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How DNA Testing Can Extend Your Life

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DNA testing has been around for some time. In 2003, Scientists achieved one of the greatest scientific breakthroughs of all time when they completed the Human Genome Project – decoding the entire 3 billion letters that make up the Human Genome. The cost of testing and sequencing the genes has since been on a decline.

The reduced testing cost and increasing human fascination with the genetic hand they were dealt with has made the test hugely popular in recent times. The average cost of a DNA test now is about $300, a little improvement from the $100 million you would have paid in 2001 to get you DNA unraveled.

DNA tests have been used to extract all sorts of useful information, from tracing your ancestral roots to solving heinous crimes to apprehending fleeing fathers.

But Did You Know DNA Testing Could Help Extend Your Lifespan?

Fueled by the lowering cost and advancement in technology, a number of entrepreneurs are looking at ways to harness this data to help you live a longer and healthier life.  Companies like 23andme, DNAfit, and Kinetic Diagnostics are marketing direct-to-consumer genetic tests which are fast gaining popularity worldwide.

What Is DNA Testing?

With the discovery of the DNA’s structure in 1953, there's been rapid advancement in the application of this knowledge to understand how living things work and solve numerous genetic questions. DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid) is a long molecule found in every cell which carries each person's unique genetic codes. Each of your body’s cell contains the same DNA code which is unique and can be used to identify you and your children. Half of your DNA comes from each of your biological parents.

DNA in humans take the form of coiled strands called chromosomes and are located in the cell nucleus. Each human cell contains 46 chromosomes which if unwound and placed end-to-end will give you the long (about 3 meters), double-stranded helix.

The DNA helix appears like a twisted ladder or spiral staircase hence the popular visual representation. The “steps” consists of the four bases: adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G), and

cytosine (C), which are connected to each other in specific pairs  by hydrogen bonds. This arrangement, known as the DNA sequence, contains the template for our physical characteristics and body functions. These templates are organized into units called genes.

A genetic test analyses the likelihood of a person inheriting a genetic disorder such as a high risk for colon or breast cancer, by identifying subtle changes in their gene and structural protein. The answer can then be used to determine your tendency of suffering from the same disease.

If the results indicate the presence of genetic mutations, you are then better prepared and can begin to make some lifestyle changes. You would also begin treatment early enough. This is particularly important if a certain ailment has affected close family members in the past.

BRACA1 And Angelina Jolie

For instance, Angelina Jolie revealed she had a preventive double mastectomy because her mother died of breast cancer at 56. She had undergone genetic testing and found out she had inherited the BRCA1 gene variation from her mother which placed her at a whopping 87% risk of getting breast cancer.

This prompted her to remove her breasts preemptively before the onset of the disease. While a genetic risk factor is not a confirmation that you will get the disease, it increases your chances and being fully aware of this can help you take preventive measures.

Knowing Your Genetics Can Help Optimize Your Health

The complete decoding of the Human Genome is still at a nascent stage, and it will take a while for us to understand all 3bn base pairs of the human genome. However, scientists have been able to show that knowing the individual genetics differences can help you optimize your health by identifying risk factors, determining the best course of treatment, and commencing early treatment.

When The Specific DNA Defect Is Identified, Appropriate Treatment Can Be Started Immediately.

It has been established that genes affect your risks for health conditions such as:

1. Cardiovascular Diseases:

People who have a high risk of developing heart disease can be identified long before the symptoms appear. Defective genes like the LDLR have been identified in adults with high cholesterol levels. People with a defective gene that causes elevated homocysteine levels can reduce their heart disease risk by adding folic acid and vitamin B to their diets.

2. Cancer:

There are genetic risk factors for certain types of cancer which include breast cancer, cancer of the esophagus, colorectal and bladder. DNA tests can detect these cancers at an early stage.

The deadly spread of these cancer cells can then be avoided and the disease controlled by preventive surgery and regular monitoring.

Certain gene defects – like the p53 gene defect – indicate a higher-than-normal predisposition to cancer. People tested positive for this gene can possibly prevent cancer by adjusting their diet and lifestyle. There is lots of research around Cancer and Lifestyle.

3. Degenerative Diseases:

Some genetic variants can tell you about your risk for Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease. Although there are no effective known cures for these degenerative diseases, there are lifestyle changes which an individual can make to reduce their risks or substantially delay the onset of the diseases.

4. Blood Clots:

About 8% of people of European descent have a genetic variant that makes them susceptible to blood clots. With this knowledge, those genetically predisposed for this potentially fatal condition can easily minimize their risks by staying hydrated, avoiding oral contraceptives and being mobile while in a plane flight.

Other conditions which currently might benefit from DNA testing are;

  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • Gaucher’s disease,
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Crohn's disease
  • Hereditary hemochromatosis,
  • Rheumatoid disease

Your Genes Also Affect Your Body Responses To Certain Drugs And Your Propensity For Adding Weight.

With the widespread availability of genetic testing, more people are getting tested and using the test interpretation to improve their health and live longer by changing their lifestyle, avoiding the harmful effects of some drugs and eating healthier.

The Future Of DNA Testing

In the near future, there will be great discoveries which will revolutionize the way we approach healthcare. Plans are underway in the UK to sequence hundreds of people and create a National Human Genome database. This  database will enable better understanding of the genome and drive innovations in healthcare.

We are on the cusp of a genetic revolution. And just as the internet and information technology has created new industries with amazing benefits in almost every area of human activity, genetics promises great health benefits for people and will help them live longer and healthier lives.

Rosemary Richards
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