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What Do You Think? The Role of Genes in Health

Do we give too much credit to our genetics?

Genes and health

In recent years there has been increased interest in how certain genes impact our health and risk for a range of maladies. This has sprouted companies that want to test your genetic makeup to help you shape a more personalized diet to potentially overcome any increased risk for certain conditions like heart disease and diabetes.

But some scientists are starting to question the usefulness of all this genetic testing, when we can just tell people to eat better—a behavior which may override any genetic susceptibility to certain chronic conditions.

Case in point: A team of Harvard investigators analyzed the data from three large cohort studies that included 35,759 U.S.-based health professionals followed for 902,386 person-years (that is, the years of study per person, totaled up). They found that, regardless of genetic risk, a low diet quality (as compared with high diet quality) was associated with a 30% increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

These results, published in PLOS Medicine, suggest that even if people are tested to have a low genetic susceptibility to diabetes, eating a lousy diet still puts them at a greater risk for the disease. On the flip side, if a person has a high genetic risk for diabetes but follows a healthy eating pattern, it can be protective against the condition. Both a high genetic risk and poor diet quality are likely a very bad combo.

Do you think there is too much emphasis placed on how our genes shape our health and disease risk or how we should eat? Should we be ramping up genetic testing as a way to improve diet advice and reduce disease rates? Have you had any genetic testing to obtain more personalized health advice? Send your answers to Sandy Todd Webster at [email protected].

See also: Diet Can Fight The Effect Of Fat Genes

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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