Updated on: October 16, 2020

Can you “hack” your weight loss plan with DNA?

Maybe. But do DNA diets work and will using your genetic information to plan your diet and fitness make you healthier?

Is there really such a thing as a successful DNA diet?

Using Knowledge about Your Body to Guide Your Diet and Fitness Choices

Have you ever been excited to start a new diet or fitness plan only to feel as if you are depriving yourself and pushing yourself to your physical limits with no results?

If you decided to try a diet or fitness trend after reading about it, seeing it on social media, or having a friend tell you how they lost 10 pounds in a week, you aren’t alone. And in some cases, you might have experienced success. But if you’ve ever been frustrated by your efforts not paying off, it’s not only you.

Your DNA might be the reason for how diet changes played out. Genetics play a major role in how your body responds to food and exercise and hundreds of other things. In addition to how quickly you’ll lose weight if you cut carbs or run three miles a day, it also determines if your body will react negatively to drinking alcohol, if certain supplements will make your hair grow faster, and if your skin gets itchy when you wear a wool sweater. 

Not everyone’s bodies react the same to the same stimuli. Understanding your body and how it reacts makes achieving optimal results easier.

The more we understand our genetics and fitness and nutrition, the smarter our decisions about our diets and fitness plans. DNA is contributing to the expanding field of nutritional medicine. Doctors and other healthcare providers are helping patients with dietary issues with dietary prescriptions. They’re creating personalized eating plans based on a person’s genetics. Understanding how their bodies react to certain foods based on their genetics helps them make the best decisions about their habits and health.

According to doctors at The Cleveland Clinic who have been providing personalized DNA dieting plans for several years, say the goal is to identify those who respond to diets differently and help them determine how their specific intolerances to foods or susceptibility to diseases can positively affect their diet and fitness choices.

Are DNA Based Diets Scientifically Based?

Personalized diets have been used for about two decades. Blood type was the basis for many of these diets, but these diets lacked the scientific proof many nutritionists wanted to see.

It wasn’t until the early 2000s that healthcare experts began to take a closer look at how DNA can positively affect diet and fitness. After the Human Genome Project (HPG), scientists gained new insight into the connection between compounds in food and how those compounds affect genes and therefore, people’s health. It became apparent that a person’s lifestyle choices have an impact on their genes and their choices can be physically advantageous or detrimental.

Several studies have shown that our eating habits are linked to our genetics. Not only in terms of how your body will physically respond to a change in diet, but also how effective a diet will be for a person or a particular group of people with similar genetic traits.

One study showed that people with the ACE gene, which is linked to blood pressure, had better success in reducing their sodium intake. Another study showed that a DNA based diet that sought to reduce someone’s saturated fat intake was more successful long-term than other low-fat diets. Other studies have not shown such definitively clear success in DNA based diets, so it’s impossible at this point to declare these types of diet a magic bullet for weight loss or other nutrition and fitness-based health improvements.

Potential Benefits of a DNA Diet

So what are the potential benefits of a DNA diet? Do DNA based diets work?

Customizing a diet is almost always better than following a generic plan. After all, how likely are you to stick to a diet that forces you to eat things you don’t like or eliminates all of the foods you love? You might enjoy short-term success, but nobody wants to live with those kinds of restrictions.

One of the greatest benefits of a DNA-based diet is that it increases compliance. Generic guidelines help you with basic needs, but one-size-fits-all diets are rarely effective life-time eating plans.

It’s also important to consider the importance of “small victories” when it comes to dieting motivation. Finding a diet that offers results is enough for many people to remain steadfast. They like what they’re eating and the diet is well-suited for them. They see results and those things motivate them to incorporate the approach as a longterm eating plan.

The downside of DNA based diets is they can be expensive. You aren’t just throwing together a list of low-calorie foods you enjoy eating. You must first undergo testing an analysis, which is usually a few hundred dollars. And there’s always a financial investment when you drastically alter your way of eating.

There are also privacy concerns about genetic testing. All of the usual questions that arise regarding genetic testing are an issue when genetics are used for dieting. If you are considering a DNA-based diet it’s important to weigh your health goals against any privacy concerns.

Finally, keep in mind that genetic testing alone might not be enough to create a diet. You’ll need to undergo testing and share your results with someone able to interpret them and apply the information to nutrition. Designing and implementing a DNA based diet is a process, but for many, it’s one that finally helps them achieve their diet, fitness, and overall health goals.

Joel is a writer with a passion for the science of DNA and the power of its manipulation.
Resources

Nutrition Diva Monica Reinagel. “Personalized Nutrition: The Latest on DNA-Based Diets.” Scientific American, www.scientificamerican.com/article/personalized-nutrition-the-latest-on-dna-based-diets/.

“Hold The Salt: Gene May Explain African Americans’ Extra Sensitivity To Salt, Leading To High Blood Pressure.” ScienceDaily, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/03/990326061953.htm. Accessed 15 Oct. 2020.

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