Scientific advances have health-conscious folks doing things like monitoring their heart rates, counting daily steps, keeping track of diet and nutritional macros, and charting out exercise progress, among other things. We’re privileged to insights we couldn’t have imagined mere years ago, thanks to smart watches, interactive websites, and the like, and we’re able to analyze progress.
But what about making an informed decision on your health from the get-go? One based on your own genetics and peer-reviewed scientific study?
This is the aim of Ascend Genetics, a Texas-based company that offers surprisingly affordable ($99) genetic testing, specifically focused on nutrition and fitness optimization. Ascends’ test analyzes a subject’s genes and cross-compares the results with the database of published genomic studies related to diet and exercise. Afterward, the company sends a detailed yet understandable report, explaining the results. There are two tests, one focused on nutrition, the other on fitness.
- The former tests for things such as risk for vitamin deficiencies, risk for gluten or lactose intolerance, risk for obesity, risk for certain eating behaviors, response to dieting, and similar.
- The fitness-focused panel tests for things like benefit from endurance training, sprinter gene, benefit from strength training, risks for arthritis, stroke, and more.
I subjected myself to Ascend Genetics’ test, which was easy and painless, merely a swab of my cheek and shipping the sample off to the company via the U.S. Postal Service. And now? Now I know how I’m going to die.
Okay, that’s a bit of hyperbole. Rather, the test informed me that, among many other interesting and potentially useful tidbits, I have a genetic predisposition toward something called “exercise-induced ischemia” — otherwise known as a heart attack brought on by exercise.
This result, along with the laundry list of other indicators, can help make better-informed future life decisions. This was the genesis of the service, according to company founder Dr. Carlos W. Nossa, who wanted to make better decisions toward his own goal to gain weight.
“I’ve always been pretty slight of build,” he told Geek. “My kids are petite as well. So I thought if I can figure out what the most nourishing foods for me are, I can focus on those to get the most out of the little I eat. It’s been working fine for me so far.”
He also shared that when he tested himself, he was disturbed to find a sensitivity to carbs. This prompted him to modify his diet to include more fruits, veggies, proteins, and fats. The key is being informed.
“Too many people start diets based on speculative assumptions of how it should work,” he explained, “when in reality whether or not it actually works depends a lot on how your body processes and reacts to certain foods. Basically, don’t believe all the fad diets… that’s why I stick to peer-reviewed scientific research, because it’s been carried out in a strict manner following the scientific method rather than speculation, assumptions, or misguided attempts to hack physiology and digestion.”
My personal situation is quite the opposite from Dr. Nossa’s, and Ascend Genetics’ test gave me a bevvy of stuff to think about, both in terms of how certain things affect me, and how I might combat my ever-fluctuating waistline in the future. For instance, the results were spot on regarding mild lactose intolerance. The test also correctly showed that I have a tendency for increased food intake, appetite, and hunger response – so now I can lose the guilty feeling about binge eating. Ain’t my fault.
Of course, that’s a joke. But knowing that a penchant for binge eating is pre-programmed, in a sense, is certainly helpful in planning countermeasures. Perhaps even more helpful was the knowledge that I need to be more careful about certain food choices. The report indicated a genetic predisposition to have higher triglyceride levels after a fatty meal, as well as store fat intake away and not access it as easily for energy. The advice? Avoid butter, lard, and other solid fats. However, the test also showed a potential genetic benefit from monounsaturated fat intake (avocados, nuts, olives).
Other interesting nutritional findings included potential genetic predisposition for decreased levels of vitamins A, B6, and E, and that a multivitamin or planning meals to include foods rich with these nutrients could benefit me.
From the fitness analysis, in addition to my potential exercise-induced ischemia noted above, there was some good news: an increased benefit from endurance training (time to break out the jogging shoes), and increased benefit from resistance/strength training. Also inspiring your humble reporter to get off his lazy ass, the test showed an increased potential benefit from exercise in terms of fat mass and percent body fat loss. So, as Dr. Nossa put it, “even more incentive to exercise.”
And he helped soften the blow of the ischemia finding.
“That doesn’t mean it will happen, just you have higher relative risk for it to occur,” he explained. “I wouldn’t worry much unless it’s happened to someone in your family.”
I asked Dr. Nossa if my test results could change at a later date, say if I either significantly increased or decreased my level of physical fitness. He said it was a pretty common question.
“Results wont really differ at any stage of your life,” he explained. “It’s a DNA test and that code is hardwired from the moment you are conceived.”
Among the people Ascend Genetics believes could particularly benefit from its services are nutritionists and physical trainers who want to get a good base to start with clients. As far as individuals, Dr. Nossa said people who can benefit may include “‘weekend warriors’ looking for the extra edge, or older people like us who are finding it not as easy to stay in shape as we age – so looking for the most direct path to fitness.”
Whether your focus is achieving the next level in your fitness training, or you’re trying to plan a road map for personal health and wellness, at-home genetic testing is a neat option – backed by peer-reviewed science – that’s increasingly affordable and potentially very informative.
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