Would Knowing My DNA Have Prevented Me Getting Diabetes Type 1 in 2007?

In the recent Dominion Post newspaper profile of me, I told the interviewer that I wished I’d known my increased risk of getting diabetes type 1 *before* I got it five years ago. DNA testing service 23andMe launched at the end of 2007, about a month after I discovered my diabetic fate. So if it had launched, say, a year before and I had taken the test, would it have helped me prevent diabetes type 1?

One of the tauted benefits of the personal genomics era is that it will enable us to find out what diseases we are at risk of getting and then implement a prevention plan. However, we’re still early in this era and there is a lot to learn about exactly how to utilize genetic data in our healthcare.

In fact diabetes type 1 isn’t a great example to use when discussing the benefits of personal genomics, because relatively little is known in the medical community about the cause of this disease. A reminder that type 1 is the less common, incurable, form of diabetes. It’s the type *not* related to obesity. Indeed, doctors have little clue what actually causes type 1 – especially when you get it as an adult, as I did. All they know is that it’s triggered by something in your environment. So even if you have an increased genetic risk of getting it (I had a 4.1% risk according to my 23andMe results), it’s all down to luck whether you’ll encounter the mysterious environmental trigger.

My 23andMe DNA report put it like this:

“Environmental factors that may increase your risk include living in a cold climate, exposure to certain viruses, and not being breastfed as an infant.”

That’s very broad. So even if I’d known my increased risk of getting diabetes type 1, say, six years ago, the above statement from 23andMe indicates that there wasn’t a lot I could do to try to prevent the trigger.

Indeed there were only two actionable things that 23andMe recommended, in my report, to avoid diabetes type 1. The first is to take more Vitamin D. Which seems to be the trendy vitamin of the year, based on all of the healthcare reading I’ve done recently. The second actionable advice applies to every single one of us: eat healthy and exercise more.

While it would be nice to have specific disease-preventing steps to take, even doing the generalized things help you prevent disease. So it can be argued that personal genomics is already benefiting us when it comes to disease prevention. That’s the line 23andMe co-founder Anne Wojcicki is adopting, when it comes to her husband’s increased risk of getting Parkinson’s disease.

Wojcicki’s husband happens to be Google co-founder Sergey Brin. She told the BigThink website:

“…there is information there about things you can do to prevent Parkinson’s. So, that could be changing your diet, exercising more, and potentially drinking coffee. And those are all three things that he does.”

While those kinds of lifestyle changes will make you healthier in any case, regardless of genetic predisposition, Wojcicki said that she’s “happy because he made a lifestyle change that fundamentally made him healthier.”

I think the point is if you know you’re at risk of a certain disease, it makes you more motivated to do the basic healthy things: eating well, exercising. Either way, knowing your genetics leads to you taking steps to reduce your risk of disease.

Longer term though, I am confident that personalised health will eventually enable better prevention of diabetes type 1, along with many other diseases. Why do I say that? Because genomics is the key to finding out more about **what causes diabetes type 1**. When more is known about the triggers of diabetes type 1, both genetic and environmental (the latter can be discovered via genetics research), your DNA report will include more helpful prevention tips.

2 thoughts on “Would Knowing My DNA Have Prevented Me Getting Diabetes Type 1 in 2007?”

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