All that information I got from those tests was just the beginning. More recently, I wanted to take my genes a step further.
Pathway Genomics, which has been around since 2008, offers tests that cover everything from liquid biopsies (tests that look for circulating tumour cells in the blood) to tests that tell you how your body will interact with a certain medication. One of its most popular tests, called Fit, takes a look at a subset of genes to give you a snapshot of how your body might respond to food and exercise based on your genetic makeup.
At $599, it’s not the cheapest test out there, but I felt like this test was sometimes reading my mind:
Inside, I found a standard spit collection kit, a bag to put it in, and a set of instructions and paperwork.
Like any other spit-based DNA test, Pathway's had me muster up a lot of spit (My new trick: I picture eating sour foods, which make me salivate like crazy).
Once that was done, I added the fluid that was in the cap, twisted that part off and replaced it with a closed lid.
Because the test is not a direct-to-consumer test, I had to have a physician involved. For the purposes of this review, Pathway provided a doctor for me who authorised my test.
Then I packed everything up, placed it back in the silver box that's already labelled and ready to go, and my spit was on its way.
A little over two weeks later, I got my results, which was much faster than the wait period of 6-8 weeks that I've experienced with other genetic tests.
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First, in order to compile its results, Pathway narrowed down its data to focus on several genes which have a relatively good amount of data linking them with certain traits. For example, they spotted a variant in my MC4R gene which may be linked with being overweight.
Still, as the report (and several other studies) make clear, my genes aren't the only thing affecting my weight: Lifestyle factors like diet and exercise are also super important -- and these things can change over time. On that note, Pathway's report was packed with personalised diet and fitness tips that were specific to my genes.
Pathway also supplies customers with a free appointment with a registered dietitian that they employ. I spoke with Christina Galiatsatos, who spent an hour walking me through my results with me over the phone.
Galiatsatos also emphasised the point that the data I can see in Pathway's report isn't an end-all-be-all determinant of my weight or eating habits(I have the genotype for a bitter taste receptor, but I happen to like broccoli, coffee, and dark chocolate, foods bitter tasters typically steer clear of). Everything from the food I eat now to how often I work out and even what kinds of nutrients I was exposed to in the womb affect how those genes get expressed, something called epigenetics.
Then we went over what I should be eating. Interestingly, my genes make me predisposed to get an increased benefit from polyunsaturated fats, which can be found in foods like salmon, almonds, and walnuts, but not olive oil. Ideally, Galiatsatos told me, I should cook my foods in flaxseed oil instead of my usual olive oil to get more of these fats.
Some of my results felt incredibly accurate. I also found out I have several genetic traits that predispose me to eat even when I don't need to. One makes it more likely that I won't feel full; another makes me have what's called 'increased food desire.' Galiatsatos told me she typically sees people with one of these traits, but not usually all three. Oops.
With all that in mind, Galiatsatos suggested I double or even triple up on vegetables (which are high in fibre and help us feel full) when I'm making dinner. I took her word for it -- the next time I made my go-to dinner of pasta with sautéed vegetables, I put in loads more than usual. And I definitely did feel a less of an urge to eat ice cream after I finished.
Galiatsatos also gave me some work out tips based on my results. I'm a runner, so I was excited to hear that I'd likely benefit more from endurance (long distance) training than strength (short distance) training. Plus, the test confirmed something I'd learned from my 23andMe report: I am no sprinter. And that may be in part because I lack 2 copies of a special muscle protein that's been linked with speed and high performance.
Galiatsatos walked me through the rest of my report, telling me which nutrients I should work on eating more of. When it came to vitamins I might be lacking, she suggested I eat certain foods that are jam-packed with them.
My genes suggested I'm predisposed to have decreased levels of omega-6 and 3 fatty acids in my blood. But instead of suggesting I eat a lot more salmon, she recommended a fish oil supplement, which I wouldn't have considered otherwise. That way, she said, there'd be consistency in my day-to-day levels.
Then it was on to an eating plan based on my genes! I was assigned a low-fat diet based on how my body is likely to process macronutrients like protein, carbs, and fat. There were 35 pages in this PDF, with different diets based on the amount of calories I wanted to aim for in a day.
The guide showed me ways to use those servings in different recipe. For example, here's what a lunch could look like. Pathway says it can also take into account special diet needs or restrictions, from athletes who need more calories to vegetarians.
As a healthy 23-year-old, I wouldn't have normally thought about using a genetics test to inform my daily eating habits. That seems fairly common: Galiatsatos said she typically works with women going through menopause who are having trouble managing their weight and want more clues about what's going on internally.
For me, Pathway's test confirmed some hunches I'd had about my eating habits (i.e.: I'm never too full for ice cream, even after a big meal) and also gave me some surprising insight about potential changes I could make (I'd assumed a Mediterranean diet was my go-to, but now I might reconsider).
The price is a bit high, but for someone looking to use all the information available to craft a lifelong eating and exercise plan, I'd say it would definitely be worth the spit take.
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