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Shocking DNA Test Results for $20?

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As the WJZ news station reported, the kit claims that a simple swab of your saliva is all it takes to reveal:

•    How you’ll react to certain medications
•    What diseases you might develop
•    What “bad genes” you might give to your children

“We essentially show people that this is by no means telling them they are going to get something, but something they should be aware of to make better lifestyle decisions,” Pathway Genomics Vice President Jim Woodman said on WJZ.com.

There are both legal and ethical concerns surrounding the new tests, especially their over-the-counter status, including the need for FDA approval as well as ramifications for those who receive bad “genetic” news.

Important, too, is the fact that your lifestyle is instrumental in dictating how your genetic code pans out … and this may not be something that the DNA test kits reveal.

Your Lifestyle Can Influence Your Risk of Disease

While your genes may give you a slightly higher risk of developing a certain disease, they in no way dictate with certainty that you will get a disease.

For instance, if you have a family history of a certain cancer, it does not necessarily mean you will get it. Your genes may or may not “express” this tendency, which is just as true in a person with a family history as without. A new field known as epigenetics is increasingly showing that your lifestyle and even your emotions play a major role in switching genes “on” or “off” — and this may be an even bigger factor than your genetics.

Epigenetics, which means “changes in gene function that do not involve changes in DNA sequence,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, offers incredible empowerment for all of us, including those who feel we’re destined to repeat a family history of a certain illness.

In reality, researchers from the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University recently revealed that your diet and lifestyle choices may directly influence your risk of getting a degenerative disease.

Their research focused on the HDAC enzyme, which is known to turn off genes that help suppress tumors, essentially allowing cancer development to continue if you have too much HDAC.

However, there are HDAC inhibitors in common foods, including broccoli, garlic and onions, that actually stop the HDAC enzyme from turning off the tumor suppressor genes. This is an incredible example of how eating a healthy diet may help turn off harmful genes in your body.

“Metabolism seems to be a key factor, too, generating the active HDAC inhibitor at the site of action,” Rod Dashwood, a professor of environmental and molecular toxicology and head of LPI’s Cancer Chemoprotection Program, told EurekAlert. “In cancer cells, tumor suppressors such as p21 and p53 often become epigenetically silenced. HDAC inhibitors can help turn them on again, and trick the cancer cell into committing suicide via apoptosis.”

“We already know some of the things people can do to help prevent cancer with certain dietary or lifestyle approaches,” he continued. “Now we’re hoping to more fully understand the molecular processes going on, including at the epigenetic level. This should open the door for new approaches to disease prevention or treatment through diet, as well as in complementing conventional drug therapies.”

Your Behavior Changes the Expression of Your Genes … for Good or for Bad

Genes are not black and white like you may have been lead to believe. They can actually function in different ways that can be either good or bad for your health.

You can “instruct” your genes to express themselves in a positive, disease-fighting way through diet, exercise and even your attitude.

“We have a choice to bathe our genes with joy, happiness, exercise, and nutritious foods, or we can bathe them with anger, lack of hope, junk food and sedentary lifestyle,” David Rakel, MD, director of integrative medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, said in a UW Health article. “This area of research holds so much potential and gives us the hope to say ‘Even if my genes indicate a history of family illness, I can make positive lifestyle choices that can keep a gene from being expressed as a disease.’”

Epigenetic changes are so profound that they even appear to influence future generations. One study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that mice fed a nutrient-enriched diet had offspring with dark brown fur, while those fed a standard diet had golden fur. The changes remained consistent into the next generation as well, as offspring of the dark-furred mice had dark brown fur as well.

Epigenetic changes act to influence your entire body, and may have implications on countless diseases and even the rate of aging itself. While medications can only treat a specific symptom or ailment, epigenetic changes have the potential to promote body-wide healing.

“If I have 10 minutes with a patient, I could write them a prescription to lower their cholesterol. But I’m just treating one thing,” Rakel told UW Health. “If I encourage them to exercise and eat better, I’m doing much more than lowering their cholesterol. I’m reducing their risk of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes…the list goes on. Epigenetics impacts the whole body, but drugs are geared toward one specific disease.”

Likewise, while at-home DNA tests may give you a window into your genetic weaknesses, they do not do anything to change your genetic expression one way or another.