Like everyone, Elaine and I have had health problems, niggles and concerns over the years. As we’ve got older, some have become intrusive in our lives and new ones have inconveniently showed themselves.
Not that we’re seriously ill – we’re perfectly fine, well and lucky enough to lead normal, fulfilling lives.
But, one of our aims in turning 50 a few years ago was to find out why we have those niggles. We also wanted to find out what we can do to improve our health and how we can support our health to give us a better future.
It’s all well and good speaking to your GP and even a hospital specialist who can give you a view, but often that’s not good enough. You’re typically told to take this, stop doing this and often you’re left with a deep sense that the real issues have not been investigated, and even less, dealt with.
In reality, you’ve been given a sticking plaster.
Rather than passively rely on the official healthcare system, which few are aware are trained and educated by the pill manufacturers, with vested interests in telling doctors what to prescribe, we will often pro-actively look deeper.
We weren’t interested in managing symptoms by taking a shedload of drugs, or listening to orthodox lifestyle advice. We wanted to understand the fundamental causes why our health was not optimal.
One way we learned about was by having our DNA analysed. This would not only tell us about our current health issues, but inform us of likely health issues in the future.
DNA is commonly known as the genetic code in all our cells, which makes us all who we are, warts and all. It’s a commonly held belief that the secrets to our health and illnesses lie within our DNA.
It’s a simple test – all you need to do is to provide a saliva sample and the analysis company does the hard work.
But, we thought, “Do we actually want to know this much detail about our health?”
Why would we want to know what diseases are likely to affect us as we get older? Cancer, diabetes, heart attack risk are all very scary, potentially life-limiting, conditions. Would knowing whether we’re more or less likely to contract such diseases be helpful or worrying?
It turns out it depends on your personality type to start with. For example, Elaine is pragmatic – “we’re all going to die of something anyway. It’s worth knowing what the risks are, so you can hopefully do something to minimise those risks”.
So, from Elaine’s point of view, as the saying goes, knowledge is power. The analysis of her DNA from the labs answered some questions she’s had for many years.
For example, it shows she has a predisposition to autoimmune disease. And yes, she has Sjoergren’s Syndrome – her genes reflect her propensity for autoimmune diseases. The results also explain certain allergies she has.
Paul’s results showed he had a mutation on something called the MHTFR gene, which causes certain issues with energy levels, low mood and anxiety, things which really do affect him from time to time.
But this gene is also implicated in certain cancers, heart conditions and diabetes.
Elaine’s personality is pragmatic. Paul, on the other hand, is a self–confessed worry wart and part time hypochondriac! And learning about some of this stuff initially caused even more anxiety.
So, as you can imagine, the person who subjects him or herself to a DNA analysis must be prepared to accept results which show concerns.
But the point is, all DNA analyses will show some mutations, and therefore potential for disease – very few will have ‘clean‘ DNA. Everyone has mutations in their genes; most are even handed down from their parents.
In the early 2000s, science’s big objective was to map out the human genome; our DNA. All the evidence suggested that specific mutations in certain genes within our DNA would mean that a particular illness or disease would be present at some point in our lives.
Except it didn’t work out like that.
It turns out that even if people carry a particular mutation it doesn’t matter. The key point is whether that gene is activated or not. Or, as it’s called, being expressed. In other words, what’s important is whether the mutated gene is switched on or not.
And whether a gene is active or not is not just dependent on how our bodies are functioning. It also appears to be highly dependent on environmental factors –like diet, physical, mental state and stress levels.
So, evidence seems to suggest some incredibly important and unexpectedly good news. It seems that we can to a greater than expected extent influence how our genes are working…. which means we can influence our future health.
So, as far as Paul’s MTHFR gene mutation goes then, it’s not as bad as it seems. Having the knowledge allowed him to look at ways to better support the way his body works. And that seems to be relatively easy – a diet high in folate, which can be found in dark green leaved veg, an exercise regime and stress management.
The insights from DNA analysis have hopefully mitigated what could be serious health issues later on in life.
Loving Life After 50 is not necessarily looking to extend our life spans – although that would be nice. But to us, it seems pointless to have a long life, but one plagued with illness and disease, which limit our ability to enjoy that extended life.
We are interested though in making sure we as much of a useable life as possible.
And using new technology, science and medical advances to find out about how we can optimise our long term health – and importantly our useable life – sounds pretty important to us.
If you are interested in a DNA analysis, be sure you’ll be comfortable with the results you might get – good and bad.
And as a final word, always do your research and use a reputable test house and analysis company, with a proven track record.