Only a few years ago, it wasn’t possible to send a saliva sample off in the mail and get back a readout of your personal genetic profile. But these days there’s an explosion in new, more affordable technology for personal DNA testing. On an episode of the Jeff Probst show, I spoke briefly with Jeff about interesting details he learned about his family history after taking a genetic test.
So what can you learn about your health from the results of such tests? Well… not everything. It’s far from a crystal ball into your future, especially because there’s so much that we don’t yet know about the complex role that genetics plays in how well we age and how likely we are to contract or resist various maladies. Here’s what we do know: We have already learned that some genetic traits can actually cause certain diseases such as cystic fibrosis. And, more broadly, many genetic patterns can hint at susceptibility to certain diseases or conditions such as prostate cancer or cardiovascular disease. Newer genetic test kits can help uncover clues about your health risks that you may want to know about and take action on. It is worth mentioning here that you may also learn things you would rather not know. If you are considering genetic testing of any kind, consider first talking to a genetic counselor, or at least doing some reading about the issue, to think carefully through the ramifications and make an informed decision.
No matter what genes you’ve inherited, your genome is not your destiny. The science indicates that your habits and lifestyle almost certainly do interact with your genetic blueprint, in good or bad ways, at any time of your life. There are things you can do right now to be proactive about being healthier and aging better – from changing your habits to being careful about what risks you take or hazards you expose yourself to. If you suspect you’re at risk of developing a specific health problem – whether from a genetic test or from what you know of your family history – the first step is to see your doctor to get any relevant diagnostic tests and make a plan. The results of a genetic test can tell you about what might happen in the future, but it’s up to you to get more specific information from your doctor to manage your health in the present.