To level up our health in 2020, we decided to get our DNA test results to look at the cellular pathways of our genes to uncover what they say about us—including our risk factors for disease and how this can help us make more informed lifestyle choices.
Due to the simplicity (and relative affordability) of ordering an at-home DNA test, there was a spike in DNA testing in 2018. People are gaining an interest in uncovering detailed information about their family history, and more recently, understanding genetics in relation to their health. Through a simple saliva swab mailed in to one of these direct-to-consumer brands, you are on your way to better understanding your own genes.
Keep in mind that these DNA test results can be rather cryptic; creating more confusion than clarity when it comes to understanding your unique genetic makeup. Misinterpreted information as well as limited results regarding genetic variations, according to this NPR article, is something to be considered when leaning on the tests for health-related feedback. This is where medical professionals come in to play a pivotal role in deciphering our cellular functions—and how that directly impacts our bodies and our minds.
We met with Dr. Karly Powell from the STRATA Integrated Wellness Spa at Garden of the Gods Resort & Club to further understand our DNA test results and how we can proactively care for ourselves based on this information. Located in Colorado Springs, adjacent to the striking red-sandstone peaks of the Garden of the Gods national landmark, sits the wellness retreat, hotel and renowned spa center where a mecca of services is offered.
Let’s call it the “STRATAsphere” where a world of wellness is synergized under one roof to holistically address the health of their patients.
Behind the sleek and modernly appointed facility, there is a stunning space home to a Himalayan salt room, IV nutritional therapy, fitness studios, and specialists at your service ranging from cardiologists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, therapists and nutritionists. Let’s call it the “STRATAsphere” where a world of wellness is synergized under one roof to holistically address the health of their patients.
It’s like an all-inclusive retreat for treating disease, dietary issues and emotional health. Dr. Karly Powell’s role as a naturopathic doctor has led her to excel in the understanding and application of therapeutic nutrition, functional biochemistry and botanical medicine, making her a force in the field. She is also the brilliant mind behind the spa’s health program that works with your DNA test results, Decoding Your DNA.
Dr. Powell focuses on chronic diseases, like autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and common intestinal issues, but she also sees patients who are feeling really good and simply want to keep it that way. During her decoding process of a patient’s DNA test results, she looks at an individual’s vulnerabilities, specifically inflammation and their capacity for detoxification.
“We look towards the deeper root cause of illness and use therapeutic diets, whole foods nutrition and targeted herbal medicine to heal patients in ways that can be difficult when pharmaceuticals are the singular option. Naturopathic doctors bridge conventional science with traditional healing modalities to encourage our bodies to function at their peak of health.” Dr. Powell shares.
Needless to say, we couldn’t wait to begin this journey to wellness.
DECODING YOUR DNA
An initial in-person consultation with Dr. Powell, around 60 minutes long, will be focused on reviewing the patient’s overall health, including pre-existing diseases and diagnoses, providing her with a context of where their health is before taking a deep-dive into their DNA test results.
After submitting your DNA to either Ancestry or 23andMe, which can take about a month to receive your test results, you will send the files to Dr. Powell who will then use an interpretation tool called the StrateGene report, developed by another naturopathic doctor and available for anyone to access. This tool will show essential information about the person’s single nucleotide polymorphisms, also called SNPs, to reveal common genetic variations to help the doctor determine genetic variants that pose concern and ultimately finding effective ways to modify their risk for disease.
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Through her interpretation, she will look at about 40 to 50 genes in order to understand nutrient function. “As a naturopathic doctor, I like to take a step back and look at intestinal health, understanding that even if you are eating proper nutrients, compromised intestinal function may prevent you from absorbing them.
“We can also look at your genes to determine if, after absorption, you are able to adequately transport the nutrients to the cell and activate them for use. With gene variants, many people are still susceptible to nutrient deficiencies even when eating a relatively healthy diet,” Dr. Powell describes.
“We can also look at your genes to determine if, after absorption, you are able to adequately transport the nutrients to the cell and activate them for use.”
Having done this process of decoding my own DNA test results alongside Dr. Powell, I can tell you firsthand that her understanding of biochemistry and ability to translate the results in a digestible way was an invaluable experience. Otherwise, I would still be tripping over the medical jargon; feeling more overwhelmed than informed.
I had plenty of questions for her right from the start regarding my gut health, skin allergies, anxiety and my susceptibility to certain cancers that run in my family. During our second meeting, which took place virtually through a teleWELL consultation by STRATA Med, she walked me through my cellular pathways, closely examining variants that may impact my ability to detox and carry nutrients to the cells.
A quite common variant she sees is in the MTHFR protein, which means I have a reduced capacity to naturally use folate (Vitamins B9) in my cells. Looking at my DNA test results, Dr. Powell recommends incorporating more leafy greens, citrus fruits and beans into my diet, as well as a folate supplement in its active form for the rest of my life.
What I found especially insightful was that if you are someone who has this MTHFR variant, you need to be mindful of consuming enriched and fortified wheat products (pasta, cereals, granola bars). This is because the accumulated folic acid, a synthetic form of folate, can be a neurological irritant leading to anxiety, depression and is expected to contribute to more long-term diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s. Dr. Powell reminded me that this does not mean that I will get these diseases, but that I can modify my chances through lifestyle and eating habits.
During this discussion on my DNA test results I asked about my gut health and concern for inflammation in my digestive system. We learned that because of my slowed ability to detox waste material and break down histamines, this may cause imbalances in my gut microbiome, as well as skin and allergy sensitivities.
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The incredible piece of this DNA decoding experience is the understanding that we have the ability to quickly change how our genes are making an enzyme system work effectively.
We also discussed my heightened susceptibility to the toxic effects of pesticides and chemicals, both in food and in the environment, because of my ability to recycle glycine through my cells. So, opting for organic foods and avoiding processed foods is essential in helping improve my anxiety and aid with better sleep, which we know is essential to our well-being. After this step-by-step breakdown of my DNA test results showing my genetic variants, I was feeling quite empowered knowing all the choices that I can make to help address my targeted health concerns.
The incredible piece of this DNA decoding experience is the understanding that we have the ability to quickly change how our genes are making an enzyme system work effectively. “We do this through the foods we eat, the air we breathe, through our mood, our sleep cycles, through meditation—even by our level of gratitude. These all change the expression of the gene minute-to-minute,” Dr. Powell affirms.
THE JOURNEY TO HEALING
“Think of it like this,” Dr. Powell explains, “your genes are like the keys on a piano, your genes are set from birth and will not change, but with these set number of piano keys, you can play an infinite number of songs.” When prescribing targeted diets and supplements, it’s important to remember that once one of your systems gets kickstarted, it ignites the others, and from there your body should begin turning and adapting on its own.
With the guidance of Dr. Powell during this deep-dive into your DNA test results, a three-step plan is developed to get your body back to its peak performance. Keep in mind that these phases will be uniquely catered to each client based on their needs. For me, that means starting with detoxification to ensure that my cells are eliminating and dealing with waste material appropriately before the body begins to ramp up the metabolism in the next phase.
This means taking a Vitamin B12 supplement, an intracellular antioxidant and an herbal antibacterial supplement for about 30 days. Addressing inflammation is crucial in this initial phase as well because it is the driver of all chronic disease, like heart disease and cancer as well as cognitive decline and neurological disorders, like ADHD, depression and mood shifts.
By looking at the inflammatory pathways to see if they are either fired-up or regulated, Dr. Powell can make recommendations on the proper nutrients that can be introduced. To reduce inflammation within my cells and in the intestinal tract, I am recommended to take specific supplements daily for about 30 days.
The second phase is about targeting the histamine and neurotransmitters to help me process stress and anxiety more efficiently, by incorporating Vitamin C, bioflavonoids and probiotics for 60 days. For many, Dr. Powell may recommend a prescription diet after breaking down their DNA test results, like a nutrient-rich plant-based diet, for example, to commit to for one-to-six months. This step may also include the on-boarding of other specialists within the STRATA team. This could mean seeing a nutritionist to help coach you directly through the process of applying the specified diet.
Dr. Powell will comprise a long-term care plan that includes how much sleep one should be getting, water consumption, activity levels, specific foods to eat and even the importance of having fun and inviting joy into your life.
The final phase includes incorporating multivitamins and mineral cofactors for about 30 days to address the mutation of MTHFR that I carry. The time frame for these first three steps will vary, and once those are complete, it is possible that further testing, beyond the initial DNA test results I acquired, may take place to help Dr. Powell determine in real-time how the nutrients are getting absorbed into the patient’s body. This could be an acids test, which is a tool to understand gut bacteria and inflammation, as well as blood, cholesterol and urine tests.
An intensive active treatment plan may be suggested for those with chronic diseases who will need to be revisited annually during this on-going process. In addition, Dr. Powell will comprise a long-term care plan that includes how much sleep one should be getting, water consumption, activity levels, specific foods to eat and even the importance of having fun and inviting joy into your life—as it is proven to help with our ability to manipulate expression of our inflammation genes.
Through decoding these DNA test results, I learned that the discomfort in my gut and allergy-prone skin can be healed through diet and specialized supplements, and that just because cancer is common in my family, it does not mean I will be diagnosed with the same diseases. Above all else, I learned that I can actually influence my genes through inclusionary diets to consume more healthy nutrients and have control over my health on a moment-to-moment basis.
Although genetic testing is in it’s very beginning stages, these tools available to us now can provide insight into modifying our risk for disease for a healthier life. “One of my cautions with this testing is it’s not a diagnostic tool, and I never want people to use it as such because it won’t tell you if you have a vulnerability to one specific disease. What we do with this information is help you optimize function on a cellular level, to help you create more proactive tools as results of your DNA test so that you can take control,” Dr. Powell expresses.
So, for those who think that they are stuck in their ways and have accepted discomfort and illness as their baseline for normal, this is a reminder that through your food choices, activity levels and daily habits, we have the power to influence our personal well-being.
And that is the not-so-secret code to a beautiful life.
• Vitamins and minerals should come primarily from your daily fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Aim for four to five cups of vegetables per day (ideally as a blend of raw and cooked), two to three servings of fruit and one-third cup servings of whole grains.
• You will get more active enzymes from raw foods, but cooking your food makes it easier to extract the nutrients; there are benefits to both, so include a mix of cooked and raw foods in your daily meals. Whole grains, like wild rice, barley, quinoa, oats, farrow and amaranth should be freshly cooked. Reminder: whole grain breads do not count.
• Incorporate a high-quality pink Himalayan sea salt into your food prep for added minerals. This type of salt has 90 trace minerals, higher than any other salt.
• When incorporating supplements into your diet, make sure to look for a company that tests every batch of product for purity and potency that is done by a non-biased, third-party company. That way, you are getting the best raw ingredients in each bottle of supplements you purchase.