In the past couple of years, I have taken at least 10 genetic tests, including this latest DNA test from 3×4 Genetics. This may seem excessive, but I have my reasons. I graduated from medical school as a genetic specialist and completed my PhD as a clinical genomics researcher, and although I turned to medical futurism, my original field never ceases to fascinate me. I’m very curious about how these tests advance and hope I might be able to provide insights for patients worldwide about what they can expect to learn from such tests and what those tests can really deliver.
Thus, I didn’t hesitate for a second to get yet another test and try the pathway analysis 3×4 Genetics offers.
What is a pathway analysis?
“Traditional’ DNA tests typically offer you percentage values of disease risks, saying things like “you have 34% diabetes risk”. Even if that is an accurate estimate, it’s challenging to figure out what to do with that number, especially if the test provider’s control population may significantly differ from yours. In my case, living in the middle of Europe, such values would tell more if they were compared to the Caucasian population in Central Europe – which they are not. Therefore while you receive quantified results, it’s really hard to use those results in your health or disease management
Pathway analysis tries a different approach, focusing not on single genes, but on the “functions” of those genes. Pathway Analysis (PA) aims to detect relevant groups of related genes and seeks to overcome the problem of interpreting overwhelmingly large lists of important but isolated genes detached from context.
In plain English, PA aims to analyse the ways our bodies work and find the ones in which we may have problems.
How to do the DNA test
The 3×4 test didn’t differ significantly from other tests. You collect your sample with a cheek swab and send the package back to the company. It then will be analysed in a lab, and you get the results in about a month.
During this time you are asked to fill out a questionnaire that provides some background info. It includes your basic metrics, like age and weight, lifestyle questions about how you eat and how much you exercise, and some basic questions about your general health and mood, among others.
The report on 36 pathways
3×4 Genetics was the first provider offering to send the final report in an encrypted mail, which I think is a big plus. The report evaluated my results in 36 pathways. These come from 6 main categories (and several sub-categories):
- Cellular (Methylation, Inflammation, Oxidative stress, Detoxification)
- Systems (Mood & behavior, Collagen & joints, Bone health, Glucose & insulin, Memory & brain health, Histamine overload, Hormone balance)
- Cardiovascular health (Vascular health, Cholesterol, Blood clotting, Blood pressure)
- Energy (Adipogenesis, Weight gain & weight loss resistance, Exercise response, Pro-inflammatory fat, Energy expenditure, Appetite/Satiety/Intake)
- Activity (Power, Injury, Recovery, Training response, Endurance)
- Nutritients (Caffeine, Choline, Folate, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Fatty acids, Gluten, Vitamin C, Salt, Iron overload)
The workings of my 36 pathways were evaluated on a 4-grade scale (low-medium-high-very high), showing how close/far I am from the optimal, with low being the closest to the ideal.
The counselling was excellent
The follow-up counselling session is a crucial part of all genetic tests, I would never suggest anyone take a DNA test without professional support to analyse the results.
This was by far the most useful counselling session I’ve ever had, offering methods, dietary and supplements advice to counter my problematic tendencies. I learned, for example, how not paying attention to proper resting can turn into anxiety, or how foods high in histamine might affect my psychological well-being.
I did learn some new things, and they make sense
The report contained lots of things I was already aware of from my previous genetic tests, but it also offered some interesting new inputs.
- It highlighted that I’m “highly resistant in releasing fat from stores”, which is in line with my extended family being unanimously obese. Without very carefully managing my weight, I would be overweight too. Fortunately, my lifestyle has kept my BMI under 23 for my entire life and I plan to keep on doing so.
- The report also explained why I was always good in sprint runs and terrible in long-distance runs: I am on the lower end of the endurance scale. On the other hand, I do particularly well in power sports. I also learned that I recover from exercises somewhat slowly, and need to support the process in several different ways.
- “As a slow metabolizer,” I also need to limit my caffeine intake – another insight that reinforces what I learned by experience. Drinking coffee after 3 pm will make me sleep unwell. Now I can be sure I’m not just imagining it.
- I also scored “very high” on the mood&balance scale, meaning I may be highly susceptible to an imbalance (anxiety, depression and related behaviours). As someone with a dopamine reuptake disorder, this also makes a lot of sense and explains my novelty-seeking nature, and why I constantly need to get into something new, like chess and baseball and so on. The counsellor also explained how important it is for me to find balance, to make sure my adventure-seeking would not cause anxiety.
Pros and cons
All in all, I was happy with the process and the results, the company provided great customer support, although I think it would be impossible to properly interpret the report without the counselling session.
- focus on genetic pathways
- excellent counselling session
- strong privacy measures
- it was challenging to interpret the results without genetic counselling
- no online dashboard for the report, just a static PDF
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