The health, wellness and fitness industry is evolving. Generic wellness and health promotion plans and programs are quickly becoming less popular as the importance of a personalized approach is becoming more understood. Comprehensive nutrition and health tests are now available to help take personalized health and fitness to the next level. These tests highlight everything from food intolerances to hormone imbalances and nutritional deficiencies.
In recent years an even deeper level of personalized health has become available through DNA testing. No longer just for tracing ancestry, DNA testing can be used to identify genetic risks for particular diseases.
What does DNA testing involve and what can it identify?
Health based DNA tests can be done very easily. Most companies who offer them do not require any involvement from a doctor or health professional. The person being tested simply orders a kit, sends off a saliva sample or finger print of blood, and then waits for the results to be emailed through.
A range of companies offer health, fitness, diet and wellbeing specific DNA testing. Depending on the company, they may test for a person's risk of developing a number of diseases. A few of these include:
- Disorders that may cause certain cancers
- Coeliac disease
- Enzyme deficiencies that can lead to a range of issues
Health based DNA tests can also go much further. It's possible to identify personalized factors that may help an individual to tailor their fitness and nutrition plans to meet their personal needs more effectively. (Learn more about the benefits of wellness programs in Wellness Program ROI: Are Wellness Programs a Good Investment?)
DNAFit is one company that offers comprehensive fitness and nutrition reports, including:
- Injury predisposition and recovery profile
- Aerobic fitness response
- Diet type recommendations
- Carbohydrate and fat response
- Vitamin and macronutrient need
- Salt, alcohol and caffeine sensitivity
Along with comprehensive reports such as these, additional resources such as shopping lists and recipe guides are also on offer.
Vitagene offers similar reports, along with information about predisposition towards skin conditions, and the types and dosages of vitamins and minerals that are right for your body. They also offer personal coaching towards diet and lifestyle goals.
The potential downsides of genetic testing for health related conditions
At first glance DNA testing for health can seem like it might provide the answer to all questions related to health, wellbeing, disease risk and disease management. However, it's important to recognize that it's a very small part of the overall equation. There are a number of limitations and care must be taken when interpreting the results.
Points to consider:
1. A predisposition does not mean you will develop the disease
Genetic tests are one small part of an overall picture of health. They do not take into account environmental factors, which could be the greatest determinant of whether you will develop a particular disease.
If a genetic test finds that a person has a higher risk for developing a certain disease, there may be certain steps they can take towards improving their lifestyle in order to minimize this risk. On the other hand, it may be impossible to determine whether this disease will ever develop at all. There may not even be any known preventative measures for avoiding that disease.
2. The test results may evoke a number of emotions
Test results may cause some people to experience an influx of unexpected emotions. Identified disease risks could cause unnecessary worry, stress and anxiety. Ironically, if emotional responses like these continue on a prolonged basis, the person experiencing them could be compromising their health through experiencing these very emotions!
Before making the decision to carry out genetic testing for health, be aware of the emotional responses that could crop up. The information provided through test results needs to be seen as a small piece of information in an overall picture of health.
3. Be aware of how genetic information is used
Before undergoing genetic tests for health, read the fine print on how the genetic information could be used. It's also important to consider who the information gets shared with. For example, if a genetic risk is found for a particular disease, it's possible that this could affect life insurance and disability cover.
Guidelines for using DNA testing as part of a workplace wellness program
For companies who want to offer the ultimate personalized wellness package, DNA testing could be well worth considering as part of an overall workplace wellness plan. Testing is simple, straightforward and can provide a number of insights to help employees take the next step towards better health and wellbeing. Bearing in mind the benefits, and also the limitations of DNA testing, here are a few guidelines for employers who wish to incorporate it into their plan.
1. Ensure that DNA testing is one small part of a bigger plan
DNA testing can be considered once a company already has a solid workplace wellness plan in place. If it's introduced without additional wellness support, such as a wellness team, it could cause confusion and worry. Develop and implement a strong wellness strategy first, and then consider adding DNA testing to take the level of personalization up a notch.
2. Provide additional support services
DNA tests and reports should be offered alongside additional support. This could include health counselling for the employer to talk through any concerns they have around their results. Health and wellness coaching services could also be offered to help employees take action towards improving the lifestyle factors they can change.
3. Provide education and options
Participation in a wellness initiative such as DNA testing for health should be optional. Employees will respond differently to the information presented to them and some people may prefer to opt out. Those who do participate should be fully informed about what will be tested and reported. They also need to know how the information should be used and what the potential limitations of testing are.
DNA testing provides an exciting glimpse into the future of health and wellness. It extends the possibilities of making very personalized decisions around how to improve health, wellness and lifestyle. (Learn more about workplace wellness in general in 14 Ways To Create A Workplace Culture of Wellness).