DEC 21, 2019 3:47 PM PST

Genetics are a Poor Predictor of Most Diseases

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

In recent years, genetic testing models have gained tremendous popularity from their ability to predict one’s risk factor for developing, or contracting, certain diseases. Now, however, research from the University of Alberta, Canada, says that in most cases, are genes may have less than 5% to do with one’s risk of developing a health condition. 

In the largest meta-analysis of its kind ever undertaken, researchers analyzed 569 studies taken over a 20 year period examining the relationships between common gene mutations, known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and 219 different diseases and conditions.

In the end, they found that in the vast majority of cases, genetic factors account for just 5-10% of a person’s overall risk factor for developing a disease. This includes risk for developing cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Nevertheless, the researchers also reported that there are some exceptions to this, such as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease and macular degeneration, which have a 40-50% genetic risk factor. 

Co-author of the study, David Wishart, said, “Despite these rare exceptions, it is becoming increasingly clear that the risks for getting most diseases arise from your metabolism, your environment, your lifestyle or your exposure to various kinds of nutrients, chemicals, bacteria or viruses,”

The researchers findings go against common wisdom touted by gene testing business models in which genetic testing yields accurate predictions of a person’s risk factor for disease. 

Wishart added, “The bottom line is that if you want to have an accurate measure of your health, your propensity for disease or what you can do about it, it's better to measure your metabolites, your microbes or your proteins—not your genes...This research also highlights the need to understand our environment and the safety or quality of our food, air and water.”

With this gene-centric view being dispelled, it is hoped that more attention will now be given to research focused on other ways to predict disease risk factors. Although research into the interaction between gut flora and health outcomes has recently been on the rise, successfully showing its interaction with health outcomes ranging from multiple sclerosis to Parkinson’s disease and depression, research in other areas is still comparably lacking- particularly regarding metabolites and protein markers.


Sources: Medical Xpress, News Medical and PLOS One

About the Author
  • Science writer with keen interests in technology and behavioral biology. Her current focus is on the interplay between these fields to create meaningful interactions, applications and environments.
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