Welcome to the world  of personalized  diets, where a  new  DNA-based  nutrition test can protect your health  and  even  help you  slim  down

Weight loss isn't easy, and keeping it off once you've lost it can be even harder - particularly when what works for your partner or a friend doesn't work for you. You all eat the same amount of carbs, but while they keep dropping weight, yours doesn't budge.

Not fair?  Doesn't make sense? Actually it does, and a new type of genetic test promises to spell it out for you. Your genetic make-up is unique, so the theory is that your diet should be just as individual. Take the test and you might find out that based on your genes and how your body works, you're eating too much of one thing, such as bread, and not enough of another, such as lentils. Take the test and your diet efforts could instantly become a whole lot easier.

A new  DNA-based  nutrition test can protect your health  and  even  help you  slim  down

"The tests are extremely useful for weight loss, "says naturopath Shannon Burford from Perth's Cura Integrative Medicine, who uses tests offered by a company called Smart DNA and prescribes individual diets for people based on the results. It all hinges on the science of Nutrigenomics and Nutrigenetics. Both these branches explore how our genes affect the way we respond to food.

"While a person’s genetic make-up never changes, every gene has a protein sitting on top of it which acts like a switch," says Burford. "It's my job to work out how to flick that switch, if necessary, and depending on what the tests reveal, use diet and  nutrition."

How do the tests help with weight loss?

The Smart DNA tests examine a variety of genes involved in body composition, including one that controls your body's ability to mobilize fat. If you have a mutation, or alteration,  in that gene, it means your weight-loss efforts will be more affected by eating refined, processed carbohydrates than someone without the mutation because, for you, carbohydrates interfere with how your body processes fat.

The Smart DNA tests examine a variety of genes involved in body composition, including one that controls your body's ability to mobilize fat

A mutation in another gene that's included in the test means you're likely to get better weight-loss results by eating more fiber, which for certain people helps increase levels of a protein that regulates glucose levels in the blood and boosts the breakdown of fatty acids.

"The tests can also assess how you respond to stress, which is important because when the body goes into a state of excess stress, it starts to store fat,” says Burford. "And we can work out which of your body's detoxification pathways need to be supported in order to help make weight loss as successful as possible." 

What about protecting against disease?

Tests can also show whether what you're eating increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes and even cancer, because of how certain nutrients interact with your body. As well as weight gain and loss, the Smart DNA tests evaluate genes associated with ageing and cholesterol, among others.

Nutrigenomix is another test available in Australia and while it doesn't help with weight loss, it puts seven nutrition-related genes to the test - including sodium, folate, caffeine, whole grains, omega-3s, vitamin C and saturated fat to reveal how your body metabolizes nutrients.

Julie Dundon, a dietitian and director of         Nutrition Professionals Australia, says the Nutrigenomix tests can provide valuable information. "We're testing to see what your genes reveal about how you metabolize certain nutrients," says Dundon. "So if you have a particular variant of a gene that means your body is slow to break down caffeine, you'll be more affected by the stimulant than other people, which might increase your risk of heart disease. In people with that gene variant, we'd look at ways of changing the diet to limit caffeine."

Some people have a variant of a gene that affects how their bodies process whole grains

Other genes tested for include one related to sodium, or salt. Depending on your variant of the relevant gene, you might be more affected by a sodium-rich diet than the next person, which increases your chances of high blood pressure and makes sticking to a low-sodium diet more important for you.

Some people have a variant of a gene that affects how their bodies process wholegrains. They need to replace significantly more refined carbohydrates in their diet with healthier ones, to benefit from the risk reduction whole grains can have on developing type 2 diabetes.

Can they diagnose or predict disease?

No, the tests don't diagnose disease or disease risk, partly because many factors other than genes contribute to your risk of health problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

But Burford says test results provide an invaluable insight. One of the Smart DNA tests offered at his practice tests for mutations in the MTHFR gene. "It's an enzyme that's involved in folate metabolism, and it's been linked to a variety of health problems including depression, infertility and autism," says Burford."It's predicted that 30 per cent of people have an alteration in that gene which means they don't metabolize folate effectively and instead need the active form of folate, called Folinic acid.

"If the test reveals that you have a mutation in that gene, it doesn't mean you're definitely going to get one of the associated diseases," says Burford. "But it does provide the chance to support your body with some targeted dietary changes, to make sure you're getting enough folate."

Dundon agrees. "These tests provide much more detailed, specific information based on a person's genetic make-up, which is something we're born with and which doesn't change over the years.

"Research shows that when people are given customized dietary advice, they're much more motivated to make the changes being suggested, compared to when it's just blanket, one-size-fits all advice. These tests identify the key things that are relevant to an individual, which gives them some focus."

According to Burford, the tests are really powerful. "It's an area of research that's exploding, with new gene mutations being discovered all the time," he says. "We're already seeing the positive effects of this technology, and it'll help more and more people minimize their risk of disease using customized diets in the future. That's exciting."

Need to know

The procedure: The DNA-based nutrition tests offered in Australia are done using your saliva, a sample of which is sent to a lab for analysis and results are ready a couple of weeks later.

The results: Are always delivered by a dietitian. "That's an incredibly important part of the process, and is something that separates these tests from some of the other DNA-based health tests available online, "says Dundon. "It means people don't risk being given their results and not being able to understand the implications of them."

One category can cost $60

The cost: The Nutrigenomix test, which assesses seven dietary aspects, costs $285, plus the dietitian's consultation fee. Tests offered by Smart DNA vary depending on the number of categories covered - one category can cost $60, but a more comprehensive test covering between eight to 15 categories costs $500 to $850.

To find out more: Visit nutrigenomix.com to read more about the science and locate a dietitian in Australia who offers testing, including Nutrition Professionals Australia (npaadelaide.com.au).The tests available at Cura Integrative Medicine (curamedicine.com.au) are provided by Smart DNA (smartdna.net.au).

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