This could be why you’re so tired
Genetic testing has become popular thanks to ancestry websites, but a new wave of testing is now helping us understand our bodies like never before. Including why we could be so tired.
Most of us rely on doctor's visits and medical tests to understand how our bodies function, but advancements in DNA testing is now providing a simple way to find out a host of things such as how we store fat, how our muscles are wired and how our body processes vitamins.
So when myDNA sent me a test kit, I must admit, I was intrigued.
Founded by geneticist Associate Professor Les Sheffield in 2007, the results offer nutrition and fitness insights - just with a swab of your cheek. Professor Sheffield was Australia's first qualified clinical geneticist in 1976.
With a simple swab my sample was sent back to its genomics laboratory in South Yarra, Victoria. I'm reassured the swabs are safe and my genetic profiles won't be stolen to build an army of superhumans by an evil supervillain.
"We are committed to protecting your information, handling it responsibly and securing it with administrative, technical and physical measures and safeguards. All genetic test results and any personal information are maintained under a strict policy of confidentiality, remaining the property of our members," they tell me.
You can find out more here.
The DNA is extracted and analysed by their scientific team, using what is called "open array genotyping technology".
"We rely on the technology to extract the DNA and determine the variations in the genes," Allan Sheffield, co-founder of myDNA and Les's son, explains to me.
"This procedure boasts near perfect (99 per cent) accuracy. Our algorithms then match these genetic variations to the outcomes of peer-reviewed research, which then forms a 'genetic profile' for the person, for which we can recommend specific actions (as part of their insights) and then build the meal and workout plans."
He says his laboratory is National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) accredited and adheres to a strict quality assurance process. The DNA insights and recommendations are developed in accordance with internationally recognised guidelines and factor in a large number of published studies, he says.
"Very few people would believe that what works for one person is automatically going to work for everyone, but even fewer actually know what those differences are and what to do with them.
"By understanding what makes your body unique, you can start to make educated decisions about how you fuel it."
For instance, if you're a person with a specific variation of the FTO gene, otherwise known as the "fat gene", it means you "have a tendency not to feel full after eating, and you are more likely to become overweight".
As my own results come through, it's a fascinating experience. I'm "naturally better at high intensity training" but I've also "probably never been flexible".
I also favour power over endurance, being "well-equipped to work at full power".
But one note catches my eye.
My NBPF3 gene is working faster than normal, causing my body to process vitamin B6 too quickly. I share this result with 26 per cent of other myDNA users.
Otherwise known as the "Vitamin B6 Gene", it is linked with a hormone found to be associated with the clearance of vitamin B6 from the body. Your body needs vitamin B6 to help red blood cells function and is essential for the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, responsible for mood, sleep and appetite.
If your body processes it too quickly, symptoms include fatigue, confusion, inflammation and even cracks at the corner of your mouth.
It feels like a light bulb moment. Could this be why I'm so tired?
But there are caveats. In 2015 the British Journal of Sports Medicine published a statement among geneticists that claimed the tests "based on current knowledge, have no role to play in talent ID or the individual prescription of training to maximise performance".
A 2010 report in the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council said similar: "An individual's genes are only one of the factors that determine his or her future health (albeit a substantial factor in many cases). Genetic susceptibility does not always imply genetic inevitability".
When probed about this, Mr Sheffield said the report was "spot on".
"And is at the core of the research we review and base our recommendations from. Your genes are not your destiny, and with the right course of action anyone is able to play to or counteract the impact their genes might be having on their health and fitness.
"For example, even though 70 per cent of Olympic sprinters have a certain ACTN3 genetic variation, there are still 30 per cent who don't and are just as likely to go on to win a gold medal with the right training plan."
When I ask Mr Sheffield the importance of following up results with a doctor, he tells me: "It depends on your genetic variations and the recommendations you've received.
"We like to recommend it as an initial option to cut through the guesswork before going down the path of more invasive or longer term and regular testing.
"But for anyone looking to make changes to their health or fitness regimen, we would recommend some form of healthcare professional be consulted."
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the Therapeutic Goods Administration "prohibits the sale of most at-home genetic health-screening kits in Australia", but a spokesperson for myDNA by Arrotex told news.com.au: "In respect to the TGA, the DNA kit is registered with TGA as a medical device and is available to purchase in pharmacies."
So it seems the best way to treat these findings are as a fascinating read and a great guide for the future, but not as a bible. If it makes you rethink certain lifestyle choices or to do that extra rep at the gym, I say it's worth it.
Originally published as This could be why you're so tired