

The most common variation is called a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), a building block of DNA. Each person has approximately 4 to 5 million SNPs. When those SNPs occur within or near a gene, they may affect the function and cause disease. By studying the DNA sequence and looking for variations, doctors can identify things like the level of risk you carry for developing a condition. 

Previously, doctors made genetic assumptions based on things like your family history. How many people in your family are obese? Traditionally, this question helps determine your genetic risk of obesity. But why are some people in a family obese when others are not? Those inferences don’t include things like shared environment and lifestyle. Gene testing helps differentiate shared genetics from the shared environment by uncovering variants that affect how dietary components are absorbed, metabolized, and used in your individual body.  

Now, through the sampling of saliva or cells, DNA can be tested to isolate, analyze, and determine genotypes for a specific set of SNPs. By testing different genetic markers, doctors can interpret things like how you metabolize fat and your tendency toward inflammation. These genetic cues give insight into digestive function, energy levels, detoxification needs, antioxidant production, cardiovascular health, and mental health by identifying variants in genes like methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR). 

However, the legitimacy, accuracy, and efficacy of the results varies widely, based on who does the testing. It’s essential to partner with a doctor like Karen Threlkel, ND, for valid and safe nutritional counseling.

After Testing, How Can Dietary Counseling Help Change Your Life?

Let’s face it. Most of us aren’t in perfect health.

We all suffer from something that disrupts our lives to some extent. For those of us who suffer from chronic conditions, genetic, nutritional counseling can be especially life-changing.

What if all you had to do to improve your chronic condition was change what you eat? Most of us would be willing to do this.

We have to know the details of the hand we are dealt. And when we do, we will know how to treat our bodies right.

By taking proactive steps, you can prevent diseases and conditions, and also properly treat current conditions for swift resolution. You’ll be amazed how quickly vitality and vibrancy are restored once you’ve identified the root of your symptoms. Don’t waste another day feeling defeated by your symptoms. 

We are often told to find our triggers, but without guidance from an experienced professional, it can be nearly impossible to narrow down all of the foods we eat. Genetic, nutritional counseling does the work for you and gives you a simple plan to improve your health.

These are some chronic conditions that can benefit the most from genetic, nutritional counseling:

  • Chronic diseases like Lyme Disease
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Mood disorders
  • Aging
  • Migraines
  • Heart Disease
  • Chronic Inflammation
  • Autoimmune disorders

If you suffer from one of these conditions, the chances are good that you haven’t found the help you need through conventional medicine. You may have been prescribed medications that cause more side effects than they’re worth. The only way to know what will truly work for you is to understand what your genes are telling you.

Genetic nutritional counseling is safe, comprehensive, compassionate, and effective, and it’s customized to your unique circumstances. Here are just a few of the benefits you’ll receive through genetic nutritional counseling. 

  • Improved Focus and Concentration
  • Enhanced Productivity
  • Balanced Moods
  • Increased Energy
  • Improved Sleep Quality
  • Balanced Hormones- Greater Fertility and Less PMS
  • Fewer Allergic Reactions
  • Less Asthma Lability
  • Fewer Headaches and Migraines
  • Better Circulation- Warmer Hands and Feet
  • Lower Blood Pressure

What to Expect at an Appointment

counselor and a young woman talking

Now that you know a little more about genetic, nutritional counseling, it’s time to take the next step and book an appointment.

You don’t have to spend the rest of your life, wondering why your body is the way it is and why medications aren’t helping. Taking a snapshot of the DNA that makes you who you are gives your doctor an insight like no other.

This allows them to create a plan to give your body the fuel it can work with. If you’re told your chronic condition is incurable, don’t give up!

Your initial consultation provides an immediate sense of relief, as you see how invested Dr. Threlkel is in identifying your issues. Unlike primary care physicians and nutritionists, Dr. Threlkel spends significant time learning about your health history and condition. Here’s what you can expect.

  • 1-1/2 hour consultation explaining your personal genetic makeup
  • 50-65 page color report
  • Plan of action to reduce possible variant effects
  • Improved health!

Interested in Genetic Nutritional Testing & Counseling?

Dr. Karen Threlkel offers genetic nutritional counseling with DNA testing to understand the way your body works.  With her expertise, you can support areas of weakness in your body and use preventative measures for optimal health. To learn more, schedule an appointment today.

About The Author:

Dr. Karen Threlkel, Naturopathic Physician, Washington DC

Dr. Karen Threlkel, Naturopathic Physician, Washington DC

Dr. Threlkel received her degree of Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine from The National College for Naturopathic Medicine (now called The National University of Natural Medicine) in Portland, Oregon. She also holds a Bachelor Degree in Kinesiology from The University of Maryland. She is licensed in Naturopathic Medicine by the Government of the District of Columbia Department of Health. Dr. Threlkel is a member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, past president & current member of the Washington DC Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

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