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Ask the Diet Doctor: Is the DNA Diet Bogus?

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Ask the Diet Doctor: Is the DNA Diet Bogus?

Q: Is DNA testing to find the “perfect” diet for me worth the money?

A: Not at this time. DNA testing is fascinating, but we are really not to the point where you will get enough information to create the “perfect” diet for you based off your genes.

Currently one of the more popular and affordable genetic testing services is 23andMe. All you need to do is spit in a tube, pop it in the mail in the provided prepaid box, and log onto their site a few weeks later to see your genetic profile.

The 23andMe report gives you information about your DNA, carrier status, and risk for 245 different disease and conditions. At best, the information you will be able to get from test reports from companies like 23andMe will let you know if you are at increased risk for diseases including diabetes, heart disease, or obesity. It can also tell you things such as if you are likely to be lactose intolerant or have Celiac’s disease. All this information if very interesting and much of it is useful, but we currently can't use it to generate the perfect diet for someone.

For example, if you find out you have the genetic profile such that you shouldn’t have lactose, there’s a simple fix: Stop consuming dairy or take a Lactaid when you do. But if you find that you have the genetic predisposition for heart disease, it’s less clear what you should do. Poll five different experts, and you’ll get at least three different dietary approaches that are the “best” for treating heart disease. We aren’t to the point with our knowledge about certain diseases and treatments that a DNA test could give you advice for a diet specific for your genes.

I think it also depends on your personality and what you would do with the information. Diet and exercise is far and away the best treatment for diabetes, but despite this many people with diabetes refuse to commit to a regular exercise program or modify their diet in any significant way. Smoking can increase your risk for lung cancer by 13 to 23 times (depending on your gender) regardless of your genetic makeup, but more people start smoking every day.

I am personally fascinated by the level of information an average person can get from spitting into a vial and sending it off in the mail. While this information won’t give you the perfect diet for your body, it will give you lots of insights about your health and potential risk for a myriad of diseases. The price of this testing continues to go down, but whether the information is worth the financial cost is a personal decision.

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