Genealogy, Genes and Food

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sn-genetransferAwhile back I got interested in my family tree. I spent a few years utterly immersed in following my family’s lineage. Genealogy is a fascinating study. It’s a vast puzzle that can lead you down all sorts of interesting paths. I loved it. I still love it, though I haven’t put a lot of time into it recently.

As part of my interest, I decided to do a DNA test through 23andMe. I chose to do not only the ancestry part of the test, but the health reports as well. The family reports were interesting, but because I had spent hours pouring through birth, death and census records, I didn’t find anything particularly new or surprising. What caught my attention was the health records.

I should say that 23andMe is very careful about sharing health data. They really want you to know what you are getting into. For me, I was ready. I jumped in with both feet. My reports didn’t show anything particularly alarming. (At least not yet. New health reports are being added as the genome is being better understood, who knows what could be found in the next few years?)

One item of interest was the genetic likelihood of a gene for a mild blood disorder. This certainly rang a bell. My sister has been diagnosed with one, and my mother and I both have similar symptoms – the propensity to bruise very, very easily. Soon enough, I heard about aunts that had similar issues and were being tested for anemia. I also had a higher probability of having a gene that makes it more likely to get lung cancer from smoking. Fortunately for me, I have never been a smoker. However, my father and two of my uncles died from lung cancer – most likely from smoking. While my father and my two uncles are not related by blood, I know from my dive into the family tree that we all come from basically the same area in the Netherlands. It makes sense that this gene is prevalent in that population.

I also found that I had a good probability of having a gene that made it much harder for my body to process vitamin A. Sure enough, I had been struggling with night vision. My day vision was decent, but I was having a hard time with street signs and seeing at night. I had even invested in getting my eyes checked and a pair of glasses with a low level prescription to help. I decided to try an experiment. Vitamin A can be tricky, it can hang out in the body (unlike Vitamin C, which if you have an excess of, you will just pass through.) However, foods high in Vitamin A are just generally good for you and also provide a ton of other nutrients. What if I just increased those?

So, I began making sure I was getting plenty of spinach, carrots, cantaloupe and fish. (Those are the Vitamin A foods I like the most.) I eat carrots and leafy greens, particularly spinach, almost every day. Cantaloupe is more of a spring and summer food for me, but I eat fish several times a week. And sure enough, I have seen an improvement. (Pun intended.) My night vision is much better than it was and I haven’t worn my glasses in ages. This fall a friend of mine and I were out walking through a park at night. I pointed out a gentleman doing exercises in the dark, but my friend could not see him. To me, he was clear as day. Obviously all of this is anecdotal. I didn’t do a vision test before and after or anything like that. It’s been just a fun experiment. It has certainly opened my eyes to how food can affect our bodies in ways outside of just weight.

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