What I Learned from Having My genes Analyzed
I’m not sure what took me so long to get my genes analyzed. I’ve been quite curious about it for a number of years, whether it be looking at my heritage when those options first came out or now more intriguingly, to get useful health data. It’s something that has been on my “to do” list for years, and it took years to finally pull the trigger. Usually I am very early to the draw for things I am interested in, but in this case I am well behind. One article suggests 1 in 3 Americans (ignoring I’m Canadian) has considered or has a family member who has considered, having their genes analyzed. Millions have already done so.
I’m not sure what I was expecting to learn, I really had no expectations, I was just curious. Perhaps one of the reasons I delayed having the testing done was because I wasn’t completely sure I wanted to know my risks. That is to say, I definitely wanted to know, but I was hesitant to allow the knowledge to negatively impact my life. I was pleasantly surprised that as I read some of the most concerning data regarding my risks, I was met with no change in emotion. It was just “good to know.” Some other tidbits were quite interesting for me. Here are some takeaways:
My relationship with sleep has always been a bit of a conundrum to me. I don’t seem to need a lot of sleep, much less than most people. However, if I am forced to wake before my body wants me to, I tend to have a really bad day. Throughout my years in school, I would often sleep through classes - even arranging a “deal” with my AP Lit teacher in Grade 12 that I would pre-read the books if he turned the other way on my napping. Even in my adult life, my mental clarity and even mood has suffered greatly when I have had a mandated wake up time. Where many other CEOs and entrepreneurs advocate for rigid structure and routine, this does not work for me. Today, I woke up at 5 am after falling asleep at 10 pm. Yesterday, I woke up at 8:20 am after falling asleep after midnight. I use my OURA ring to monitor my sleep quality, to fall asleep when my mind settles, and wake up when I feel rested.
What do my gene’s say? Apparently, I score an “A+” genetically for sleep quality, but my response to sleep deprivation is poor. Interestingly, I also score very well on fatigue response, regarding mental fatigue. I can work 80-100 hours a week of challenging work indefinitely so long as I am getting adequate sleep and some exercise, with a moderately healthy diet. That said, if my sleep starts suffering and dips below 5 hours a night I burn out quickly and it takes me days, or weeks, to mentally recover. My poor response to sleep deprivation could be a blessing in disguise, as it motivates me to pay attention to how much sleep I get.
ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE AND EXERCISE
Results that were not surprising to me in any way, nor would they be to any of my friends or family: my athletic power score was high, my response to exercise was high (suggests that I can improve fitness quickly with exercise), I am likely to have improved exercise tolerance and am more responsive to the beneficial health effects of exercise. However, I get a failing grade on my genetic likelihood for having a high capacity for endurance exercise.
I’ve always been 100% explosive power and fast twitch muscles with great reaction time. As for endurance? It takes significant training for me to be able to jog at a steady pace for even 10 km. For years, I could run 10 km faster by alternating hard running and then walking than I could at a steady pace, as I couldn’t make it to 10 km at a steady pace. Any steady pace. Even playing soccer now, I can more easily run as hard as my body allows for a 2-minute shift than a light intensity 5-6-minute shift. The results of my genetic analysis seem to be exactly in line with my life experience, in this regard.
I’ve always been interested in dietary protocols and have done my best not to fall for fads or hype, all the while experimenting with different diets that had a modicum of science behind them to assess how my body responds. When I tried the paleo diet, it was during a time that I was training 6+ hours a day and went all in, upon my one trainer’s advice to remove all complex carbohydrates. It was more difficult than anything I have ever done. I literally woke up from a dream one night and cried, as my dream had been of eating pancakes. I don’t even like pancakes. On top of that, my athletic performance suffered dramatically. When I modified the diet to add some brown rice, multigrain pasta, and yams, my performance shot through the roof, my body composition improved and I no longer had cravings. Similarly, when I attempted a ketogenic diet, not only did I experience the “keto flu,” but when I became accustomed to the diet, my energy was super low and I had trouble thinking and concentrating. I was lethargic with poor exercise performance. A high-carb diet also has a fairly harsh impact to my health. I tend to gain weight on a high carb diet, feel worse, and develop significant digestive issues.
Not surprisingly, I get a failing grade for both my genetic likelihood to tolerate a high-fat diet, and my likelihood to handle high carbohydrate intake. Knowing this, and knowing what I have responded best to, it makes sense that when I have felt the best I have had a higher protein intake with moderate fat and carbs. Out of all the results I received, this tidbit may sway my decision making the most, dissuading me from trying different diets in the future.
RISK OF OBESITY
One piece of information that simultaneously did and didn’t surprise me, I should have virtually no risk of obesity. To clarify, I’ve yo-yoed with my weight my entire life, and now in my mid-30’s, riddled with injuries and arthritis in 8 spots and waiting on a second surgery, I am having more difficulty than ever in losing weight. That wasn’t always the case. When I was younger it was not out of the question for me to clean up my diet, increase activity, and drop 30 pounds in a month. I did it many times. Gluttony and abuse to my body also made it quite easy for me to gain that much in short order.
Despite abuse and an impaired metabolism from said abuse, coupled with limited ability to exercise, I am maintaining weight at 225 pounds (dropping 42 pounds from February-August) while consuming 3,500 calories a day, 6 days a week (one day fasted). I’ve “stalled out,” and am contemplating if I want to, 1) Reduce my daily calories, 2) Find a way to increase activity or 3) Increase my fasted state. What this information has told me, that said, is I have no genetic predisposition to blame. I’ve long suspected my metabolism is above average, it is just worse than some of my best friends. Many others have it much worse than I do, struggling and counting calories with no results. Learning this information has removed an excuse I was reluctant to fall to, but still sometimes would use as a crutch.
TOXIN CLEARANCE, DRUG RESPONSE
I’ve long wondered about my alcohol, drug, and toxin clearance. I’m the type that can consume large amounts of caffeine, or other stimulants, and fall asleep. I can drink a bottle of wine to myself over ~2 hours and blow a 0.00 most days. I keep a police grade breathalyzer in my living room, and often it takes me up to three bottles of wine over a couple hours to blow over the legal limit. At one dinner party, four of us drank identical amounts and we all ate similar amounts. While, the other three blew 0.23, 0.14, and 0.12, I blew a 0.02. Despite this, often when I drink I experience a hangover without ever having felt intoxicated (although, hydrogen water has greatly mitigated my hangovers!)
It’s had me muse about what a “therapeutic dose” of a hormetic agent is when everyone’s tolerance is different. Do I need more ethanol to activate my glymphatic system? Or do I need similar amounts to others, meaning drinking to the point where I’m not intoxicated, but where others would be, would come with negative health consequences?
My genes suggest that I have a better than normal metabolism of alcohol and a low risk of alcohol abuse (I score an “A+”). I also score an “A+” in response to toxins, suggesting I am a faster metabolizer of many substances and drugs. My relatively large stature and relatively high metabolism of foods likely also comes into play.
DEPRESSION, MENTAL ILLNESS, STRESS RESPONSE
I was certain I wasn’t susceptible to depression. I’ve never really experienced it. I’ve experienced anger and frustration, and even an empty feeling where I lack motivating for short periods, but not depression. At no stage have I ever been unfortunate to be robbed of the gift of happiness. I cannot imagine the pain that those who suffer from depression go through and I cannot relate, only sympathize; at least not how I’ve heard others with even mild depression speak about it, or how I imagine it from reading.
Stress is another thing that I haven’t really ever understood, not in the way that others talk about it. I deal with high amounts of stress every day, needing to make constant decisions on the fly, gamble with large amounts of funds, and problem solve daily “catastrophes”. Even potential bankruptcy events only debilitate me for hours, or often just minutes, before I rebound and my mind starts working on solutions. Regular life stresses don’t have any impact on me, and they rarely ever have.
Genetically, I score an “A+” for stress response and for risk of depression, which makes a lot of sense. What I was very thankful of was finding out I also scored an “A+” in risk of developing mental illnesses, such as paranoid schizophrenia. Losing my mind is perhaps my biggest fear, whether it be from cognitive decline or mental illness. Thankfully my risk of both depression and paranoid schizophrenia is low, as I score an “F” on my genetic likelihood to respond to both anti-depressants and anti-psychotics.
RARE BRAIN CONNECTIVITY
The piece of information that stuck out to me the most was regarding my brain connectivity. In rs16997087, which is attached to parent genes KIF16B and MACROD2, my genotype is “CC”, found in “0% of the population” (obviously not, but below 1%). This is related to brain connectivity, or the pattern and links throughout your brain. Brain connectivity has been suggested as what determines intelligence, with a clear link between how connected the brain is and the participant’s IQ. While it would be inappropriate to suggest that my IQ is due to this genotype, it sparked my interest. There is no evidence to suggest that this genotype increases connectivity, it is just very rare and related to connectivity.
METHYLATION, LIFESPAN, DISEASE RISK
Methylation, or rather the ability to methylate DNA, has been strongly linked to aging and development of age-related diseases, with better methylation being advantageous.i Despite “failing” for methylation, I received an “A” for overall genetic likelihood of longevity. On both sides of my family it seems that people generally live very long, or die very young from disease, heart attack or stroke, so this was of interest to me.
Not surprisingly I scored an “A+” for low risk of diabetes. Despite being a bit overweight, my fasting glucose tends to stick between 4.1-4.3 mmol/L, basically ideal. I tend to fast around these levels right now even if I have eaten things I really shouldn’t have and drunken in excess. I have to do serious damage to my body to significantly raise my blood sugar levels. Somewhat interestingly, my results indicate I should have a “fast” resting heart rate, but a lower chance of heart disease receiving an “A” grade. My resting heart rate fluctuates between 37-45 bpm depending on my daily activities throughout the week, and as I sit and type on the couch, it hovers around 50 bpm. When I was more active, my heart rate was even lower. Of course, these statistical likelihoods are open to errors and are in no way perfect, this was simply the most striking discrepancy between my genetic likelihood and the reality of my situation.
For the rest, such as cancer, colonic disease, liver disease, and autoimmune disease, I either had “average” risk, mixed between conflicting statistics, or the results told me what I already knew, such as “high risk” for ADHD, which as a child I was told I had, my parents refusing to put me on medication. My risk of Parkinson’s is low, but my risk for Alzheimer’s is high, largely because…
Partially because of me having one APOE4 allele, I run a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s as noted above. Luckily, I also carry APOE2, which reduces my risk slightly. Whether I was a carrier in APOE4 is one of the driving motivators to have my genes analyzed. Upwards of 65% of Alzheimer’s patients have at least one APOE4 allele, with those carrying both APOE4 having upwards of 30x higher risk of developing late age Alzheimer’s. My risk factor, having one APOE2 and one APOE4 is 2.6x the “benchmark” of someone carrying two APOE3s (from Wikipedia.)
In a human study using hydrogen water where they assessed genetic responders, those carrying an APOE4 allele significantly improved in a model of Mild Cognitive Impairment, whereas those not carrying at least one APOE4 allele did notii. As I am certainly a responder and tend to experience energy rushes after drinking high-dose hydrogen water, perhaps this is one reason why.
NEXT WEEK, WHY YOU SHOULD CONSIDER GETTING YOUR GENE’S ANALYZED