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An Expert's Guide to Genetic Testing

An Expert's Guide to Genetic Testing

As more and more practitioners choose to use genetic testing in their practice, it’s becoming essential to at least have an understanding of this fast growing area.  This week we were lucky enough to catch up with Jo Gamble, one of the UKs leading functional medicine practitioners, for a quick chat about genetic testing.  Jo has extensive experience of using the tests in practice and we were thrilled when she offered to share her thoughts on the subject with us. 

In our exclusive interview with Jo, she gives a simple overview of what the tests are, how you might use them, her ethical concerns and her advice for anyone thinking of having a test done or of using the tests in practice.  Jo has an infectious passion for functional medicine and she is constantly striving to learn more about this fast moving field.  Thanks Jo for being so generous with your time and for sharing your experience with us.   

Genetic testing is a complicated and somewhat daunting area for anyone not familiar with it.  How do you explain the testing to clients in a simple way?
I refer to genetics like an instruction manual that you get with anything you buy.  We give birth to a child with no manual so we are constantly finding our way in the dark.  For me this turns the lights on, by shining a light on the drivers behind the symptoms or diagnosis the client has.

Which tests do you recommend the most and why?  Is there a particular laboratory that you work with most often?
I love Genova Diagnostics, and really like it that they are now adding genomic SNPs to their nutritional tests such as their Nutreval profile, it brings the two together.

At what point do you normally recommend a genetic test to a client?  At the initial consultation or further down the line?
It is usually after the first couple of consultations where I have already highlighted which systems are currently out of balance.  However if it is a complex client I’ll often go straight in and recommend it at the beginning.

What do you look for in a laboratory offering genetic tests?
I look at the laboratory’s GMP, and the way the SNPs are laid out for the client.  I always suggest to my students they use a lab that offers education, as SNPs in the wrong hands can be dangerous in my opinion.

How would you reassure a client who may be concerned about security of genetic data storage?
I only recommend labs who honour the security of clients results and where the data is not used for anything else.

In your experience, how do the test results influence patient compliance?
My experience is much more in favour of compliance and long-term commitment due to an understanding of disease risk and the power of prevention.

What advice would you give to:

A practitioner thinking about offering the tests in practice?
Try it on yourself first.

A client considering having a test done?

- If the results will have an impact on the management of long-term wellness they are an investment
- You will only need to do them once
- You can stop guessing
- You can be empowered 

There are some genetic tests on the market that patients can access without the support of a practitioner.  What are your thoughts on this?
I think ethically this is wrong and have first hand experience of a client (she did the test before she came to work with me) who was emotionally VERY unstable after finding out she had a higher risk of Alzheimer’s.  The panic she experienced was debilitating; she called the company who said they weren’t qualified to offer advice.

How have you developed your own consultation process to support patients’ overall wellbeing following genetic test results?
I only test SNPs that I understand and feel I can influence the outcome of the affected pathway through diet, lifestyle modifications and supplements

I talk the client through the SNPs, explain what they should avoid, such as chargrilled food, foods they should eat plenty of, such as brassicas, and where long-term supplements may be of great benefit, such as to support methylation.  I deliver this to them in a simple table: eat, avoid and supplements.

Can you share with us a brief outline of a case where genetic testing has significantly improved outcomes for a client?
My first experience of genomics was with my own daughter who was treated medically with methotrexate for her auto-immune diseases.  She was also prescribed folic acid.  Yet she has homozygote SNPs on both C677T and A1298C, so her ability to methylate was severely compromised. 

Her symptoms of being chronically fatigued, lowered immunity, migraines and joint pain were put down solely to her disease and the drug.

Yet a change of her folic acid to a combination of methyl factors and glutathione reduced or eliminated all of these problems even in the presence still of the methotrexate.

I challenged her rheumatologist who told me that of course she could methylate.

That day was a real turning point not just for her journey, but mine as a clinician as I can answer the “WHY” question so much deeper and with an understanding of how to take my complex clients forward.

About Jo Gamble BA (Hons) Dip CNM IFMCP Fellow ICT

Jo has been a behavioural therapist for the last 15 years where she has specialised in children with autism and complex learning difficulties. Jo uses her skills and experience to complement her nutritional therapy; this is particularly beneficial for the children she works with.

Jo has now chosen to add to her specialisms by pursuing her passion for making a difference to people with cancer, working alongside them on their journey, leaving no stone unturned.  Jo works with many children through the charity KICT and Alfie’s Trust, and adults around the country and internationally.

Jo is now a certified functional medicine practitioner and is board certified with the Academy of Anti Aging Medicine in the USA.

Jo’s passion to educate both her clients and other practitioners has led to her becoming a senior lecturer for the College of Naturopathic Medicine as well as regularly lecturing for Nutri Advanced.