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How It Works
For $190, Helix will send you a DNA kit that requires a small saliva sample be sent back. This will take six weeks to process and in the meantime, you track your food intake and exercise habits with the LoseIt app. Once you receive your results within the Lose It! app, the program will be able to tell you if your habits are on the right track based on your genetic predispositions. They also provide additional resources such as in-depth DNA reports and scientific studies so that users can see the science and data behind their results.
Specifically, the report tracks 16 different genetic markers across the categories of weight loss, nutrition, fitness, and food sensitivities (such as gluten and lactose intolerance). For example, one marker can indicate a gene variant experienced by only 5 percent of the population, which causes those who have it to gain weight if they ingest more than 22 grams of saturated fat a day, says Kevin McCoy, Senior Vice President of Business Development at Lose It!. So if a person tests positive for that trait, the app monitors their saturated fat intake, alerts them when they’re consuming too much, and recommends alternative meals that cut down on saturated fat.
Other genetic markers can tell you if a low-fat diet might help you lose weight, or if you might be especially susceptible to weight gain caused by consuming sugary drinks.
Can It Help You Lose Weight?
McCoy notes that receiving these results alone won’t make someone instantly lose weight. “We give you the report, compare it to behavioral data, and prescribe actions,” he says. “All this is about behavior changes and people need to be motivated.” For his part, he believes receiving the information will be highly motivating for those trying to lose weight. But as the program is in beta testing, there isn’t any scientific data to back up embodyDNA’s effectiveness.
Experts are skeptical of the idea for many reasons, including that lack of data. While obesity can be genetic, most genetic variants only slightly increase your risk of developing obesity, with very few exceptions, says Margrit Urbanek, Ph.D. and Associate Professor of Endocrinology at Northwestern University, who specializes in the genetics of obesity. Genotyping 16 obesity-associated markers as the app proposes will only measure a relatively small set of genes contributing to obesity, she says. So while the results are based in science and fact, they only show one small piece of the genetic puzzle.
Furthermore, she says, we’re not far along enough in our study of genetic variations to make 100-percent effective recommendations. So even if the app did offer a complete assessment of genetic risks for obesity, the science isn’t far enough along to decipher the results properly. “While we can hypothesize as to which diet may be most appropriate for a given genetic background, we have no clinical data to back up this speculation,” she says.
But the team at Lose It! believes that knowledge, of any kind, is power. Again, different methods work for different people. Although the scientific data may not fully be there, if the results motivate you, that’s your prerogative.