No longer the fantasy of science fiction, the days of genetic testing have arrived. And while tests for serious diseases are continuously coming to market, the public's insatiable desire to defy aging has driven the growth of several tests with beauty implications.
Genetic tests from a handful of companies -- including DermaGenoma, Navigenics, 23andme, and Decode Genetics -- can ascertain your predisposition for cellulite, hair loss, obesity, psoriasis and the potentially fatal and disfiguring melanoma skin cancer.
A simple cotton swab swipe inside the cheek completes the test, and the specimen is mailed to a lab for examination and analysis. And while no one can tell you with 100% certainty that you will develop the condition at hand since environmental factors and personal choices can play such a strong role, results will reveal whether you have a greater genetic disposition than the rest of the population.
With summer temperatures soaring and skin-baring months ahead of us, DermaGenoma just launched a genetic test for moderate to severe cellulite.
"Even though cellulite affects a large percentage of women, very few scientific studies have attempted to understand the underlying molecular and physiological basis. Our study of cellulite is a breakthrough in the understanding of the cause of cellulite, and ushers an era of new potential therapies for cellulite," says Dr. Enzo Emanuele, Research fellow at the University of Pavia, Italy.
Let's say you do test with a strong predisposition to the cellulite gene. Now what?
"Existing therapies are unlikely to reverse severe cellulite once it has occurred; however, early lifestyle changes including exercise, medication choices -- avoiding birth control and hormone replacement therapy -- as well as laser therapy may slow or stop development of severe cellulite and improve visual aesthetics," says a DermaGenoma spokesperson.
"I'm not enthused about people just sending a specimen to a lab and getting a report without it being placed in the context of overall health. If you just get a report, the information isn't valuable. You need a physician who is part of the entire process, who partners with you in your healthcare and can show you how to minimize your risks and prevent disease," says Dr. Abrams.
As an included part of the cost of their reports, Navigenics offers telephone consultations with their trained genetic counselors who explain how you can implement lifestyle changes based on your test. Results are also supplied in a user-friendly picture chart, of which you can view a sample on their online tutorial.
A report on medications that would most likely work best with your body chemistry is also included with Navigenics results, in hopes of eliminating the prescription trial-and-error process so many patients have to sludge through before they find something that works.
Navigenics offers tests for melanoma, psoriasis and obesity, among a long list of other disease. Dr. Abrams deals with predisposed results for each situation by showing patients how to best decrease their chances of getting the diseases.
Psoriasis is trickier, as not much can be done to prevent the itchy scales that leave so many patients feeling self-conscious about showing uncovered arms and legs in public. However, knowing about a predisposition can allow for an earlier correct diagnosis of a rash so that it's treated quickly, as psoriasis is often misdiagnosed as eczema at first, says Dr. Abrams.
People predisposed to obesity are taught how to be more vigilant about the quantity and quality of their diet. "It also helps people's spirits and even motivation when they understand it's a gene they've inherited, and that it's not totally their fault for being overweight," says Dr. Abrams.
There's a chance tests could be covered by insurance if the illness is serious and it's likely you have a hereditary factor for it, according to three participating physicians we spoke with who use the tests regularly with patients. Comprehensive packages of multiple tests tend not yet to be covered by insurance, but it's always a good idea to double check with your own provider.
So with cellulite and hair thinning genetics already discovered, could a test for much-loathed wrinkles be far off?
"I'm willing to bet someone is already working on it. We've all seen people who have looked younger or older than their age, and it's not always due to environmental factors. I suspect there's a significant genetic link there," says a California physician who asked that his name not be used due to discomfort with the controversial topic.
Dr. Abrams agrees that whether it's for the treatment of wrinkles or something far more serious, genetic testing will continue to rapidly evolve.
"In the very near future, we'll be able to do a complete genomic assessment of any person, and then develop a plan around the results to minimize disease risks. Gene-based personalized medicine will be the standard in the future.'
Yet test results aren't the end-all and be-all, either, says Dr. Abrams.
"Genes aren't your destiny. Your genetic profile shows a predisposition, but other factors are critical and can sometimes even be greater. Non-genetic factors can sometimes even provide the greatest risk of all," says Dr.Abrams.
Cigarette smoking, tanning booth visits and high saturated fat and cholesterol diets are all factors that can tip the scales against you, even if your genetic profile shows no predisposition to ills like skin cancer and heart disease.
Like skincare devotees who slather on the sunscreen daily, genetic testing is most effectively utilized by those who believe prevention is better than a cure.
Meanwhile, read more about the disturbing trend of discount plastic surgery.