Lisa Reed has started limiting her caffeine intake to two cups a day, watching how much sodium she consumes and taking omega-3 supplements. The reason? She`s following dietary recommendations based on her genetics.
In an effort to improve her diet, Reed sent a vial of her saliva to a company that tested her for seven different gene variations, most of which have been widely studied.
“I figured that if I understood how my body metabolized certain nutrients, then I could make smarter choices,” Reed told CTV Winnipeg on Thursday.
Reed found the report’s suggestion for how much caffeine she should consume on a daily basis was particularly astute.
“I’m a slow metabolizer of caffeine,” she explained. “I’ve always been one of those people who can stay up all night with one cup of coffee in the evening.”
Reed is not alone in her interest in nutritional genomics. A quick search on Google reveals a number of different companies and clinics offering gene testing with the promise of helping clients make informed dietary choices.
The concept seems simple enough, but Peter Eck, an associate professor of agriculture and food sciences at the University of Manitoba, advises participants to take the results of those tests with a grain of salt.
Eck said that anyone receiving a report on their genes should be wary of the scientific language used in it. One important distinction to be aware of is the difference between “association” and “validation,” he suggested.
“If it just says ‘associated’ meaning the research is really emerging. It might be that it pulls through in validation studies, but it [also] might not be pulling through,” Eck said. “I wouldn’t be panicking about it.”
Some of that validation research Eck referred to is occurring at the University of Manitoba. A group of scientists at the school is conducting an experiment called the “Gene Predict Study” on a particular gene that helps metabolize plant sterols, a nutrient found in some yogurts and margarines, which has been associated with lowering cholesterol.
Dylan MacKay, a research associate in human nutritional sciences at the university, explained what they’re hoping to achieve with their study.
“We’re going to recruit people who we think will respond and recruit people who we think won’t respond and feed them the product and really validate our test before taking it to the marketplace,” MacKay said.
The University of Manitoba’s Gene Predict Study is currently seeking participants who have elevated cholesterol levels but aren’t taking any medications to treat it. He said their research group is taking extra care to validate their test before releasing it on the open market. On Monday, MacKay told CTV’s Your Morning that the emerging prevalence of companies offering genetic tests online is a cause for concern.
“The issue is that the science is not really mature or strong enough yet in my opinion,” MacKay said. “The better companies try to use a lot of scientific evidence and back it up, but even those good companies will tell you that a lot of the evidence is not as strong as you’d like.”
For anyone still considering purchasing a dietary recommendations report based on their genes, MacKay offered a few tips.
1) Talk to the companies. The good ones will be able to provide you with scientific evidence.
2) Ask the company how they came up with their tests
3) Ask what the rationale is for each test.
4) Ask the company if they validated their tests.
With a report from CTV Winnipeg’s Michelle Gerwing