Tag Archives: health and wellness

My DNA Has a Story to Tell, So I Gave it a Pen and Paper

I just took a DNA test, turns out I’m a hundred percent that health nerd who’s definitely gonna blog about it… 

Thanks to a serendipitous sequence of events, I procured two DNA test kits right around the time I began the PREDICT 2 study in early September 2019. Genetic factors are an important piece of the personalized wellness puzzle. What will my DNA test say about me?

The test kits come from a company called Pathway Genomics, and the two DNA analyses I submitted were “PathwayFIT” and “CannabisDNA.” I’ll talk about CannabisDNA in another blog post, but PathwayFIT provides a personalized genetic report about what my DNA says about my unique diet, nutrition, and exercise needs and tendencies as well as addictive behaviors and weight-related health conditions. 

My plan is to compare the results of this PathwayFIT DNA test with the results of the PREDICT 2 study, which will provide a similar report based on my blood glucose and blood lipid responses to food as well as a microbiome analysis (at a later time). As a reminder, I did provide a DNA sample for the PREDICT 2 study, but at this time, DNA analysis is not part of the report I’ll receive from them. The comparison between PathwayFIT and PREDICT 2 will potentially be extremely insightful, but just to clarify, there are a lot of factors that affect the content of these types of health response reports, and we should keep this in mind while drawing insights from the comparison.

Pathway Genomics cites research estimating that genetics is responsible for 40 to 70 percent of an individual’s predisposition for obesity. Whether someone taking the PathwayFIT test is wanting to lose weight or maintain weight, Pathway Genomics claims that the information provided in the report may help someone “modify” their behavior. In the report, they recommend that an individual talk to their primary care doctor before making changes as a result of the content of the report.

The tests included mailing a simple cheek swab to a lab for analysis. It went like this:

  1. I registered the kit online, creating a profile on Pathway.com.
  2. There are two cheek swabs per test kit, so I filled out two labels and placed each one on a collection tube.
  3. I swabbed the inside of my right cheek for one tube and the inside of my left cheek for the second tube. The test instructions recommended swabbing with the “same force you use to brush your teeth.” I brushed up and down while rolling the swab for at least one minute per cheek/tube. After the minute was up, I was careful to insert the swab into the collection tube without touching any other surfaces to prevent contamination. 
  4. After that, I placed the tubes in the prepared bag for mailing, and I dropped it off in a post box later that day. 

I sent in my samples on September 6, and I received an email 5 days later confirming the receipt of the samples:

Once my results are ready, I will be able to log in to my account on Pathway.com and view my results on an interactive dashboard optimized for a computer, smart phone, and tablet. I couldn’t find any information on the website about how long it will take to receive a report with my results, but here is what I’m expecting to find out: 

  • Diet & Eating Behaviors
    • Diet Type
    • Satiety (feeling full)
    • Food desire
  • Nutrients
    • Vitamin A
    • Vitamin B2
    • Vitamin B6
  • Food reactions
    • Caffeine Metabolism
    • Response to polyunsaturated fats (omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids)
    • Response to monounsaturated fats
  • Health predispositions
    • Obesity
    • Metabolism
    • Weight loss-regain
  • Exercise & fitness
    • Muscle power
    • Endurance training
    • HDL (good) cholesterol response to exercise
  • Diet Guidelines

Here’s a link to a sample report. It’s pretty conclusive so it’s a long report, but SUPER interesting for a health nerd like me. Pathway Genomics uses a “scientific strength” four-star rating system to express the “strength of the research evidence for the genetic marker and the associated result.” The more stars, the more confident one could feel about the volume of research supporting a given finding or claim. The less stars, the more cautious one should feel about a statement.

If you’re interested, there are different kinds of DNA collection kits you can order from Pathway Genomics (not promoting a product here, just an FYI):

  • PathwayFIT (this is the kit I submitted)
  • Sport iQ
  • Skin iQ
  • Nutrition iQ
  • FIT iQ
  • SkinFIT

Pathway Genomics heavily advertises their various accreditations:

  • College of American Pathologists (CAP)
  • U.S. Health and Human Services’ Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA)
  • California Department of Public Health

And leading institutions that have provided input in the development of the test:

  • UC Berkeley
  • Harvard Medical School
  • Scripps Clinic
  • Pennington Biomedical Research Center
  • Salk Institute for Biological Studies
  • University of Copenhagen

I’ll be writing again once I receive my results and have time to analyze the report and make comparisons with the PREDICT 2 results. Stay tuned!

Algorithm for a Healthy Diet

What can artificial intelligence do for human health? Revolutionize the way we eat, potentially. An opinion article published in the New York Times on Saturday covers the idea of personalized nutrition, made possible by super advanced algorithms and artificial intelligence (A.I.).

The article “The A.I. Diet” is written by cardiologist Eric Topol, and he begins by describing his experience as one of more than a thousand participants in a two-week health study where a sensor and a smartphone app helped track everything he did: eating, sleeping, exercise, and more.

Topol’s data was analyzed by A.I. to ultimately produce a personalized diet algorithm. His results consisted of specific foods receiving a grade, like you would on a test. It seems to me that both his experience and the study design overall highlight the importance of understanding how different foods are good or bad for different people – i.e. blueberries affect me differently than they affect someone else with a different genetic code and lifetime of environmental exposures.

Interestingly, a version of Topol’s study exists as an actual test – commercially available – but analyzes gut microbiome only, not glucose levels or eating habits (here, but it is likely other companies sell something similar).

Topol points out that the main problem is that we often perpetuate the “idea that there is one optimal diet for all people.” More or less, any specific guidance that goes beyond Michael Pollan’s famous quote (and a personal favorite of mine), “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants” is assuming too much about the similarities between individuals, complex and important factors like microbiome status, genetics, and environmental history. Topol: “[This assumption] contradicts the remarkable heterogeneity of human metabolism, microbiome and environment.”

“We know surprisingly little about the science of nutrition.”

Why? Topol cites difficulty with high-quality randomized trials, which are vital for nutrition science (or any type of science for that matter).

“The more understanding we have of foods and nutrition, the more complex food and nutrient interactions become,” explains nutrition scientist Kristine Polley, PhD. “Therefore, controlled and well thought-out study designs are becoming essential to interpret and translate results. High-quality randomized clinical trials provide insight into how nutrients affect human physiology and allow for accurate and critical interpretation of the data collected and the opportunity to apply these outcomes to better overall human health and quality of life.”

Another issue specific to nutrition science studies is that experiments with food habits require strict diet adherence, and there is not always an effective or easy way to ensure study participants are actually following the study’s prescribed diet.

Thirdly, where does the money come from for these types of studies? Unfortunately, often from companies that benefit from the results of the studies, increasing the chances that the results will be swayed one way or the other or misconstrued. In Topol’s words:

“The field [of nutrition science] has been undermined by the food industry, which tries to exert influence over the research it funds.”

The future of individualized/personalized nutrition depends heavily on the success of dependable nutrition studies. This data is vital for building the sophisticated A.I. technology needed to analyze the mass amounts of data to determine each individual’s specific nutritional needs. So the question that remains unanswered is, can nutrition scientists get it together (and find the funding) to obtain the needed results? I think they can.

Tattoo Removal

When I think of tattoo removal, I think of Ted Mosby from How I Met Your Mother getting his lower-back butterfly tattoo removed and meeting the infamous Stella in the process. Also this: 

From “We’re the Millers”

I think a lot of us have heard that getting a tattoo removed is even more painful than getting the tattoo in the first place. Other than that, it’s likely you don’t know that much about how a dermatologist actually removes a tattoo.

Tattoo removal specialists are more likely be able to remove a tattoo – and remove the entire design – if:

  • The tattoo was professionally done (not homemade – yikes)
  • The tattoo includes less of the deep black/blue inks
  • More time has passed since getting the tattoo

Even under the most perfect circumstances, scarring, skin color variation, and incomplete removal of the tattoo often result. As it is considered a “aesthetic” or “cosmetic” procedure, tattoo removals are usually not covered by medical insurance. The cost of a tattoo removal procedure will depend on the type of procedure and the type/size/location/age of the tattoo.

There are three main types of tattoo removal according to the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery.

Dermabrasion

Like I explained in a past blog, tattoo ink only permeates into the epidermis and dermis. The idea behind dermabrasion is to remove these layers of the skin affected by tattoo ink in order to remove the tattoo. This approach is lauded for its low costs, outpatient experience, and well-tested assurance. Like other approaches to tattoo removal, dermabrasion is accompanied by a risk of skin color changes and potential scarring. Patients receiving dermabrasion for tattoo removal should expect to experience a two-three week healing time and a feeling of being “wind-burned.” During recovery, patients should avoid exposure to the sun.

Laser surgery

Laser therapy (also called laser surgery or laser rejuvenation) is the preferred treatment for tattoo removal (low-risk, minimal side effects). This treatment option involves targeting a tattoo’s pigment with high-intensity laser beams. Based on what type and how many lasers used as well as various laser settings, this approach can work for different color and size tattoos. Laser therapy limits the amount of scarring that results from tattoo removal because of the laser’s ability to selectively target the tattooed skin without damaging un-tattooed skin.

Surgical excision

Surgical excision is as invasive as it sounds. The dermatologists uses a scalpel to surgically remove the tattoo (this option is rarely used and usually only for small tattoos in special cases). The wound is closed with stitches.

References and sources to learn more

Layers of the skin

Classifications of burns

Science of tattooing

Healing

Removal