One of London’s top doctors weighs up the pros and cons of DIY genetic test kits – Tatler

Posted: May 26, 2021 at 1:58 am

DNA molecule

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The Human Genome project was a huge feat for the scientific community at the turn of the 21st century. Charting our entire human genetic code, giving us the opportunity to predict disease and go on to create personalised drug treatments.

The techniques for personal genetic analysis are now relatively cheap and accurate, which has lead to a host of consumer products. Marketed for our individual health risks, personality types, athletic ability and ancestral roots; some of the common health predictors include breast/bowel cancer, diabetes, cholesterol, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's dementia. They include many rare medical conditions, but can also give you information on your eye colour, susceptibility to caffeine/alcohol/obesity, and even forecast the smell of your urine after eating asparagus (this doesn't happen to everyone).

However, despite providing some interesting insights, this convenient 'crystal ball' into our future selves, could equally offer false reassurance, heightened anxiety and some confusion. For example, would you want to live your life in fear of developing Alzheimer's dementia or Parkinson's without any cure on the horizon?

A pre-requisite to most genetic testing in hospital, is a consultant geneticist or a genetic counsellor to help navigate the complex ethical terrain and often misguided interpretation.

The 'Direct to Consumer' genetic test kits, which can be purchased online, usually rely on a saliva sample sent to the lab. It takes a few weeks before the results are delivered online, with detailed analysis and intriguing information. For those of you interested in carrying this out, I would urge you to consider the pros and cons:

PROS:

CONS:

In summary, It may be more important to focus on leading a healthy lifestyle, regardless of the results. Clean diets, regular exercise, careful weight control and avoiding environmental triggers such as smoking/ UV exposure etc. One of the best ways to identify health needs is to understand your family's medical history of mental and physical conditions.

If you have a positive result and have no clear family history of that condition, it is unlikely that you will suffer from it. Inversely, if you have a negative result, but have a strong family history, you may need to ask your GP for further clinical genetic testing. It would be worth first seeking the advice of a genetic counsellor before embarking on any commercial test.

If you are curious about certain traits such as ability to taste bitterness, your ice cream preference, propensity to get dandruff or back hair, then it is informative and interesting, but for health predictability, the industry seems to be outpacing the science. In the future, with Artificial Intelligence and larger databanks, these test should become more reliable.

Dr Tim Lebens is a private GP in Central London, with a subspecialty in health optimisation and latest advances in medicine. Visit his website drlebens.com or follow him on Instagram @_modernmedicine.Although every effort has been made to ensure that all health advice is accurate and up to date, it is for information purposes only and should not replace a visit to your doctor or health care professional.

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One of London's top doctors weighs up the pros and cons of DIY genetic test kits - Tatler

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