The nurture vs nature debate is one of civilisation’s oldest, with the association and debate between the two very loaded words dating back to the days of Ancient Greece.
While there have been volumes of studies on the topic, musings by countless philosophers, writers and scientists through the ages, never before in history has there ever been any evidentiary proof of the vying concepts until now.
Being half Thai and half English, I have always wondered about my ancestry and how much of my character (or lack thereof) has been formed by blood and how much by upbringing. Like most of you, I share many physical similarities with my parents, or in my case, my father – we have large foreheads, curly hair, freckles, tiny mouths and oddly ingrown toenails. I am also more similar to my father in temperament and character, in spite of my mother’s lifelong efforts to counteract his overwhelming influence!
And so it was that I decided two months ago to take a deeper dive into my genetics, curious as to what I would find. After all, I am overweight, addicted to cigarettes, have a penchant for a tipple and often very lazy, so someone must be blamed for that!
There are myriad reasons why someone would do a full genetics scan. You may have family members with cancer and wish to see if you have inherited any mutated genes which may create higher risk for your own probability of developing cancer. The test can also identify and help to guide your cancer prevention or treatment plans. You may have a young child and wish to identify his or her genetic strengths and weaknesses so that you can properly support and encourage the development of such traits. You may wish to start a family and are concerned that there may be genetic issues which your child could inherit. Or it could be that you wish to lead as healthy a life as possible and can therefore use your genetic test results as a rudder for your self improvement. The reasons can be myriad. In my case, it was simple curiosity and an interest in how to better my overall health.
And so it was that two months ago I arrived at Bangkok Hospital Chiang Mai, the BCM Wellness Center Royal Life Chiang Mai,exactly on the day which they were celebrating their ninth anniversary, with much fanfare and hoopla.
I was given a comprehensive package to study, which included all sorts of information as to how the DNA test is conducted, how it is analysed (in a lab in Hong Kong), and what results I can expect to see. A two second cheek swab was almost anticlimactic in its brevity, and soon I was off home, told to come back in 45 days for my results.
I have deep concerns, as I am sure most of you do too, about cancer. I smoke, I drink, I barely exercise and I have not done well in giving my body the love and care it probably deserves. However, in anticipation of my results, I decided to go do a physical, thinking it would be interesting to compare the outcome to the impending DNA results. According to my GP, who gave me about half an hour’s lecture on how fortunate I am, I should not be this healthy. Everything is in working order and in spite of my obnoxious lifestyle, I appear to be physically hale and healthy…“for now”, warned my disapproving doctor with a stern tutt tutt.
And so it was that a month and a half later I returned, with great trepidation, to Bangkok Hospital Chiang Mai to hear my results. My doctor spent nearly an hour talking me through a most impressive 84 page report which revealed an almost ungodly amount of personal information about my genetics, which I will now share.
The report started with a perky, “Your life is a story spelled out with your DNA. The most interesting facts that uniquely belong to you are wrapped up in the strands of your genes…Our team of scientists at Circle Whole Exome Sequencing (WES) have carefully analysed your saliva sample at our internationally-accredited laboratory to bring you a living analysis of your DNA. In your report, you will discover insights into the incredible story of your genome, your health, traits, and needs. Armed with this information, you will have the power to live a longer, healthier and happier life.”
There were caveats before diving into the report, which was pretty much a continuation of the nature vs nurture debate. Basically, having a certain risk doesn’t mean that you will definitely develop a trait. And vice versa. After all, the report continued, genetics isn’t a crystal ball and factors such as lifestyle and environment can also affect results.
So, let’s dive into who I was born as…
The first result was about the type of diet which suits my body best. Luckily, I am a balanced diet sort of person, so as long as I am sensible (good time to start?) I am good. Other people have tougher diets to fit their genetic makeup, such as low carb or low fat diets. We then delve into a slew of sensitivities, from alcohol to caffeine to spice to salt and sweetness, of which I pretty much am in the normal levels. Oddly broccoli and cauliflowers aren’t great for me. For the next multiple pages I have readings as to what nutritional elements (from Omega-3 to iodine) suit or rub against the grain of my genetics, findings that I have higher needs for fish and red meat to keep my body happy. We go through sports and fitness, with low endurance sports being my jam – yippee! – and everything else being pretty perfect except for the fact that my heart rate response to exercise is higher than average, meaning I am off to get one of those wrist monitors that everyone seems to be using these days.
The next section is wellbeing, of which I am again remarkably average, having a good life longevity, metabolic response, even appetite control! The test then reports on my sleeping and stress tendencies before telling me, rather rudely, that I had a high tendency for cellulite.
A surprise page I wasn’t expecting, was my ancestry report, which frankly blew me away more than just about everything else. Apparently, I am less than 10% Thai, my mother’s ancestors mostly coming from North China, Vietnam and interestingly 5% from the Middle East. On my father’s side, which is English and has a family tree dating back 300 years in Wales, I have ZERO Northwestern European blood. Apparently I am all Viking, Roman and Goth, with ancestry coming from Eastern, Northern and Southern Europe, with a wonderfully exotic splash of 1.15% African! While all of this had no practical value to me, it was absolutely fascinating and has me wondering which ones of my ancestors did what to whom.
The details in which the report goes is quite astounding. I know all about my pain sensitivity, my facial hair thickness, my hair colour and even my ear wax type! I was told that I am not a thrill seeker sexually, but have normal breast size…not sure what to do with that information, but there you go.
I then came across the fact that I am likely altruistic, which initially made me glow and gloat with pride. Until I Googled it to find out that altruism in genetics has no moral equivalency, as it basically means that in the race for the fitness to survive, I pretty much wouldn’t. So that’s not good, but thankfully we are living in a modern world and I won’t have to be out hunting, gathering and surviving any wilds. My personality trait is then explored, ranging from my conscientiousness to my neuroticism, all of which are thankfully within average norms.
If you have a child, the next section would also be of great interest, as you can identify your children’s genetic predisposition for good memory, language skills, creativity and even entrepreneurship. Does your child have an innate preponderance for music, dance or maths?
We then get to the crux of the matter for me and that is my health risks. I slowly flipped the page with great trepidation, only to find that my risks include schizophrenia, obesity (check), tooth decay (I can’t even blame my English DNA, as I seem to have none) and high cholesterol (check). Fascinatingly, the report said that I had a high chance of childhood ear infection, my mother reminding me that I had two ear operations as a young child.
I was shocked, and most thankful, to find that I had virtually no risk of any diseases (genetically, mind you), as page after page of terrifying diseases saw me in the clear – migraine, asthma, gout, psoriasis, and all sorts of scary sounding diseases. Dementia and other brain health issues were also not lurking in my DNA, as thankfully, none of the 35 types of identified cancers.
Next, I was given a list of drugs types which were not suitable for my genetics before skipping through the 16 pages of information on family planning. All of which showed that had I had children, I could never be blamed for any genetical malfunctions as I had zero defects to pass down.
While it does sound like I am crowing over my pretty decent genetics, I truly am not. As my GP said jokingly, anything that goes wrong with me, and many things likely will, will pretty much be my fault!
This has been a fascinating exercise for me. While I have nothing to fear genetically, the message which I have received loud and clear is that nature handed me a pretty golden goose, I had better take good care of it.
If you are at all interested in this test, I recommend you visit Bangkok Hospital Chiang Mai， BCM Wellness Center Royal Life Chiang Mai, where you can find out all about the test and perhaps use it to guide your body through a healthy life.
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