The Role of Genetics in Habit Change

Newtopia’s COO Lara Dodo and three expert panelists Louis Pèrusse, Ph.D., Natasha Vani, M.Sc, ND, Len Fensterheim, MPH recently presented a webinar on the role of genetics in a personalized habit change experience.

In this blog post, we will provide a recap of the content and discussion covered in the webinar. If you would like to watch the full-length on-demand video click here.

Demystifying “Behavioral Genetics”

According to Professor Louis Pèrusse, Ph.D., behavioral genetics boils down to the study of how our genes and environmental factors influence our behaviors. By learning about our genes, we can better understand how the environment affects our behavior and day-to-day choices.

Additionally, based on the current scientific evidence we know that understanding our genetic makeup can help us better understand how we respond to nutritional or exercise interventions.

The concept of precision lifestyle medicine has emerged to support the importance of considering nutrition and lifestyle, in addition to genetics, in the next generation of personalized lifestyle intervention aimed at reducing the burden of chronic diseases.

Scientific evidence suggests that the provision of actionable recommendations on nutrition and lifestyle informed by genetic testing facilitates the adoption of a healthier lifestyle. Newtopia’s genetic testing is based on the concept of precision lifestyle medicine. The genes selected to complement our personalized approach are based on the best available evidence-based research. The functional impact of the genes being tested and their role in influencing response to lifestyle interventions have been supported by at least two independent studies and yield actionable recommendations around nutrition, exercise, and well-being.

Or in the words of a participant, Amy, “​​The genetic testing showed me how things have an effect on my weight. Carbs are not the enemy, but I don’t process them. I’ve had to change what I eat for the better so my unique system can process them into fuel. I’ve learned to use food to fuel my workouts, fuel my energy and my well-being.”

How Participants’ Experiences and Recommendations are Personalized Depending on their Genetics

Once participants have a better understanding of their genetic makeup they can begin making actional habit changes, with the support of their inspirator, so that they are one step closer to reaching their health and well-being goals.

One way of examining how genetic testing can play a role in a participants’ success with the Newtopia experience is by reviewing one participant’s real-life results.

Maria’s Story

Maria is a 52-year-old woman who identifies as female. Her BMI at the start of the program was 28 based on her height of 5’ 5” and weight of 168 lbs. Over the last few years, Maria was given a statin medication to manage her cholesterol and was told to be mindful of her weight and lifestyle, given her family history of type 2 diabetes. Maria feels her weight gain has occurred mainly in these last few years, particularly because of higher levels of stress and menopause.

Ultimately, Maria’s health goals included reducing her weight by 18 lb to reach a BMI that is considered “normal.”  She also wanted to reduce her risk of type 2 diabetes, improve her cholesterol profile, and improve her overall energy, mood, and self-confidence

After Maria swabbed her cheek and sent in her genetic test results the lab delivered her profile back in around three weeks. Maria’s inspirator reviewed the information with her so that they could develop an actionable plan to address her most pertinent health goals by shifting her habits slowly over time.

What Maria learned from the results of the genetic test was that she had the MC4R gene which delays her sense of feeling full which also increases the likelihood that she will overeat. The test also identified the DRD2 gene which indicates an increased probability that she engages in emotional eating because of a desire to seek behaviors that fulfill the reward center of the brain. Finally, the FTO gene was identified in Maria’s profile which suggests that she likely has difficulty metabolizing carbohydrates and fats which means that her body will respond better to a higher protein diet and higher intensity exercise vs. a more moderate level of exercise.

Based on this information Maria’s inspirator came up with a list of recommendations specific to nutrition, exercise, and well-being needs. Some examples included a higher protein diet,  creating a stress management plan, and addressing the delayed sense of feeling full and the emotional eating that Maria was experiencing.

Understanding the Purpose of Newtopia’s Genetic Testing in a Habit Change Experience

In conclusion, It’s important to remember that genetic testing is optional or can be delayed when enrolling in the experience based on the participant’s preferences. The information is strictly used to make helpful personalized lifestyle recommendations and is not used to identify disease risk.

Special thanks to our expert panelists, Louis Pèrusse, Ph.D., Natasha Vani, B.Sc, M.Sc, ND, Len Fensterheim, MPH, and Lara Dodo, COO of Newtopia for sharing their insights in this on-demand webinar.

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