DNA testing: empowering you by unlocking your genetic secrets

23 Sep 2019

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A collection of news in brief from Investec Private Bank

An understanding of your genetics – your specific DNA – can provide you with the clear guidelines you need to make better health choices.

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On Black Friday week last year, Amazon sold more than one million DNA tests – a clear sign of the exponential growth of the global DNA testing market.
 
Scientific advances in understanding human DNA are contributing to a better world in many ways, from identifying and preventing disease to tracing ancestry and solving crimes.
 
Healthwise, this expansion in knowledge has great potential for us all.  With so much advice around the best eating and exercise regimes, to ensure a long healthy life, it’s hard to discern the pseudoscience from the science – or even the right science for you.
 
A so-called ‘super-food’ may turn out to be the opposite of what you should be eating. Following a particular exercise programme may lead to long-term injuries if it’s not right for you.
$10m
Cost in 2008 to sequence an entire genome
$200
Cost in 2019 to sequence an entire genome
 
In a first for the African insurance industry, Investec Life has partnered with UK-based genetics company DNAfit to provide DNA tests to their clients at a reduced rate to help them understand how their unique genetic profile affects their response to fitness, nutrition, stress and sleep.
 
In addition to the test, the Investec DNAfit inclusion incorporates a consultation with a registered dietician and sports scientist, a core part of the process of enabling clients to put their genetic report into action and gain the full benefit of the knowledge accessed. 
 
“All our data shows that when an individual does a DNA test and they get given some sort of advice, whether it’s nutrition or fitness advice, that adherence is greater and because adherence is greater, they ultimately get results,” says Avi Lasarow, Founder and CEO of Prenetics-owned DNAfit.

Using genetic testing to fine tune your health

Video highlights

Skip to sections that interest you most, or read the transcript below.

  • 01:01: How a DNA test works

    Avi Lasarow: Our DNA test is quite simple, it’s a painless experience. You do a simple mouth swab, you send that back to our office here in Johannesburg, and what we do is we put you on a digital health journey.

     

    Within approximately 10 days, you get a report form our laboratory. The report focuses on nutrition, what’s the best diet for your body for example – I’ll give you some practical examples in a second – and fitness – what’s the best way to exercise to get the best results. Sleep – what sort of person are you? Are you a morning person or a night person? Stress – are you a warrior or a strategist?

     

    So you get the DNA test, you also get a very comprehensive report, an online experience. We have a team of health coaches, all qualified dieticians as well as sports scientists.

  • 01:53: The caffeine gene

    AL: So we believe that genetics is only part of the picture – approximately 30% is genetics and 70% is your lifestyle, so if we can use the genetics to nudge customers to change their lifestyle, that’s got to be a great thing.

     

    And these bits of information start to help you think differently about the way you engage with your own health. So to give an example, this morning I’ve already had two cups of coffee. It’s likely by the end of the day I would have had eight cups of coffee because I love coffee. I feel pretty ok from it.

     

    My wife on the other hand, she will have two cups of coffee and she will not touch another cup after 11am. And genetically, my wife is a slow metaboliser of caffeine, I’m a fast metaboliser of caffeine.

     

    So I now know, based on this caffeine gene, how fast I metabolise it, what to do with caffeine on a daily basis.

     

    Now I talk about caffeine but it applies to so many other areas – it applies to salt sensitivity, alcohol sensitivity, fat sensitivity, refined carbohydrate sensitivity, and knowing these bits and pieces of information helps me on a daily basis adjust my lifestyle.

     

  • 03:05: What diet is right for me?

    AL: In terms of South Africans having different diet crazes and referencing for example the Banting diet which people were really following and paying a lot of attention to, and now, as I understand, the Ketogenic diet, DNA testing is quite different.

     

    And what do I mean by that? Nutrogenomic testing is a DNA test for the purpose of what diet you should be going on.  We actually use your DNA to tell you that. So let me give you a very practical example for DNA testing with Investec DNAfit Nutrogenomics vs the Ketogenic diet …

     

    So we did a study that’s due to be published… we looked at 200 individuals, in that cohort of individuals, half of them did a Ketogenic diet and the other half did a Investec DNAfit Nutrogenomic diet - so we again tell you what type of diet you should have so low carb, low fat, Mediterranean for example.

     

    Ketogenic dieting in this example clearly works, but over a long-term period the individuals that understood their DNA had better success. Why? Talking to my point earlier, if you understand your body’s genetic blueprint and you know that this is really personalised for you, it increases adherence for the long term.

     

     

  • 04:27: What can my genes tell me about my fitness?

    AL: As a company we work with a number of Olympic athletes who are on our team. We have a shareholder Rio Ferdinand, a famous athlete himself, because what’s happening globally is an understanding clearly that from a fitness performance perspective, your genes can make a real difference if you understand how your body responds to exercise.

     

    We’re the first company in the world to do a genetic exercise intervention study. We took 100 people and we did a DNA test for all of them but no one was given their results till the end. 

     

    And in sports science principles what we did for measurement we did two tests – one which is a counter-movement jump, here you sort of jump up in the air and it measures essentially explosive power, and the other test was an Aero Bike 3 test which is an endurance test.

     

    So we measured everybody on those two well-established metrics and we put them on a 12-week programme, but what we did was half of the cohort were given a genetically matched programme, so if you were given a percentage of your power vs endurance, as we do in our report, we would guide your exercise accordingly.

     

    At the end of the intervention programme, we remeasured everybody again and we found that the individuals that were given the genetically guided direction had three times the performance benefit on those two metrics.

     

    That means if you exercise to the way your body is designed, in the way your genetics tell you to, you’re much more likely to get better results. 

  • 06:01: The move towards precision medicine

    AL: Talking about the idea of preventative health and precision medicine, the world is fast moving from the concept of one drug for everybody to one drug per person, and that’s because we all respond differently to in this case medication.

     

    I obviously gave examples about caffeine, and I spoke about fitness and nutrition generally, but the same applies from a clinical context, in this case, we talk about something called pharmacogenomics, which is the way your body responds to different drugs.

     

    So Estonia, with a population of about 1.2 million people, in 2001 started creating a national DNA bio bank, that included their complete digital health record.

     

    So to contextualise that, if you were born in 2001, you’d get a DNA test, you obviously have a digital health record and now 18 years later, if I’m an Estonian and I go to a doctor, that doctor knows what my genetic response is to drugs, they understand my complete digital health lifestyle, my history and it starts to actually help that treatment become a lot more personalised.

  • 07:08: Data privacy and ethics

    AL: The question always comes up about data, how do insurance companies use this data, are they going to exclude me, are they going to underwrite differently against me, where is it used? And categorically as a company, we don’t share personal information with insurance companies.

     

    Sure we do share anonymised cohort information, that’s important to do, but personal information is kept personal and it’s not shared with the insurer or in fact anyone.

     

    Sinenhlanhla Nzama: The results that we get from these Investec DNAfit tests has no bearing to insurance. There’s no positive or negative, it just tells you how your body responds to different things. So in terms of insurance and how we underwrite insurance currently, it really has no bearing.

     

    Very importantly for us then is that in the long term, if clients are living better lives, it will improve the life outcomes, which to us as insurers is what the biggest benefit is, so there is something in it for us as an insurer, but also as an industry, we believe that if we move towards more personalisation of this insurance to clients, it will lead to better outcomes for the industry as a whole.

     

     

It’s what’s under the bonnet that counts

Many of our genetic characteristics are visible – things like eye, hair colour, complexion and physique. However, there are many characteristics that we don’t see, that are ‘under the bonnet’, so to speak.
 
These include how we metabolise nutrients, or how we react to different types of exercise regimes as well as susceptibility to certain diseases. It’s these ‘unseen’ genetic characteristics that often define us more than our visible characteristics. Indeed, geneticists tell us that these unseen characteristics are usually more complex than the visible ones.
 
Imagine the potential we can fulfil by unlocking some of these hidden genetic secrets. We could sweep aside all the fad diets and exercise plans and concentrate on the ones that will help us to lead a longer, healthier life.
 
Modern genetics now allow these factors to be revealed without having to undergo expensive tests. Simple DNA tests can unlock the door to our genetic makeup and guide us directly to the lifestyle choices we need to make.

How DNA testing works

DNAfit provides a testing pack, which simply involves the individual providing a saliva sample and sending it back to DNAfit. The results are shared on a secure portal with the client and clients also have access to two free telephonic consultations with a dietician and sports scientist who specialise in genetics.
 
These experts will help clients understand their genetic make-up and decide what eating and exercise regimes, as well as what other adjustments in their lives, they could make to ensure the best outcomes.

What the DNAfit test can reveal about you

Your optimal diet type

Your carbohydrate and fat response

Lactose & gluten tolerance

Caffeine & alcohol metabolisation

Salt sensitivity

What vitamins and nutrients your body needs

Your power and endurance response

Genetic stress response

Injury risk & recovery profile

“We believe that genetics is only part of the picture – approximately 30% is genetics, and 70% is your lifestyle - so if we can use the genetics to nudge customers to change their lifestyle, that’s got to be a great thing,” says Lasarow.

Challenging the status quo in the insurance industry

“It is a universal human truth that we all want to have a better life, and if you are empowered with knowledge about yourself and how your body and your genes function and respond to different factors like diet and exercise, stress and sleep, you will use that to optimise and improve your life,” says Sinenhlanhla Nzama, Investec Life head product actuary.
With regards to the privacy and security of your genetic data, DNAfit does not share your personal genetic test results with insurance companies. 
Nzama explains: “The results that we get from these DNAfit tests have no bearing on your insurance premiums. There’s no positive or negative [results], it just tells you how your body responds to different things. So, in terms of insurance and how we underwrite insurance, it really has no bearing.”

While clients are empowered with personalised information that will enable them to make better decisions with regard to their personal health and wellness, Investec Life also benefits from healthier clients and therefore reduced risk.

“The biggest benefit for insurers is that if clients are living better lives, it will improve our insurance outcomes. As an industry, we believe that if we move towards more personalisation of this insurance to clients, it will lead to better outcomes for the industry as a whole,” concludes Nzama.

About the author

Ingrid Booth image

Ingrid Booth

Lead digital content producer

Ingrid Booth is a consumer magazine journalist who made the successful transition to corporate PR and back into digital publishing. As part of Investec's Brand Centre digital content team, her role entails coordinating and producing multi-media content from across the Group for Investec's publishing platform, Focus.

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