You may be surprised to know that many naturopathic physicians (ND’s) and integrative medical doctors (MD’s) incorporate advanced genetic testing into patient care, using gene tests for a wide variety of medical conditions. Personalized medicine using genetic testing is not just the wave of the future, it’s being used right now. Angelina Jolie’s recent decision to undergo preventative mastectomy upon finding that she carried a very high-risk genetic mutation for breast cancer put genetic testing into the spotlight. But there is a lot more gene tests can do than identify mutations linked to cancer risk.
Many ND’s and integrative MD’s are currently using gene tests to identify patients’ genetic risks and susceptibilities, as well as to diagnose medical conditions. Many of the gene tests evaluate what are known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs; pronounced “snips”) in order to identify your predisposition to diseases. SNPs are the most frequent type of variation in the human genome and help to determine your susceptibility to common diseases like heart disease, osteoporosis, and cancer.
The following are some examples of how genetic testing for certain SNPs is currently being used:
- Detoxification gene tests: Genetic testing is available to identify mutations in each of the two primary phases of the body’s detoxification process—Phase I and Phase II. Detoxification-related SNPs can be assessed to determine whether you are at increased risk of impaired detoxification capacity especially when exposed to environmental toxins or certain drugs. These tests can help assess your ability to handle various medications and your risk for adverse drug reactions, chemical sensitivities, and heavy metal toxicity. Certain detoxification-related SNPS can uncover increased susceptibility to cancer, depression and other mood disorders, ADHD, alcoholism, fatigue syndromes, and neurodegenerative disorders like ALS.
- Cardiovascular disease gene tests: Are you at risk for a heart attack or stroke because of your genes? Genetic testing is available that evaluates SNPs in genes that modulate blood pressure regulation, cholesterol balance, nutrient metabolism, inflammation, and oxidative stress. These tests can uncover potential genetic susceptibility to coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attacks, and strokes.
- Osteopenia and osteoporosis gene tests: Genetic testing can identify SNPs in genes that modulate bone formation (collagen synthesis), bone breakdown (resorption), inflammation, and regulatory mechanisms affecting calcium and Vitamin D3 metabolism.
- Immune function gene tests: Certain SNPs are associated with increased risk of developing defects in immune function and inflammation. Immune system SNPs can affect levels and activity of immune chemicals called cytokines, influencing the balance between cell-mediated (TH-1) and humoral (TH-2) immunity. This, in turn, affects your immune system defenses and can increase chronic, overactive inflammatory responses. Genetic testing for immune-related SNPs can identify increased risk of asthma, allergy, arthritis, auto-immunity and infectious diseases.
- Celiac disease gene tests: Genetic testing called HLA-DQ typing is used to rule out celiac disease and genetic susceptibility for celiac disease.
Another way naturopathic physicians and integrative MDs are utilizing genetic testing is by analyzing DNA to identify microbiota (good/bad bacteria, yeast/fungi, parasites) of the gut environment. These gene tests are referred to as “Microbial DNA Analysis.” These are not tests for uncovering your predispositions using SNPs; rather, they look at the actual DNA of the microbes living in your gut to help diagnose dysbiosis (the overgrowth of bad bacteria) and GI infections for people with gastrointestinal symptoms.
Gene tests predict disease risk, but keep in mind that your genes are not your destiny!
Just because you have a certain gene or a genetic flaw discovered by genetic testing doesn’t mean you are destined to experience the associated disease. Whether or not a gene is expressed is mostly flexible and influenced by factors in your life that are able to be modified. There are only a few very rare diseases which are absolutely determined by your genetic make-up. The most common diseases, which tend to be chronic, age-related, and what we call “degenerative,” are the result of ongoing interaction between genetic and environmental factors. It is the environmental factors which experts believe switch on a gene’s ability to promote disease.
As you can see from the list above, the diseases that can occur due to the switching on genes include everything from heart disease, diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, depression, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Meanwhile, the environmental factors include such harmful agents and conditions as hormone imbalances; bacterial infections; poor diet; chronic nutritional deficiencies; unhealthy lifestyle habits; and toxic exposures to cigarette smoke, air pollution, excessive alcohol, or other substances.
Genetic testing allows you and your doctor to evaluate your unique genetic predispositions to these and other diseases and then work to implement a targeted, customized intervention plan before disease develops. By identifying gene mutations that may promote chronic disease via gene tests, you can better prevent disease by intervening earlier and modifying your gene expression through more precise, targeted, individualized interventions. And you would probably be much more motivated to do so knowing you have a predisposition in that area.
To find a naturopathic physician or integrative medical doctor in your area who performs genetic testing, view our online directory here.