Jennifer Lovejoy, Arivale Chief Science Officer, PhD
Since the sequencing of the first human genome, the cost of genetic sequencing has come down from millions of dollars per person to something the average consumer could buy easily online. With so many genetic reporting services suddenly available, it’s important to understand the impact genetics actually have on the body, how credible the results are, and finally, what you can do with these deeply personal insights.
Understanding Genetic Variants
More than 99 percent of human DNA is identical. Variants are where DNA differs between people—and they account for everything from our hair color to our risk of developing deadly diseases. In other words, that’s the interesting stuff.
While there are conditions caused by variants in a single gene—like cystic fibrosis—the majority of health-related traits, such as Body Mass Index, cholesterol, and diabetes, are influenced by hundreds, maybe even thousands, of common genetic variants spread throughout the genome. Having these variants does not necessarily mean that you have or ever will get these disorders. Everyone has lots of these variants. Some of them may affect you negatively, others positively. It’s your unique combination of variants that can clue you into your genetic predisposition for a given trait or condition.
While genetics do have an impact on your wellness, studies show that your lifestyle and behaviors are still the biggest predictors of your overall wellbeing.
Scientific Credibility of Genetic Reporting
While it’s tempting to give variants easy labels like the “cholesterol gene” or the “worry gene,” the science behind how variants work and the impact they have on your body is often more complex than a simple name may indicate. Variants can have multiple effects, and as with any new science, there’s still a lot of conflicting evidence around many commonly reported variants.
At Arivale, we do a rigorous curation of the scientific literature around every genetic variant we report—whether it’s a single variant or a polygenic profile made up of hundreds of variants. If we find one study supporting a variant and another not supporting it, we take both these studies into account when determining the effects a variant has on any given wellness trait—and how strong those effects may be. Only variants that pass our rigorous criteria and are found to be associated with a trait consistently in multiple well-designed studies are reported on our members’ dashboards.
When choosing where to get your genetic data, it’s important to have some healthy skepticism and remember that there are still so many unknowns when it comes to genetics. You should always check that the company reporting the results is reputable.
Using Genetics to Improve Your Wellness
There’s a reason genetic reporting is taking off. It’s endlessly fascinating—and genomic science is expanding fast.
While knowing the genetic hand you’ve been dealt is interesting, the big question is how can you use this knowledge to take action and make targeted behavior changes. Your lifestyle, after all, has a much larger impact on your overall wellness than your genetic makeup. This is why Arivale emphasizes pairing data with one-on-one lifestyle coaching, empowering you to translate knowledge into actions that help improve your wellness.
If you’re curious about learning your genetic predisposition for the wellness-related factors and working with a personal coach to help you apply that knowledge to your lifestyle, learn more about our programs.