GETTING LEFT OF BOOM:
HOW GENETIC DATA SAVES LIVES
eft of Boom” was a phrase US soldiers invented in Iraq to describe the moments just before a roadside bomb went off. Later it came to mean all the work they’d do to try to stop bombers from being able to plant those bombs in the first place.
For the longest time, most people thought disease appeared either randomly (most of the time) or perhaps as magikal intervention. Some would say disease was an act of God, in other versions karma or punishment for some long-ago evil deed, maybe even an attack by someone skilled in the dark arts.
It sure did seem that way, because even the worst epidemics rarely killed everyone. Some would fall ill and others wouldn’t. What other proof did we need that disease was fundamentally some kind of accident, a stroke of bad luck or an assault?
Today we’re pretty sure that’s generally not the case. We now understand that disease arises as an interaction between our genes, the way we treat those genes, and the environment.
One approach to this problem: drugs designed for an individual’s genetics. One problem: expensive.
Another: Intelligent self-care informed by genetic data. The most common test is done by a company called 23&Me. They call themselves an ancestry research service but that’s largely to keep the FDA from pursuing them for making medical claims.
Once prominent actresses started getting mastectomies on the basis on their genetic data the writing was on the wall. This was the mistake: genetics is not destiny. It’s a treasure map.
A little better: it’s a map out of the trap of disease.
When we understand what our genes do and how to support them … we can often steer our way around their pitfalls or out of them if we’re already ensnared.
Of course it’s easier to preserve one’s health than it is to regain it after it’s been lost. It’s also true that often we don’t know what we’ve got until it’s gone.
Which is sad because many chronic diseases will respond to informed choices when we start supporting our genes instead of taking them for granted.
It’s a lot less work and much easier on the wallet to get out in front.
Left of boom.
And that’s why getting one’s genes evaluated can be a really good idea.
The 1% will get their bespoke pharmaceuticals, no doubt. The rest of us (and even many of the 1%) are figuring out that genes don’t dictate outcomes, that we get a vote in these matters, and maybe it’s a good idea to study the voter’s guide.
It turns out that the most effective way to put genetic information to work may not be to set legions of drug-company PhDs to work building custom molecules and tailored drugs.
For those who like to keep their hands on the wheel of their own health it’s probably better to embark on learning a little more every day about how our genes run our metabolisms. Armed with that information we can adopt diet and lifestyle changes that support the genes that need supporting and end-run the ones that are seriously skewed. Left of boom.
And guess what!
We all have skewed genes! None of us are “perfect.” And if we were … well, as Tom Waits put it, “If you exorcise my devils, my angels might leave too …”
(Today we call the same genetic uniquenesses we used to label “mutations” as “Single-Nucleotide Polymorphisms,” or SNPs for short. We’ve noticed that genetic uniquenesses that might appear to create medical or other issues also frequently seem to confer certain protections or special abilities.)
So what do we do about all this? It helps to have a guide. Dr. Google only gets one so far.
It’s impossible for the uninitiated to read the genetic data directly. So hundreds of websites have sprouted to which one can upload one’s 23&Me data to get interpretations based on various approaches to using it.
One of the most popular, GeneticGenie, is free. It gives data on genes that control detoxification and other related metabolic pathways. This gives us a way to spot traffic jams and roadblocks in the almost infinitely complex web of physical, chemical and energy relationships we ride around in and often take for granted until we … just … can’t anymore.
Every day of our lives we make decisions about how to treat those genes. We can push them hard or give them a break. We can give them what they need to do their jobs or cross our arms, starve them and dump junk food sand into their metabolic gears.
We can show a bit of understanding and start lifestyle, diet and nutrient workarounds so they don’t get all confused and start tripping over their own metabolic feet. Or not.
But if we choose the healthy road, the genes are our roadmap. Or maybe … how about this:
Getting a gene test is a lot like plugging a car into the computer at the mechanic. We get a readout of what needs attention so we can do the best possible job of keeping the car on the road. So one day we’re not riding down the highway only to have something go boom.
Get the data.
Take informed action, early.
That’s also the best way to stay left of boom in our bodies.