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Eschewing a “one-size-fits-all” approach to health and wellness, tech companies are digging into DNA to create personalized diet plans designed for our genes

As Marina Giokas sails the Strait of Georgia off the southwestern coast of B.C., her phone rings. Despite being on the high seas, the West Vancouver communications and finance consultant’s cell signal is clear as a bell.

“You’ve got to love technology,” she quips.

Giokas means that in more ways than one. Since 2018, Giokas has depended on nutrigenomics – the way genes interact with different foods and nutrients – to personalize her diet.

Since taking a DNA test through Vancouver company dnaPower Inc., Giokas has been using the company’s resulting personalized report to discover the best diet for her genetic makeup.

“It goes deep,” she says of the service. “It’s about what your body does not tolerate and what it needs more of.”

Marina Giokas, pictured here with her boat in West Vancouver, uses a personalized nutrigenomics report to guide her diet choices.


Giokas now eats more fruit and vegetables, washing them thoroughly to remove any pesticides or chemicals. And she’s said goodbye to supplements. Instead, Giokas has replaced them with the B vitamins the report said she needed.

After a tough year of treatment for breast cancer in 2017/2018, she’s hoping these simple changes to her diet and exercise regime will keep her feeling healthier.

Personalized diet and wellness plans based on DNA have grown in popularity in recent years as Canadians look for new, tech-savvy ways to improve their health. According to Statistics Canada, 63.1 per cent of Canadians are now considered either overweight or obese.

Health experts have long known that a one-size-fits-all approach to diet doesn’t work. One person might drop 20 pounds on a high fat diet or low carb diet, while the scale’s needle doesn’t budge for someone else who eats the same foods. So how can we know in advance which side of the equation someone will land on?

Clients of dnaPower Inc. receive a swab to collect their DNA, then send it back through the mail.


Lois Nahirney, president and founder of dnaPower, says she gets asked that question all the time, particularly in relation to the popular low-carb, high-fat Ketogenic diet. When people ask her if it’s right for them, she responds, “It depends.”

“I’m looking at a report right now that shows this person has a problem with dietary saturated fats. That’s someone who would have some challenges on a Keto diet,” she explains. Based on this person’s DNA, the company would likely recommend eating unsaturated fats found in flaxseed oil, hemp seed and walnuts. Leafy greens would get a thumbs up too, while dairy and fatty meats would go on the no-no list.

The idea behind nutrigenomics is that by understanding your unique DNA, you can match your diet choices to how your body processes nutrients. For example, research has linked specific genes, or groups of genes, to conditions like lactose sensitivity, food allergies, gluten intolerance and caffeine sensitivity. Nutrigenomics may reveal that someone should stay away from too much coffee, eat more healthy fats or specific vitamin-rich foods, for example.

Taking a DNA test is as easy as sticking a swab in your cheek and then mailing it back, says Nahirney. Results still come back within two to six weeks, and clients then can go over the results with a dnaPower dietitian. The cost is $299. (DNA-based reports addressing other wellness areas like exercise and brain health are also available for an added fee.)

Lois Nahirney, founder and CEO of dnaPOWER, at her home office in Vancouver.


dnaPower is only one of many companies using biometric readings to create targeted health and diet plans. There’s DNAfit from the U.K. which provides everything from sleep and stress reports to personalized diets and meal plans. Milwaukee, WI-based GenoPalate offers personalized recipes built from clients’ genetic results, and Toronto’s Nutrigenomix promises a way to “eat according to your genes.”

But the question for most potential clients might be: Does it work?

Kristin Kirkpatrick, a registered dietitian and wellness manager for the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, says she has seen firsthand how personalized nutrigenomic testing has helped patients commit to their diet once they understand which diets and exercise programs may work best for them. Some have switched from a Keto diet to a Mediterranean-based one. Others have swapped resistance training for more aerobic exercise.

Still, while DNA testing for wellness offers the potential for addressing more serious health conditions in the future, there’s more research to be done first, she says.

“Though DNA-based diets are trending and gaining valuable evidence through studies, we are not ready for prime time quite yet for recommending to all populations,” she says, mentioning that people may also be unable to afford genetic testing since it is not typically covered by insurance.

But Giokas is glad she took the plunge and shelled out for the test, even if she falls off the wagon from time to time, tempted by cheese and popcorn. Having her DNA-based health plan gives her the motivation to get back on track.

“I’m amazed just how simple it is to take control of your health once you have the information,” she says.