The Role Of Genetics In Chronic Illness
Updated: Feb 2
I am a functional medicine doctor who specializes in complex and chronic conditions.
Genetic data is one of the many tools I utilize to get people better naturally.
Many of my patients first came to me in alarm at the findings of their genetic testing with questions like "does this mean I will get [heart disease, Alzheimer's or autoimmune disease] for sure?" or "I wish I never got the test, now I am just dreading when this happens, will my children get this disease too?"
Instead of getting the answers they hoped for, they just ended up with more worry.
The risk assessment printout that you get from many online services can be truly horrifying - it can look like your life is suddenly a series of unavoidable health catastrophes.
Genetics Is More Than 'Risk Factors'
There are many, many variables that can change that risk assessment - the right doctor can help you lower your risk of certain diseases so you can increase your chances at a long and healthy life.
Besides, if you are looking at your genes all in terms of 'risk' you are largely missing the most important information.
Genetic data is used best by not thinking solely in terms of 'risk' - but in terms of 'function'. In this way, genetic data can be used to ease symptoms and help unearth the cause of the chronic illness you may be facing now.
Single Genes vs Genotyping
Usually, patients get genetic data two different ways. If a certain condition is suspected by a doctor, he or she may order a test for the presence of a single genetic variant for diagnosis.
Testing a single gene through a hospital has a higher degree of accuracy but may cost thousands of dollars.
Another option is to get a more comprehensive genetic analysis through companies that can send you a kit directly to your home. You get more information, and at a cheaper price, but the results are less accurate .
Single genes are usually less important than how your genome functions as a whole
If you have life altering genetic data, are contemplating surgery or long term medication as a result of your genetics - you need to have that genetic data confirmed by a medical laboratory.
It is also a good idea to work with a functional medicine doctor (not just a genetic counselor) to help you put this data into the context of your overall health plan so you can actually use the data to lower your risk of disease and reverse disease processes already going on in the body.
Once patients have their raw genetic data, many opt to put that data in various software programs that can tell you the meaning of your genes, your risk for certain diseases and things like how well your body is detoxifying or if your genetics make it harder for you to lose weight.
Heres why that can cause problems of its own.
'DIY' Genetics - Online Genetic Software
The utilization of online genetic software to assess risk is very popular and can have some very useful information. Many times, however, the format is oversimplified to the point that it causes problems.
Often, online genetic software does not make clear that testing data from third-party companies can be inaccurate - always remember that confirmatory tests are needed and this genetic data should not be used to diagnose yourself.
Remember, risk assessments are based on what science knows of these genes - and we don't know a lot.
Sometimes these online risk assessments are based on solid research, but other times they are based on flimsy, unreproducible studies of small sample size.
Not all risk assessments are equal, there are still large blank spaces in our knowledge about the human genome.
These risk assessments may lead you to google search results that detail all the things you are at risk for due to a single gene.
Blindly applying supplements and lifestyle changes in the hope that they will reduce disease risk or help your symptoms is not the best way to use your newly found data.
A functional medicine doctor can use blood testing to determine what is going on in your body in real time and can use your symptoms, conditions, and family history to integrate this new genetic knowledge effectively.
Read more about Functional Medicine and Genetics
Genetics In The Context Of Chronic Illness
With some exceptions (like directly inherited genetic disorders), genetic variations alone do not cause disease. They may, however, provide key information on how best you can heal.
Your genes do not dictate your destiny. Your health is determined by your environment, your nutrition, lifestyle habits, past traumas, accumulation of toxins, emotional health, and the presence of hidden infections (among many other factors).
About one quarter  of your longevity is determined by your genetics, the rest is determined by things like how you live, your environment and what you eat.
Knowing your genetic makeup can provide important information on how to expertly tailor your environment so that ‘good’ genes are switched on, and ‘bad’ genes are turned off.
Even if you have 'activated' your 'bad' genes by poor lifestyle decisions, this can often be reversed. It is a daily occurrence in my practice to see symptoms from chronic illness subside to the point of a normal life.
Your genetic destiny is rarely as bleak as is outlined by a risk analysis.
If, for example, your genetic data indicates that you have a big problem detoxifying, then we can help your body utilize different pathways to detoxify everyday chemicals safely.
As toxicity has been implicated in the development and progression of many autoimmune diseases, fixing underlying problems like this is one of the many ways we can see change in the body.
The removal of underlying impediments leads to reduced symptoms and better quality of life.
Read about a patient example here: The Genetic Component of Hypothyroidism
The Whole Picture
You should never feel pressured into making medical decisions based on your genetics, and you should certainly never lose sleep over the information in online genetic software.
Knowledge is the best antidote to fear. Knowing where your genes fit into your overall health can leave you better informed and more confident in your health decisions.
Just be sure you have the right guidance so that this knowledge can work for you.
If you would like to speak to me to ask questions about functional medicine, genetics or how I can help you, please schedule a Free 15 Minute Consultation or call or text my office at 913-728-5291.
If you think that you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information. Nor should you ever delay seeking medical advice or treatment due to the information contained on this Website.