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DNA dieting? Genetic testing could be key to losing weight

Posted at 5:40 PM, Mar 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-13 01:53:46-04

Butter, salt, and egg yolks are hardly the makings of a classic "healthy" lunch, but for some people surprising combinations like this could be the key to losing weight.

At 254 pounds, Jenny Magary's body was failing her.

After 13 surgeries and a stroke, she ditched the spinach and tomatoes that used to fill her refrigerator in favor of a new diet.

"I lost 35 pounds and that was without trying," Magary explains. "That was just by eating, and eating the right things, and eating for my genetics."

Dr. Courtney Hunt says the key is in our DNA.

"We now have the ability when we look at DNA to see how food is transformed into its building blocks," she describes. "So we can see the chemistry by looking at the DNA and when we do that, we can tell people how to change their diet."

When Hunt ran a genetic test on Magary, one of the things she discovered was that she had a histamine intolerance. This meant that many traditionally "healthy" foods, like Magary's spinach and tomato salads -- which release histamines -- were resulting in exhaustion and inflammation.

Personalized nutrition companies like Habit have jumped at the potential they believe DNA testing has when combined with traditional blood work.

For $299, they'll send you a kit to collect your DNA, plus blood samples you collect after drinking a metabolic challenge shake. A few weeks later, Habit recommends one of seven general eating plans and offers specific advice and nutrition counseling.

Habit founder Neil Grimmer says the ability to compute massive amounts of biological data is opening up a new world of hyper-individualized medicine and wellness, calling it a "revolution".

But not everyone is on board, including local facility T-Gen, the non-profit Translational Genomics Research Institute.

"The science isn't there yet for genetics," says Dr. Johanna DiStefano.

According to DiStefano, the human body has roughly 23,000 genes, and individual genetic tests typically look at no more than a few dozen.

"It would be like going to Phoenix if you were from outer space, and thinking that the whole planet Earth was based upon what you would see in Phoenix," she explains.

She says genetic testing for specific medical conditions shows promise, but weight loss is more complicated than a simple spit test that can cost hundreds of dollars.

For Jenny Magary, she's alright with spending her money on still-developing science.

"I fell like a million bucks, and personally I'd rather put it on the front end and be healthy, than the back end and have it for medication and hospitalization."