Earlier this year I did DNA testing at The Hundred Wellness Centre in Dubai and it literally changed my life. I honestly can’t recommend it enough. I wrote about the fascinating experience for The Hundred’s blog, which originally featured here and can also be read in full below…
When I first learned that The Hundred Wellness Centre offered DNA testing my inner geek almost exploded. Already a regular at 53b Street Jumeirah for Super Circuit workouts and Pilates, I was so excited to dip my toes into this mind-blowing wellness tool I’ve heard so much about. DNA testing used to be reserved for the likes of celebrities, athletes and millionaires. Like most cutting-edge health tools. So I was surprised to learn that for around 1600 shiny dirhams I could get my own piece of the pie… And it was worth every dirham.
I booked in for the DNA health and DNA sport tests recommended by The Hundred Wellness Centre’s resident homeopathic doctor, the lovely Dr. Sean Penny. I wasn’t really sure what to expect: Did I need to fast? Have blood drawn? I was clueless… And extremely happy to learn that none of these were necessary. I simply had to scrape the inside of both of my cheeks for 60 seconds with a q-tip. 2 minutes total. It wasn’t the most pleasant thing in the world, but far easier than I was expecting. I did that and then the tests were sent off to the specialist lab in South Africa.
Since then, two weeks have passed and we have the results. These were emailed to me by Dr. Sean’s nurse, who arranged a one-hour consultation to go over them with me in person. I’m thankful for this because the results are a little confusing for mere, non-doctor mortals like me. And although I could already decipher some things from the extensive document, Dr. Sean’s input was crucial.
The bespoke DNA report comes with easy-to-read markers; these flower-like symbols show you the level of your specific genotype’s impact. The more “flowers” you have next to something, the higher the negative impact. There’s also a special little green flower that denotes a beneficial impact – but sadly I did not receive a single one of these in my report. My parents have a lot to answer for… But jokes aside, there’s honestly nothing scary about the report. Where I have a high impact flag there is also a friendly note about how to address and fix/help this, and this, together with Dr. Sean’s expert advice makes me feel very in control of my health. Which is the best feeling. I also feel incredibly knowledgable about it now, which is another amazing feeling. And it’s important right: To know what’s going on inside your body and understand the best ways you can help yourself to live a long and happy life? Health is wealth people!
So, Dr. Sean and I meet to go over everything at his office inside The Hundred Wellness Centre. He tells me not to worry, that overall my reports were good, that he’s already taken the time to devise a tailored supplement and lifestyle plan for me, but that first he will go through each section in the report. Explaining what the genes are, what my individual codes mean, and how this is negative or positive: And most importantly – how we will turn negatives into positives following this meeting.
This is a totally engrossing, hour-long consultation. It’s absolutely fascinating and it’s all about you: Totally 100% all about you – your DNA, your health, your treatment plan. I will share some of the highlights from my DNA health report and consultation with you now so that you can get a feel for what to expect…
The first thing screened in the report is lipid metabolism. This is all to do with heart health, which is affected by a complex balance of environmental, dietary and genetic factors. Certain genes influence LDL and HDL cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is the bad guy and HDL cholesterol is the good guy. If you have genotype results that could lead to a higher LDL (bad) cholesterol or lower HDL (good) cholesterol – this is associated with a higher risk of heart disease. I don’t have any big markers in this section, so it’s something Dr. Sean and I don’t need to focus on.
Dr. Sean then takes me through the methylation section. In layman’s terms, methylation is basically the process of DNA repair: certain vitamins (including folate, B6 and B12) help us make new DNA for cells that are constantly growing and renewing themselves. So it’s an ongoing process – and it’s crucial to your overall health. Some genes help this process, and some genes hinder this process. Unfortunately I have a few shady guys… Dr. Sean explains that my ‘CC’ gene result for one marker is associated with decreased enzyme function. So I need to increase my folate (which helps turn DNA on and off, and also helps with the repair of them), as well as B2, B6, and B12. We discuss foods rich in these vitamins and Dr. Sean mentions that he’s devised a supplement plan for me also – since it can be hard to get all you need from food in today’s modern age, especially in a place like Dubai.
Thanks to another genotype (‘GG’) I also have an increased risk for the development of premature coronary artery disease (CAD) and neural tube defects (NTDs) when cobalamin (vitamin B12) is low. As such I need to make sure I have adequate intake of folate, vitamin B12 and vitamin B6. As with the previous issue, I can increase this via my food: Opting for organic, local produce that’s rich in these vitamins such as kale (folate), fish and shellfish (vitamin B12) and bran (b6). And I will also supplement these using Solgar products as per Dr. Sean’s prescription.
My first three “flower” marker appears in the methylation section too. This signifies a ‘high impact’ and it’s for COMT, which helps control the levels of certain hormones and is involved in the inactivation of catecholamine neurotransmitters (dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine). Don’t worry if you’re left scratching your head – I was too. Basically my ‘AA’ variation for COMT means that I have a 3-4 fold reduction in the methylation (remember: DNA renewal) activity of the COMT enzyme. So I am not very well equipped to renew that DNA in my cells as they replenish. This is associated with an increased risk for breast cancer. I found this quite shocking because breast cancer doesn’t really run in my family at all – but it just goes to show: It’s not necessarily about your parents or grandparents, it’s about your individual genes. I wasn’t scared at all, as Dr. Sean explained that we will manage this with key interventions including the modulation of estrogen metabolism, which can be achieved by increasing my intake of insoluble fibre (oats, brown rice, psyllium husk), managing the quality of the fat I consume, watching my weight and increasing my exercise. I also need to ensure I have sufficient antioxidant and magnesium intake.
The detoxification section of the report brings five, very welcome ‘no impact’ little flower markers. Although there is another ‘high impact’ issue at the end of this section and it’s for NQ01. Which means nothing to most people (including me) I know… So to explain: This gene is involved in the detoxification of mutagenic and carcinogenic quinones found in tobacco smoke, in your diet and in estrogen metabolism. It also protects cells from oxidative stress by maintaining the antioxidant forms of ubiquinone (an electron-rich (reduced) form of coenzyme Q10) and vitamin E. My pesky genotype variant – ‘TT’ – means I have reduced enzymatic activity. Because of this I have an increased risk for developing certain cancers including breast, colorectal and gastrointestinal – especially where there is exposure to cigarette smoke. Luckily I am a non-smoker. If I did smoke, together with the health issues commonly associated with smoking, I would also have this extra health risk burning away inside me.
The next section in the report is a bit of a hot topic in the wellness world right now: Inflammation. Most of the time inflammation is a good thing – it happens in our bodies when there is a normal immune response and we need healing. But did you know that the release of these helpful inflammation substances is actually controlled by the genes that govern the inflammation process? And unfortunately, when these genes aren’t ‘switched off’ the inflammatory response continues – even though the immune response is no longer needed… And this is a bad thing. It leads to an increase in health issues such as obesity, heart disease, arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease. I am pleased to report that I had ‘no impact’ results for both of the genes spotlighted in this section.
Next up is oxidative stress. This is all about how well your body deals with free radicals – which are a normal byproduct of the body’s energy-generating biochemical processes. These free radicals react with other molecules in our body and can damage our DNA, proteins and cellular membranes. That’s where our buddies – the antioxidants – come in. Antioxidants essentially chase and hunt for free radicals, and when they find them they work their magic, ensuring that they are no longer a reactive molecule. Our individual genotype variants impact how well antioxidants can do their job. Unfortunately I’ve got two ‘moderate impact’ results here. To combat this and prevent the diseases associated with my results (hypertension, end-stage renal disease, pre-eclampsia, and certain cancers) I need to ensure I have an adequate antioxidant and n-3 fatty acids intake. I can do this through foods rich in antioxidants (goji berries, wild berries, dark chocolate) and n-3 fatty acids (walnuts, oily fish, cauliflower) and potentially supplementation.
We then discuss the bone health aspect in the report. This is one of the most eye-opening for me. As far as I know, no-one in my family has suffered with bone issues – and here I am with not one, but three ‘high impact’ results and one ‘moderate impact’. Shucks. I just want to remind you here that I am not sad about this or scared –– I can’t change my DNA. I was born with it. I would much rather know where it is failing me so I can take the appropriate measures to support it, and turn the negatives into positives. With this information I am empowered and I am in control… It is nothing to fear.
The three ‘high impact’ genotype results all suggest that I need to ensure adequate calcium and vitamin D intake to reduce my risk of osteoporosis, hip fracture, high bone loss and a higher bone turnover. I also have to limit my caffeine intake – ensuring that I have no less than 300mg per day (approximately 4 shots of espresso depending on various factors). One of my genotypes – an ‘AA’ result for Bsm1 – actually flags that women with this result who have a higher caffeine intake than 300mg per day have a higher bone loss. I love coffee, but not that much. I love my bones more. I now monitor my caffeine intake and plan to test my vitamin D levels just to be safe. I’ll also increase my intake of vitamin D rich (fatty fish, egg yolks, cheese) and calcium rich (broccoli, kale, yoghurt) foods. Plus of course, vitamin D is in ample supply in Dubai thanks to our year-round sunshine – and around 30-minutes exposure without sunscreen protection should give you plenty of gorgeous vitamin D.
Little geeky fact to break up the DNA chat – did you know that cats and dogs also get their vitamin D from the sun? But, the process doesn’t happen beneath their skin, it happens on their skin. The vitamin D produced from sun exposure with cats and dogs seeps out in oil form on their fur. Your little pet then takes in that vitamin D by licking their fur when they groom themselves. Fascinating.
Next up is insulin sensitivity, which I kind of assumed I wouldn’t do too well in and actually my results were okay. I only had one ‘moderate impact’ and one ‘mild impact’ genotype result. My ‘CC’ genotype for the PPARG gene means that I am highly sensitive to the type and amount of fat in my diet with regards to obesity and diabetes. So to manage this I need to pay attention to the quality of the fat in my diet. I should increase the MUFAs in my diet (monounsaturated fatty acids, plant-based fats: avocado, nuts, dark chocolate) and reduce the saturated fat (meat – especially red and processed, lard). And my ‘TA’ genotype for the FTO gene means that I am susceptible to have a higher BMI, body fat percentage and waist circumference. If I was overweight I would have an increased risk for insulin resistance and diabetes. So I have to monitor my weight and make sure I don’t overeat carbohydrates, saturated fat and increase my MUFAs. Regular exercise is also the order of the day.
The food responsiveness section was something I was super excited about – and it provided me with another surprise. I thought that I might be lactose intolerant. Not because of any symptoms, just because I thought it would be my bad luck (I love cheese). Thankfully my negative thinking didn’t do any damage: I have no lactose sensitivity. Hurrah. I also had no impact for iron overload, PUFA (polyunsaturated fat) metabolism and the salt sensitivity ACE gene. I did, however, have a ‘moderate impact’ for caffeine sensitivity, and too much caffeine could lead to an increased risk of heart disease. Despite my love of coffee, I am not too disappointed: It was also present in my bone health section. So I will limit myself to no more than 300mg daily. As a general rule of thumb, I make sure I don’t have any more than two cups of coffee a day – and that these coffees aren’t too strong. I rarely consume fizzy drinks so I don’t have caffeine exposure there, but I do also watch my tea consumption.
Lastly I also had a ‘moderate impact’ for salt sensitivity with the AGT gene. So whereas my ‘DD’ result for the ACE salt sensitivity gene that governs blood pressure and volume of fluids in the body, was good and nothing to treat, my ‘TC’ result for the AGT salt sensitivity gene did need attention. The ‘C’ part of my ‘TC’ genotype means that I may have an increased risk for hypertension – but the good news is that hypertension is significantly lower among those individuals who reduce sodium intake. So a lower sodium intake is doctor’s orders for me.
With the report thoroughly explained I feel enlightened, and to be completely honest – slightly overwhelmed. Talking about genes, genotypes and the like is pretty foreign to me, so I really had to concentrate to take it all in. I felt like I was back in science class: Although, it was quite fun to have a science class all about me!
If you go ahead and book in to get your DNA tested at The Hundred Wellness Centre, one thing I definitely recommend is recording your consultation session with Dr. Sean using the voice note recorder on your phone. It will enable you to go back and remind yourself of bits that you will likely forget if, like me, you do not have a DNA background or a basic understanding of this rather complex field. Also: It’s just a lot to take in, in one-hour in general and he tells you so many fascinating things – you are going to want to go back to them: trust me. And as this blog post hopefully demonstrates, I now have a reasonable understanding about this subject: And most importantly – I understand my results and how to use them to improve my health.
This is partly because I recorded the session and was able to go back to it and really absorb everything and also partly because since the test and the results and the consultation with Dr. Sean I’ve been inspired to research this deeper using the Internet and documentaries. Maybe you will feel compelled to do the same. However, the second take-away I definitely advise is go through your report and your results and write out your own ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ and pin them somewhere you will constantly see them. It’s so easy to let parts of the lifestyle advice slip, but if you have it all clearly mapped out – with the reasons you are doing it, eg. ‘Eat calcium rich foods to combat your high risk of osteoporosis’ – you will stay on track.
Dr. Sean also gave me a supplement prescription and I am now taking Solgar supplements for magnesium, vitamin B12 and folate together with Bioresponse DIM. I buy these in bulk on the Internet to get the best deals, with the exception of Bioresponse DIM, which is available directly at The Hundred Wellness Centre. These together with a few tweaks here and there in my diet and lifestyle are all it took for me to feel confident that I’m doing the very best to support my slightly squiffy genotypes and that is an amazing gift to give yourself, right? It’s worth every dirham, and I can’t recommend the experience enough. Without wanting to sound too cheesy: It’s changed my life. So thank you Dr. Sean!