Is Your DNA the Answer to the Nutrition & Exercise Plan Perfect for You?

By Clare Williamson 

“Victim of your Genes? Yeah or Nah?”
[Photo Credit Stephanie Gifkins @steph_gifkins]

Clare Williamson is a self-confessed health addict and New Zealand Muay Thai Amateur Fighter training out of Tauranga Martial Arts Academy, New Zealand.  Nutrition and exercise are a big part of her life and after guessing for many years about the different types of diets and workouts that optimized her training she finally discovered a better way that has taken her health awareness and wellness to the next level.

Are you confused by all the different diet plans out there that claim to be the best way for you to lose extra weight?  Or are you not sure whether you should you eat like a Caveman? Or a Vegan? Or go gluten-free?

Are you wondering why your friend can eat an entire pizza and stay bone thin while you only have to look at carbs and put on a kilo?  What about in the gym when you have spent hours pushing weights and hardly grow a bicep, while your friend goes once a week and turns out looking like the Hulk (female version) in a month?

I have had those frustrations – all of them – and I have definitely noticed how different foods and exercises impact my training in different ways, both positively and negatively.  Then recently I discovered that the answer could lie in a simple 30 second test designed to help you get the results you are seeking from your diet and fitness plan quickly.  I decided to do some research because this could be a game-changer for me and many other people seeking their optimum weight, build or state of wellness.

I discovered that many health conditions are influenced by our genes and that they can also tell us the food groups that make us particularly prone to putting on weight.  So, it suddenly made sense why one thing works for one person and not another.  Our genetic makeup also influences the type of workouts that can help us get the best results, so we could actually be wasting our time following a particular plan, if it is not the one that our body responds to best.

And it is here that we come into the space of personalized fitness and wellness, which is really exciting, and DNA testing is the latest step.  However, understanding your DNA is only ever going to be successful if you consider lifestyle factors as well because epigenetics has demonstrated to us that these can turn certain genes on and off or cause them to be expressed to a greater or lesser extent, and this is the major piece that is missing in the offerings of most DNA-based wellness plans.  They tell you what you have, but they don’t adapt as you change.  Who sleeps exactly the same number of hours every night?  Whose stress levels are exactly the same every day of their life? Along with diet and exercise, our environment and mood may also affect gene expression. In a 2014 study published in Epigenetics, scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden asked 23 men and women to bicycle using only one leg for 45 minutes, four times a week over three months. In comparing muscle biopsies before and after the experiment, scientists found that, in the exercised muscle, new patterns had developed on genes associated with insulin response, inflammation and energy metabolism.

One Size Does Not Fit All

Epigenetics controls genes and how they are silenced or expressed over time. It is becoming an accepted fact that Epigenetics is the most important biological discovery since DNA, despite being a relatively new branch of genetic study. 

Ever heard someone say they are a victim of bad genes?  This is not necessarily true.  Epigenetics shows us that genes can be turned off (becoming dormant) or turned on (becoming active) depending on what we eat, environmental factors, how we sleep, how we exercise and more.

Epigenetics makes us UNIQUE.  This is where you should be taking a leap of joy because I know I did!  Not only can we discover what we need from our genes, if it is not what we want to hear we can change things.  Epigenetics is reversible and this is empowering.

I have learned a lot about how it feels to be empowered in health (and not to be.)  Ten years ago, something happened to me that would change the way I looked at life for a long time. I developed an anxiety disorder that crippled me and to be honest, the doctors were useless.  Their first port of call was medication and that just made me feel numb, so I stopped taking it.  Then the care I received was just disjointed (there was no closed loop to follow up on what was working) and scattergun.  Ultimately, I lost trust in the doctors and started looking for my own ways to get a handle on my condition.  That is when I started kickboxing.  Somebody at work suggested I try some sort of exercise to help and I was driving home that day and just saw a sign.  From the day I started I was hooked.  I immediately felt stronger in my mind.  The training teaches you to keep going, never give up and always get back up again when you get knocked down.  In the ring I learned to overcome the fight or flight response that my body had learned through the anxiety, which kicked in every time I felt threatened.  In those days it didn’t need to be a real threat anymore.  In my worst days just opening the curtains was scary and leaving the house was impossible. 

However, 10 years on from this start along the road to recovery, and despite all the different things I tried that had me generally better, I was still having random panic attacks.  I couldn’t figure it out until I looked to my wearable technology for help. Suddenly from my heart rate and breath rate trends I discovered the key environmental triggers that were triggering me.  I would get an alert to tell me that my ranges were outside of my normal and be forced to stop and take stock of what I was doing. I would have been feeling the starts of the palpitations that come with my anxiety, but I was ignoring them and trying to get on with what I was doing.  Days of doing this (because life is busy, right?) was landing me up in big panic attacks.  I started to keep a written journal of my activities to compare against my wearable’s data and suddenly I became very aware of the activities that were not healthy for me and was empowered to change them.  Finally, for the first time in 10 years, I stopped feeling anxious.  This changed my life! 

A few weeks ago, when the company behind my wearable announced they were introducing DNA sequencing, a light switched on in my mind!  DNA is our genetic map and wearable technology using artificial intelligence is a system to track every single cause and effect of the different roads and tracks that lead to our optimal health.  Or its ultimate demise.  The sky is the limit.  If we can reverse a gene’s state to keep the good while eliminating the bad then we can *theoretically* cure cancer, slow aging, stop obesity, and more!  But at the very least we can tell whether we are particularly sensitive to that pizza or whether cardio or resistance is our best bet for weight loss.  This is massive for a lot of people. So many have tried diet after diet that haven’t worked and have given up.  Rates of obesity, diabetes and other critical diseases are at a record high.  And people deserve to feel empowered in their own health by simple information they can act upon.  Our body is whispering to us all the time and wearable technology is an effective way to be able to hear the whispers instead of waiting for our body to scream.  Next generation wearable technology like I use goes one step further and can make recommendations personalized to your DNA that can be adapted as lifestyle factors change, even down to the supplements you take each month, so they are exactly what your body needs.

How it Works

It literally takes 30 seconds to fetch the data needed for your unique wellness plan.  You swab the inside of both your cheeks and post off the cotton bud to the Partner Lab.  After analysis that takes between 6 & 8 weeks a 22-page plan is returned that helps you understand the interactions between your genes, your diet and your exercise and based on this information a custom nutrition plan is recommended that takes into consideration these key factors:

  • Blood cholesterol level (because we can inherit high cholesterol in our genes!)
  • General obesity index
  • Relative resting metabolic rate
  • Addictive behaviors (addiction is due 50 percent to genetic predisposition and 50 percent to poor coping skills!)
  • Fast twitch muscle fiber activity

If we just look at blood cholesterol level alone, there are numerous things we can do to help protect ourselves if high cholesterol is written in our DNA map.  We can reduce intake of saturated fats and cholesterol-rich foods, and increase intake of fiber.  If we were to see a doctor once high cholesterol had been identified, modifying the diet would usually the first line of treatment, but in the time before high cholesterol was diagnosed what could have happened?  Heart failure, stroke, coronary artery disease and heart attack are just a few of the life-threatening problems caused by clogged blood vessels.

There are also other significant body processes that are influenced by our genes, like how we metabolize sugar, carbohydrate, alcohol and caffeine. How we metabolize sugar and carbohydrates influences our blood sugar levels, energy levels and cell health, gives us important information about the foods we need to eat to maintain a healthy weight and indicates whether we are pre-disposed to conditions like obesity and diabetes.  Many people wonder over how much alcohol and caffeine they should include in their diet because there are so many conflicting reactions to them. Some people process caffeine quickly and have no problem. Others metabolize it slowly and get symptoms like racing heart, jitters, and anxiety when they drink it.  There are mixed studies either touting its consumption or warning of its negative effects. Studies suggest the benefits include a reduction in depression, increased athletic performance, protection against Parkinson’s, and reducing stress. Negative effects are associated with stiffened arteries, increased acid load in the body, and in opposition to the studies above, increased production of stress hormones. It’s also been shown to reduce the quality of sleep when taken in the evening. With evidence going in both directions, it’s often a punt as to whether we are doing the best thing for our body.  When it comes to alcohol there are other effects and other mixed studies – some stating alcohol in moderation increases life expectancy and others stating alcohol causes a plethora of diseases.  What is moderation for one might be too much for another and it is all dependent on the metabolism written in our genes.

DNA also gives indications to dietary fat intake and response to blood cholesterol, lactose intolerance and bone health, and our exercise potential with power and endurance.  This is massive for anyone wanting to build muscle or lose weight (or do both) using exercise!  DNA markers can pinpoint if a person is more predisposed to training for endurance – such as cycling or running – or power – including weight lifting, high intensity resistance training and sprinting. Even details like the number of reps per exercise and recovery times are said to be lurking in our DNA. We can use this data to tailor our workouts so they are efficient to our goals, instead of spending weeks in a gym on the wrong programme and winding up out of pocket and frustrated.

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Wearable Technology Picking Up Where DNA Leaves Off

With our DNA Map in hand, we may think we have our personal health puzzle cracked.  However, life never stands still.  All of those health & lifestyle factors that have that powerful ability to turn our genes on or off, and change how they are expressed, are ever changing – life happens, I guess, so we have to be ever-adapting to effectively make the choices that account for over 60% of our health.  Wearable technology is our vehicle for doing this – like a check engine light for the body.

You wouldn’t drive your car without its dashboard to tell you when fuel is running low, or when oil needs topping up.  We especially need the warning light to tell us if there is something seriously wrong that will cause the car to break down on the side of the road.  Wearable technology provides the same insight and the same peace of mind for the body. By gathering important body biometrics that indicate our health status in real time we can understand how the body responds to daily events, environmental factors, food, stress and more.  We can continue to make the best choices.  We can effectively live a Smart Life.

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Learn more about Clare at her Instagram Profile  @cw_full_circle

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