Increasingly, Americans are looking to genetic tests to offer personalized nutrition and health advice. Nutrigenomics tests attempt to identify how an individual’s genes and various nutrients interact. But are these tests helpful?
Here is a list of six things to consider before buying a nutrigenomics test...
- Do you really need to know? Much of the advice from genetic testing suggests the benefits of eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains and less sodium. Does knowing your unique genetic makeup help you follow this common advice? A good first step is to work with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) to help you create a personalized plan based on your health status, goals, budget, food preferences, and lifestyle. Perhaps later, you’ll want to invest in a nutrigenomics test.
- Do you really want to know? Before taking a genetic test, consider what the results may tell you now or someday in the future. You may learn that your risk for Alzheimer’s disease is quite high, for example. Will knowing this influence you in a good way, or will it make you anxious or depressed? After all, you can eat, sleep and exercise in ways that lower your risk for dementia whether you know about your genetic predisposition or not. Also keep in mind that the science of genetics is growing rapidly. It’s likely that you could get results today that are interpreted differently in years to come.
- Do you want your genetic information “out there?” Even if you choose a reputable genetic testing company, it’s possible for your genetic information to be used improperly. Even secure technologies can be hacked or information leaked. Some people worry that information showing individuals to be at high risk for certain illnesses could be used against them by employers and insurance companies.
- Who will perform genetic testing? To find a reputable lab, look for one that is either CLIA-certified or CAP-accredited. And experts recommend that both the genes tested and the research used to make assessments are available in your report or on the company’s website.
- Who will interpret your results? Work with a licensed healthcare professional like an RDN or a genetics counselor. Not only will you need someone to explain the results, you need to fully understand your risk for certain problems, the specific dietary recommendations to address them and how to implement those recommendations.
- Are the results legitimate? The accuracy of nutrigenomics reports is a concern for many people. One testing company may view 35 genetic variants, but another might look at only 20 or as many as 50. Additionally, different companies likely look at different genetic markers for the same health trait such as the risk for developing type 2 diabetes. The number of variants tested and the specific variants tested will affect the results. Even if companies do look at the same genetic variants, their proprietary algorithms may deliver different recommendations.
Many people who used genetic tests for individualized diet advice found it motivated them to change their lifestyle habits. Whether there is long-term benefit to nutrigenomics testing for healthy people is still unclear. Consider both the pros and cons before purchasing a test.
By Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, CHWC, FAND
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.