What you can – and can’t – learn from genetic testing
There’s an old saying that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Just take a look at comic book ads from the 1960s and 1970s for X-ray specs that let you see through clothes, train sea monkeys or transform a scrawny 97-pound weakling into a muscular weightlifter.
Today we’re much more sophisticated and would never invest in such obvious nonsense. Instead, people are wowed by “pseudoscience” ranging from the Doomsday predictions of earth’s end in 2012 (hint – it didn’t happen) to the Bermuda Triangle to biorhythms.
Pseudoscience is at its most effective, and therefore dangerous, when actual science is woven into the too-good-to-miss offer. The latest display of unsubstantiated promises is occurring in the genetic testing realm.
With the completion of the Human Genome Project, a great deal of the mystery around the meaning of DNA coding was revealed. However, much remains to be learned and researchers, scientists and physicians are slowly and steadily unlocking those secrets.
There are certain areas where genetic testing plays a well-proven role, including the metabolism and processing of certain medications, risk for certain diseases and how the body will react to treatments, including chemotherapy. In all of these cases, the knowledge can be used by trained medical professionals to help detect disease earlier, identify existing conditions and potentially improve treatments.
However, genetic testing cannot provide a definitive answer to questions about the probability of developing a specific disease. It is a tool – an important and valuable tool – for people and their physicians to use as part of medical care. And there are still many diseases and medications that have not been linked to a particular part of the human genome, although research and registries continue to shed light in these areas.
The pseudoscience occurs when individuals or organizations assert they can use genetic testing to unlock other secrets of the body, including wellness, fitness and nutrition. What’s the best diet for your body? What exercise is the most beneficial?
The claims can become even more exaggerated, extending to how a single gene affects our personality and behavior. Often these falsehoods are wrapped in scientific mumbo-jumbo and dubious statistics which can cause even more confusion.
How can you project yourself from these fraudsters? You can begin by talking with your physician or a genetic counselor. These professionals with a scientific and medical background can help you determine what tests might be helpful for you and what’s unsubstantiated hogwash. Working with experts and doing your homework before seeking out genetic testing can also help ensure you are getting the most out of your results.