The scientific debate of nature versus nurture is endlessly fascinating: How many of our physical and mental traits and behaviors are determined by our genes and how many by our environment?
I’m not a scientist, and I can’t offer any grand conclusions. I can say, though, that learning a bit about my own genetic code has altered the way I’m thinking about some health and fitness factors in my life.
I took a DNA test, through the company Molecular Fitness, that offers numerous observations on your specific genetic makeup and explains in detail how certain traits are coded in our DNA. It also offers guidance for handling each factor. It basically shows me that I am, in fact, coded for fitness failure, but I can fight that — and some means will be more effective than others.
As a disclaimer, the test is full of disclaimers, namely that you can maximize the usefulness of the results by discussing them with a doctor or personal trainer (I’ve not done so) and you shouldn’t change your health behaviors based solely on its results (I am anyway).
Here are some of the reasons why I’m doomed:
• I’m at a higher-than-normal risk for obesity, and my cholesterol is more susceptible to my diet than most people’s.
• I’m at a higher-than-normal risk of regaining weight after dieting.
• About 39.5 percent of the population and I have delayed satiety, meaning we have an increased tendency to overeat because it’s difficult for us to feel full after eating. The test does, however, offer several tips to help with that: Eat a salad 20-30 minutes before a meal; get plenty of fiber; eat healthy fats with breakfast; use smaller plates and portions, and eat slowly.
• You know how people say, “I’m doing everything I can and I’m still not losing weight”? I’m in the unlucky 12 percent of folks who need strength and resistance training, plus plenty of aerobic exercise as well as a healthy diet to lose weight. No cutting corners for us.
• Along with 53.8 percent of people, I’m more likely to experience delayed onset muscle soreness after increasing the intensity of my workouts. The test does recommend supplementary glutamine to combat this, and it does help for me.
All of those indicators are good knowledge to have in my back pocket. Those portions of the test are a bit disheartening, but others are more encouraging and have already helped me make changes in my life:
Sample page from DNA test ( .PDF )
• I’m genetically coded to be less likely to impulse-eat. Nature versus nurture comes into play here for me: I have a certain parent — who shall remain nameless — who tends to struggle the same way I do with snacking in moderation. I had always assumed that was a genetic flaw I’d inherited from him when, in fact, my occasional late-night binges have been based on behavioral choices. (Like the line from that old PSA: “I learned it by watching you!”) Knowing that, I feel more equipped to handle it when the urges set in.
• My body can take in most nutrients at normal amounts, with the exception of vitamin B6. The test details your ability to process vitamins A, B6, B12, D and E as well as folate, and if you’re deficient in any of them, it lists foods that are good sources. I’ll be eating tuna, salmon, bananas, avocados and garbanzo beans — probably not all at once, but the day is young.
• Based on the test, I’ve doubled my fish oil supplements and halved my caffeine intake. I’m prone to inflammation, like 60.9 percent of the population, so I need more omega-3s. I also metabolize caffeine more slowly than most people, so any more than the equivalent of two cups of coffee can give me an increased heart rate and trouble sleeping.
• My carbohydrate and fat tolerance are both normal, so each day my caloric intake should be roughly 50 to 55 percent carbohydrates and 25 to 35 percent fats, with the rest coming from protein. If you have a variance in those tolerance levels, though, that knowledge might be helpful to plan your diet accordingly.
• I have an abundance of fast-twitch muscle fibers, which means I’m cut out for activities such as sprinting, Olympic lifting, gymnastics and wrestling. (I’m awaiting a call back from Vince McMahon.) The test tells whether you have fast-twitch, slow-twitch or a mix of muscle fibers, so you know how best to train.
Those are the main points that I thought were interesting enough to share. Having these kinds of personal results could help fine-tune your own health, and even a simple tweak — treating a vitamin B12 deficiency, for instance, and having more energy on a daily basis — could change your life.
The test is available to anyone, but it comes at a pretty penny. My health insurance offered a temporary discount for a total cost of $150, but it’s normally $250. I’m putting my results on the table so you can consider whether this is something you might want to pursue.
About Healthy OutlookHealthy Outlook is a column written by Journal-World reporter and Health section editor Mackenzie Clark, in hopes of helping readers make their lives a little bit happier, healthier and more active.
Have questions about the world of health and wellness in Lawrence, or a health story idea? Contact Mackenzie: