Genetic testing. The Dilemma. Should you be tested?

The big question on getting genetic testing revolves around the question, am I prepared for the results?  It’s an emotional issue that can impact your life, other people’s lives and the future.  Whether the results are favorable or not, the outcome is the outcome. You may feel great relief, great angst or nothing much at all.  Genetic testing is not for everyone. How do you decide?

This question became relevant to me back in 2013 when my mother died of Alzheimer’s disease. It was a long, slow process of debilitating decline.  It gave me pause, did I have the genetics for this disease? Is this going to be me?  My sister and I would talk about it frequently.   I talked to my doctor about the testing and he said, “how will it help you to know if you had the genes, there is no cure for the disease.”  Part of me agreed the other part thought ignorance is not bliss. Then actually two childhood friends of mine had genetic testing one for the BRCA gene and the other for general health reasons.  Both got results and both took action because of those results.  I thought about it again, but there was nothing positive I could do if the results were not good- or so I thought at the time. I did nothing.

Over the past couple of years, I have done a deep dive around holistic health, spiritual healing, physical healing and I thought I should revisit potential genetic testing.  The last six months I have been immersed in reading about inflammation, healthy eating, the gut/brain connection and specific Doctors researching Alzheimer’s.  I stumbled upon Dr. Dale Bredesen through a Dr. Steven Gundry blog.  I was mesmerized by what he was saying.  He published a book titled, “The End of Alzheimer’s” on August 22, 2017. It was instantly on New York Times and Wall Street Journal Best seller list.    That’s how many people have, know or are afraid of Alzheimer’s disease, of cognitive decline. More money will be spent on Alzheimer’s care than any other disease over the next 20 years.

I ordered the book and read it twice cover to cover.  I knew right then and there, if I was predisposed to this disease that I could stop it in its tracks or prevent it altogether.   I ordered the genetic test from 23andme to check my status.   I can’t deny it, I was anxious about getting the results.

During the waiting period I viewed on the internet an incredible series called “Awakening from Alzheimer’s” with interviews from 14 of the top doctors in this Field.  These Doctors while MDs, are also well versed in holistic methods. This dual approach I thought was right on target. Dr. Bredesen’s protocol for prevention and reversing Alzheimer’s is fascinating.  He has studied the disease for 27 years. The results of his research out of his UCLA lab raises the bar on the entire story surrounding Alzheimer’s. He is currently the leading expert regarding the prevention/reversal of Alzheimer’s.  It is game changing.

I am not going to share the results of my test but I am going to tell you what went through my mind prior to ordering the test.  This will give you an idea of one person’s thought process as I debated the pros and cons of genetic testing. Whether it be Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, BRCA or any other gene combination you might be interested in knowing.

First option: What if the test shows me as negative for the APOE4 gene?  Translated, I do not have the Genetic variant for Alzheimer’s.  The options are two genes, one from my mother and one from my father, just one gene from either parent or no APOE4 genes at all.  If negative, I would feel great relief and probably not be as diligent in following a healthy lifestyle. Although given two normal APOE3 genes is great, it doesn’t mean you won’t get Alzheimer’s.  You could get insulin resistant Alzheimer’s, you could get toxic Alzheimer’s so not following a healthy lifestyle, might still result in an encounter with the disease. 40% of people with Alzheimer's have two APOE3 Genes.

Second option:  What if I have a positive for one variant? Translated, I got one gene variant from one of my parents. It means by the time I am 75 years old I have a 30% chance of getting Alzheimer’s. 70% chance that I won’t. Frankly, that is only if I choose to do nothing to help myself.  Well, I thought one is better than two---how would I respond to one gene variant?  I decided I could handle it. I would rather know and make the appropriate Lifestyle changes. 

Third option: What if I have a positive for two variants?  Translated, I received one gene variant from each of my parents. It means by the time I am 65 years old I have a 2% chance of developing the disease and by the time I am 75 years old I have a 50% chance. 50% chance that I won’t. Again, that is If I choose to do nothing to help myself.  That didn’t sound very good.  I still wanted to test myself. Why?  Because at the end of the day, if I didn’t know—I might not take the steps needed to prevent or reverse the disease should it come along one day. According to Dr. Bredesen, not knowing your genetics will hinder you in making decisions. The old "Knowledge is Power" comes into play.

Everything I was reading said this is preventable regardless of your genetic results.  This is new information to many in the Alzheimer’s community. Sometimes "old school" thinking does not serve us.  One of the top docs in the field Dr. David Perlmutter, a neurologist, says that 95% of your DNA is handled in your gut, the other 5% is your inherited genetics. Meaning you can directly affect your gut health which by default affects your brain health.   Addressing your gut takes discipline and commitment to healthy living. It’s not a road for the faint of heart.

I decided I could handle it …whatever the results. Even if I had two of the good genes, if I didn't take care of my health I could still get it regardless of genetics.   I told myself the day I was born I had the genetics I have, they are part of me.  They are the same today as that day in 1961 when I entered this golden globe and will be the same on the day I leave.  My genetics have been with me all my life.  I decided the question of “Why me?” would be valid if the results were good or if they were bad. Why would I deserve good news or why would I deserve bad?   I concluded my response would in fact be “Why not me?” Either way, Genetics in fact are the luck of the draw, the genetic throw down process that happens in a family line.  In the end, I know regardless of the results I will ask myself: what am I to learn, what am I to contribute, what would change in my life as I move forward knowing my genetic composition?

This process has taught me a lot.  It has taught me to have immeasurable gratitude.  It has taught me the importance of showing up for the people I love.  It has taught me to give back whenever and wherever I can as my capacity allows.   It has confirmed my respect for the earth, the foods we eat and the water we drink. It has taught me to look outside of myself, to reach beyond the comfortable to ignite my life.  It has taught me to not stand silent regarding things I believe in.  It has taught me that people suffer and human compassion is worth extending. 

Yes, this process was meaningful.  There are all kinds of DNA tests available today for many things, from diseases, traits, depression and even weight control. Make no mistake, DNA testing is not to be taken lightly.

 I can say the day I received my results, I read them at 5:30 in the morning.  Directly after I read them the Barred Owl who lives in the area behind my house, who I consider one of my spirit animals did its hooting sequence three times.  Three being a Holy number.  I was grateful.

“Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I would like to see you living in better conditions.”

-Hafiz (1325-1389)

Until next time.

Sat nam.