Author Archives: dnaserver

What are the roles of vitamin D in the body?

Vitamin D is the “sunshine vitamin”. We can obtain this vitamin from a few foods, but our body is also able to synthesize vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunshine. In this article, we focus on the important roles that vitamin D plays in the body.

Healthy bones 
Most people are aware that calcium is essential for strong and healthy bones, but did you know that even if you consume plenty of calcium, it can’t play a proper role in the body if there is not enough vitamin D? This is because vitamin D is needed to promote calcium absorption in the gut, and it is also required for the body to be able to effectively use the calcium. In addition, vitamin D is required for the proper functioning of osteoblasts and osteoclasts–the cells responsible for ongoing bone growth and remodeling (1,2).

Vitamin D deficiency can lead to bone pain, with long-term deficiency causing rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults, as well as increasing the risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures (1).

Healthy muscles
Vitamin D is important for the normal development and growth of muscle fibers. Vitamin D promotion of calcium absorption is also important to prevent hypocalcemic tetany, which is when the muscle contract involuntary, leading to cramps and spasms. Healthy and strong muscles may also reduce the risk of fractures, particularly in the elderly, as healthy muscles reduce the risk of falls (1).

Inflammation and immune function
Vitamin D plays a role in regulating the immune response and controlling inflammation. The role vitamin D plays in controlling the levels of cytokines (small messenger proteins) is thought to also impact the association between vitamin D levels and bone health (3).

There are also possible links between vitamin D deficiency and skin conditions, such as psoriasis and skin cancer, as well as increased sensitivity to infections and autoimmune diseases (4).

Blood pressure control 
Vitamin D helps regulate the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system (and thereby blood pressure) (1), but there is conflicting evidence whether or not vitamin D supplementation is a beneficial treatment approach for high blood pressure (5).

Cell growth
Vitamin D plays important roles in controlling cell growth and proliferation, with possible links to slowing tumor growth, but the evidence is mixed for the prevention and progression of cancer. Although there is growing evidence that adequate or higher vitamin D intake can reduce the mortality rate of at least some cancers (1).

Glucose (blood sugar) metabolism
Insulin is the hormone that is absolutely essential for regulating blood glucose levels, and it has been shown that Vitamin D helps stimulate insulin secretion from the pancreatic beta cells. In addition, adequate vitamin D levels can reduce the risk of insulin resistance. Reduced insulin production and insulin resistance are characteristics of type 2 diabetes; hence why many people with diabetes also have low vitamin D levels. Research has shown that vitamin D supplementation may help lower average blood glucose levels in people with diabetes, particularly if they are also vitamin D deficient (6).

Brain processes
Vitamin D is also important for a healthy brain, by aiding in the function of the neuronal and glial tissue in the brain. This is why cognitive impairment, dementia, psychosis, and autism have all been linked with low vitamin D levels (7).

Measuring your vitamin D levels
Checking your vitamin D levels is quick and simple. It just requires a simple finger prick blood sample with our Vitamin D Test. This test measures your blood concentration of 25-OH vitamin D, which is the main indicator of vitamin D status. This test can tell you if your levels are in the healthy optimal range, or if you have mild to moderate deficiency, or if you have a severe deficiency. It can also detect vitamin D levels that are too high (vitamin D toxicity), which can occur in people who take an excessive amount of vitamin D supplements.

For more information about vitamin D, see our previous articles:

1. Vitamin D: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals (Updated August 2021). NIH.
2. Bikle DD. (2012). Vitamin D and Bone. Curr Osteoporos Rep. 10(2): 151-159.
3. Laird E, et al. (2010). Vitamin D and Bone Health; Potential Mechanisms. Nutrients. 2(7): 693-724.
4. Bouillon R, et al. (2019). Skeletal and extraskeletal actions of vitamin D: Current evidence and outstanding questions. Endocr Rev. 40(4): 1109-1151.
5. Zhang D, et al. (2020). Effect of Vitamin D on Blood Pressure and Hypertension in the General Population: An Update Meta-Analysis of Cohort Studies and Randomized Controlled Trials. Prev Chronic Dis. 17: 190307.
6. Vitamin D: A possible ally in the fight against diabetes. (2018). McMaster University.
7. Anjum I, et al. (2018). The role of vitamin D in brain health: A mini literature review. Cureus. 10(7): e2960.

There are such things as good fats!

Fats are not all bad for your health. In fact, fats can be thought of as “the good, the bad, and the ugly”.

Why do we need fats in our diet?
Dietary fats are an essential part of a healthy diet. They provide us with essential fatty acids, which the body is unable to synthesize itself. We need fats for energy, to protect our organs, and to help keep us warm. Fats are needed to absorb some nutrients (e.g., fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A, vitamin D, and vitamin E) and they are important for proper cell structure and function, blood clotting, muscle movement, inflammation, and the production of many important hormones (1, 2).

What are the different types of fat?
There are four major dietary fats in food (1). The “good fats” are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, the “bad fats” are saturated fats, and the “ugly fats” are trans fats.

These different types of fats all have nine calories in every gram of fat, while carbohydrates and proteins contain four calories per gram. If you consume too many calories, regardless of the source (good fat, bad fat, protein, or carb), it can lead to weight gain. But if you consume high levels of “the bad” and “the ugly” fats, you also increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. This is because these fats raise bad LDL cholesterol levels (1). For more information about LDL cholesterol, see our previous article “Bad” versus “good” cholesterol.

The different types of fats have different structures, which is why some fats (the good ones) are liquid at room temperature, while the bad ones are solid at room temperature (2). It is all to do with the bond formation between the carbons in the fats (3).

  • Unsaturated fats contain one (mono-) or more (poly-) double cis bonds, therefore they can’t bind to as many hydrogen atoms and there is a bend at each double cis bond.
  • Saturated fats contain only single bonds, therefore the carbon atoms are bound to as many hydrogen atoms as possible (i.e. they are saturated with hydrogens).
  • Trans fats are also unsaturated but the double bond is a trans bond (instead of a cis bond). This results in a straight chain (rather than a bent chain like the unsaturated fats).

This article focuses on “the good” monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Monounsaturated fats
Good sources of monounsaturated fats include:

  • Olive oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Canola oil
  • Avocadoes
  • Most nuts

The Mediterranean diet is a diet that is high in monounsaturated fats (olive oil) and is associated with a low rate of heart disease, despite being a somewhat high-fat diet (2).

Polyunsaturated fats
Polyunsaturated fats are essential fats, which means they are required for normal functions (e.g., making cell membranes) but the body is unable to produce them so must obtain them from dietary sources. The two main types of polyunsaturated fats are omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids (2).

Omega-3 fatty acids have a wide range of health benefits, including reducing blood pressure, raising good HDL cholesterol, and lowering triglycerides–all things that help prevent heart disease and stroke (2). Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Flaxseeds
  • Walnuts
  • Canola oil

Omega-6 fatty acids also offer protection from heart disease (2). Good sources of omega-6 fatty acids include:

  • Safflower oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Corn oil

The “bad fats” and the “ugly fats”
Saturated “bad fats” are common in the American diet and are found in red meat, whole milk, cheese, coconut oil, and many commercially prepared foods. A diet high in saturated fats is associated with higher cholesterol levels, particularly increased bad LDL cholesterol levels, which increase the risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease. Most experts recommend limiting saturated fats to under 10% of calories a day (2), with the American Heart Association recommending just 5-6% of calories from saturated fats (4).

See our previous article here for more information about atherosclerosis.

Trans fats are the worst type of fat. Some trans fats are naturally occurring (from some animal products), while other trans fats are produced artificially by adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. Trans fats raise bad LDL cholesterol, lower good HDL cholesterol, and are associated with a significantly increased risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as an increased risk of type 2 diabetes (5).

How can I check my cholesterol levels?
We offer a range of at-home tests for checking the impact of your diet on your cholesterol levels. See the Related Tests section at the bottom for all the tests that we have available. Each of these tests just requires a tiny blood sample from a self-collected finger-prick. No need to make a doctor’s appointment for sample collection and your results are available online as soon as testing is complete.

1. Dietary Fats. (Reviewed Nov 2021). American Heart Association.
2. The truth about fats: the good, the bad, and the in-between. (Dec 2019). Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School.
3. Marchand V. (2010). Trans fats: What physicians should know. Paediatr Child Health. 15(6): 373-375.
4. Saturated Fat. (Reviewed Nov 2021). American Heart Association.
5. Trans Fats. (Reviewed March 2017). American Heart Association.

Signs and symptoms of high progesterone in women

Progesterone is a female sex hormone that is primarily produced in the corpus luteum in normally menstruating women. The main role of progesterone is to prepare the body for pregnancy (1).

For more information about progesterone, see our previous article “What is progesterone?

What are normal progesterone levels?
Progesterone levels fluctuate during each menstrual cycle. They are low (<0.5 ng/mL) during the follicular phase, with a rapid rise following the luteinizing hormone (LH) surge at ovulation to 10-25 ng/mL. If no conception occurs, progesterone levels decline, and menstruation beings. If an egg is fertilized, the corpus luteum maintains progesterone levels until around week six. The placenta produces progesterone for the remainder of the pregnancy, with levels increasing up to 45 ng/mL in the first trimester, and 230 ng/mL in the third trimester (2).

Estrogen-progesterone balance
Estrogen is the other main female hormone, and the balance of progesterone and estrogen is very important for female health. Although an excess of estrogen (known as estrogen dominance) is more common, some women are instead affected by excess progesterone.

What can cause high progesterone?
An excess of progesterone (in relation to estrogen) can be caused by various factors, including:

  • Menstrual cycle changes, such as an extended luteal phase when progesterone levels are higher
  • Reduced estrogen
  • Excess supplementation with progesterone or progesterone precursors
  • Pregnancy
  • Adrenal-related problems
  • Stress

What are the signs of high progesterone?
There is a wide range of symptoms associated with high progesterone, including:

  • Weight changes, usually weight gain
  • Low mood
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness or spinning sensation
  • Bloating and water retention
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Anxiety

How can I measure my progesterone levels?
Measuring the levels of progesterone in your blood is very simple and only requires a tiny blood sample from a self-collected finger-prick. See our Progesterone test for more information.

Since the balance between progesterone and estrogen is very important, it is generally recommended that you also measure your estrogen levels at the same time. We offer a test for Estradiol, which is the predominant form of estrogen.

Alternatively, you may wish to select our Women’s Health Hormone Panel, which measures your levels of progesterone and estradiol alongside 10 other important biomarkers.

Are there treatment options for high progesterone?
The treatment options for high progesterone are targeted at the underlying cause, so it is important to determine what could be causing high progesterone.

If high progesterone is associated with taking a progesterone supplement (such as to treat estrogen dominance or other issues around menopause), the dosage of the supplement may need to be reduced.

Birth control pills (which contain a synthetic form of progesterone) can also trick the body into thinking it has too much progesterone and causes some of the common high progesterone symptoms. Hence, it may be necessary to come off birth control pills or switch to a different option.

Adrenal fatigue can cause increased progesterone (3), often accompanied by high cortisol (another hormone analyzed in our Women’s Health Hormone Panel). High cortisol is a sign of stress, so taking measures to reduce stress can be beneficial.

Sometimes thyroid abnormalities can also affect the production of other hormones, so it may be necessary to check your thyroid function and treat any abnormalities. We also offer several thyroid health tests, including our Thyroid Health, Complete Panel.

1. Weigel NL, & Rowan BG. (2001). Estrogen and progesterone action. In L. J. DeGroot, & J. L. Jameson, Endocrinology (Vol. 3, 2053-2060). Philadelphia: WB Saunders Co.
2. Pagana KD, Pagana TJ, Pagana TN. Mosby’s Diagnostic & Laboratory Test Reference. 14th ed. St. Louis, Mo: Elsevier; 2019.
3. Herrera AY, Nielsen SE, Mather M. (2016) Stress-induced increases in progesterone and cortisol in naturally cycling women. Neurobiol Stress. 3:96-104.

Why does it hurt to pee?

Burning sensation while peeing? Or maybe a sharp, stabbing pain as you pee? Whatever your symptoms, dysuria (painful urination) is not a pleasant experience.

Dysuria is usually caused by irritation and inflammation of the bladder trigone (neck of the bladder) or urethra (tube that drains urine from the bladder). If the irritation is affecting the trigone, it can cause bladder contraction, resulting in painful urination, as well as more frequent urination. Irritation in the urethra also causes pain while peeing, but generally doesn’t cause an increased frequency (1). Women can also suffer from dysuria due to inflammation in the vagina or in the region around the vaginal opening (2).

What can cause dysuria?
Dysuria is usually caused by an infection (2), such as:

  • Urinary tract infection (UTI). This is commonly uncomplicated cystitis (bladder infection), particularly in females. However, complicated UTIs can also occur and are associated with a higher risk of treatment failure, so must be diagnosed and treated appropriately (3).
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs). These can cause inflammation in various parts of the female and male reproductive tract.
  • Prostatitis (infection of the prostate in males). The prostate may feel tender during a digital rectal exam. Often accompanied by fever, difficulty starting urination, and frequent urination.
  • Yeast infection. Other symptoms can include a thick discharge, redness, and swelling.

Dysuria can also be caused by other health issues, including:

  • Connective tissue disorders that cause inflammation
  • An allergic reaction to a substance (e.g., spermicide or lubricant)
  • Interstitial cystitis (bladder inflammation that is not due to an infection)
  • Thinning of the tissues in the vagina or urethra (common in postmenopausal women)
  • Tumors in the bladder, prostate, or urethra. Your doctor may suggest a PSA test for the detection of prostate cancer. See our previous article here for more information about PSA. 

Which sexually transmitted infections can cause dysuria?
Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis can all cause pain during urination. For more information about each of these STIs, please see our previous posts:

Each of these STIs may not cause any symptoms, or they may cause symptoms that are easily confused with a urinary tract infection. The only way to be sure of an accurate STI diagnosis is to get tested. We offer individual tests for each of these three STIs, as well as a combination test that detects all three STIs from one self-collected urine sample. See the Related Tests section below for links to each of these tests.

1. Maddukuri G. (Reviewed Jan 2021). Dysuria, Merck Manual Professional Version.
2. Maddukuri G. (Reviewed May 2021). Pain or Burning With Urination (Dysuria), Merck Manual Consumer Version.
3. Michels TC & Sands JE. (2015). Dysuria: Evaluation and Differential Diagnosis in Adults. Am Fam Physician. 92(9): 778-788.

Possible causes of erectile dysfunction and how to treat them

Erectile dysfunction is the inability to get and/or keep an erection that is firm enough for sexual activities. Formerly called impotence, this problem affects up to 20 million men in the United States. Erectile dysfunction is more common in older men, but in many cases, the issue can be successfully treated (1).

What are the possible causes of erectile dysfunction?
Most cases of erectile dysfunction are due to physiological (physical health) factors, but psychological (mental) factors can be the cause in some men, as well as compounding the problem in men with underlying physiological causes (1).

Physical causes of erectile dysfunction include:

  • Reduced blood flow to the penis, which may be due to atherosclerosis (hardened arteries), endothelial dysfunction (when blood vessels cannot vasodilate efficiently), and other heart diseases. For more information about atherosclerosis, see our previous article here.
  • Inability to trap blood during an erection
  • Issues with the nerve signals from the brain or spinal cord to the penis. These can be caused by stroke, seizures, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, and surgeries (2).
  • Cancer treatments near the pelvis (e.g., for prostate, colon-rectal, or bladder cancer)
  • Medications for other health problems
  • Low testosterone (also associated with reduced libido (sex drive)). We offer several tests to measure your testosterone levels (see list in the bottom section of this page). For more information about the signs of low testosterone in males, see our previous article here
  • Structural disorders of the penis (e.g., Peyronie disease)

What factors are associated with an increased risk of erectile dysfunction?

  • Smoking
  • Older age (over 50 years)
  • Diabetes (erectile dysfunction is 3.5 x more common in diabetics compared to non-diabetics (3))
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Drug use
  • Excess alcohol consumption
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Prolonged perineal pressure (e.g., from bicycle riding)
  • Depression
  • Anxiety (particularly related to sexual performance)
  • Stress

How can erectile dysfunction be treated?
The treatment for erectile dysfunction often starts by treating the underlying cause. For example, if you are also affected by high cholesterol, your doctor may suggest making dietary changes, increasing physical exercise, and considering statin medications to lower your cholesterol levels. Diabetics may require more frequent glucose testing to ensure they are maintaining a healthy blood glucose level. Treatment of emotional problems may also be required, such as counseling and medication for depression.

Treatments directly targeted at erectile dysfunction include:

  • Oral drugs (e.g., Viagra)
  • Testosterone therapy (if low testosterone is detected)
  • Penile injections (can be self-administered with appropriate training)
  • Intraurethral medication (tiny pill placed inside the urethra)
  • Vacuum erection devices
  • Penile implants
  • Surgery to bypass penile artery damage

1. Hirsch IH. (Modified July 2020). Erectile Dysfunction. Merck Manual Professional Version.
2. What is Erectile Dysfunction? (Updated June 2018). Urology Care Foundation.
3. Shindel AW & Lue TF. (2017). Sexual Dysfunction in Diabetes. Endotext [Internet].

Why you should get routine Pap smears

Cervical cancer used to be the leading cause of cancer-associated deaths in women in the United States. But since the introduction of routine Pap smears, both the number of cervical cancer deaths and the number of cervical cancer cases have decreased significantly (1).

What is a Pap smear?
A Pap smear (or Pap test) is conducted by a doctor to check for abnormalities in the cervix. A speculum is inserted into the vagina to widen it and allow the doctor to gently collect cells from the cervix using a small brush. The whole process only takes a few minutes and doesn’t usually cause any pain. The collected cells are then examined under a microscope to check for cervical cancer or cell changes that may lead to cervical cancer (2).

Are there other tests to detect cervical cancer early?
More than 99% of cervical cancer cases are linked to a persistent infection with one of the high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) genotypes. And these infections can be simply detected by lab analyses of a cervical swab; hence why HPV testing is an alternative option to screen for cervical cancers at an early stage (4).

For more information about HPV testing and cervical cancer, see our previous articles:

How often should I get a Pap smear and HPV test?
The CDC recommendations for Pap smear frequency are:

  • Start getting Pap smears at 21 years of age
  • 21–29 years of age: Get a Pap smear every three years
  • 30–65 years of age: There are three options for this age bracket:
    • A Pap smear every three years
    • An HPV test every five years
    • Co-testing (HPV test + Pap smear) every five years
  • Older than 65 years of age: Screening is no longer usually necessary.

These recommendations are assuming that each Pap smear or HPV test is returning normal results. If there are any abnormalities or other risk factors (e.g., immunocompromised), more frequent testing and other procedures may be required (3).

Can I take an HPV test from home?
Although Pap smears require a visit to the doctor, HPV testing is now available from a self-collected cervical swab, such as our at-home HPV test available here.

After ordering an HPV test, the testing kit will be promptly mailed to you. The test kit contains all the instructions and supplies required for collection. The cervical swab sample can be painlessly collected in the privacy of your own home and only takes a few minutes. The sample is then mailed back to our laboratory for a very accurate, fully automated analysis that detects nucleic acids from the 14 high-HPV genotypes that are associated with an increased risk of cervical cancer.

1. Cervical Cancer Statistics. (Reviewed June 2021). CDC.
2. Pap smear. NIH, National Cancer Institute.
3. What should I know about screening? (Reviewed Jan 2021). CDC.
4. Cervical Cancer. WHO.

Posted in HPV

Cholesterol levels in common foods

Maybe you want to keep your cholesterol at a healthy level but you are a bit confused about what to eat and what not to eat. In this article, we briefly discuss what cholesterol actually is, why you should limit your cholesterol intake, and cholesterol content in common foods.

What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy type of fat (lipid), which travels around the body in the blood. It is an essential molecule, as it is required for building cells, producing bile for digestion, and making vitamins and hormones. Cholesterol is produced in adequate quantities in the liver, but can also be obtained from foods from animals (1).

Why should you limit your cholesterol intake?
There are both “bad” and “good” forms of cholesterol, referring to how the cholesterol is packaged to move around the body. “Bad” LDL cholesterol is what gets deposited in blood vessel walls and increases the risk of heart disease. “Good” HDL cholesterol is the cholesterol that has been scavenged from around the body and is getting delivered back to the liver for recycling and excretion (2).

For more information about the different types of cholesterol, see our previous article “Bad” versus “good” cholesterol.

Keeping your cholesterol at healthy levels is very important for good cardiovascular health, but there are also other factors that can influence the risk of heart disease. See our article “What are the risk factors for heart disease?”

How much cholesterol should I consume?
If you have risk factors for heart disease (e.g., high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes), it is important to limit your cholesterol intake to 200 mg or less per day. If you do not have any risk factors, an intake of up to 300 mg per day is acceptable (3).

What common foods are high in cholesterol?
Cholesterol is only found in animal foods, while fruits, vegetables, grains, and all other plant foods do not contain any cholesterol (3). So let’s go over a few common animal foods that contain quite a lot of cholesterol, and also alternatives that are a good choice to reduce cholesterol intake.

  • Whole milk: 1 cup has 33 mg cholesterol. But if you choose a low-fat or non-fat option, you can cut your intake to just 10 mg or 4 mg, respectively.
  • Yogurt: 1 cup has 29 mg cholesterol. Once again, a non-fat option is a lot healthier, containing only 10 mg.
  • Cheddar cheese: 1 oz has 30 mg cholesterol. Consider choosing low-fat cottage cheese instead for just 10 mg in 1 cup.
  • Butter: 1 teaspoon has 11 mg cholesterol, but the same quantity of vegetable oil doesn’t contain any cholesterol.
  • Eggs: 1 egg contains approximately 212 mg of cholesterol, but research has shown that cholesterol from eggs doesn’t increase blood cholesterol levels the same as other animal foods. In fact, many studies have shown that an egg a day does not increase the risk of heart disease for most people. Although, egg intake should be limited to three per week for those with other heart disease risk factors or who already have heart disease (4).
  • Meats:
    • Ground beef: 3.5 oz has 78 mg cholesterol.
    • Porkchop: 3.5 oz has 85 mg cholesterol.
    • Chicken (without skin): 3.5 oz has 85 mg cholesterol.
    • Lamb (foreshank): 3.5 oz has 106 mg cholesterol.
  • Fish:
    • Salmon: 3.5 oz has 63 mg cholesterol
    • Tuna (in water): 3.5 oz has 30 mg cholesterol
  • Consider other protein options to reduce your cholesterol intake, such as tofu and pinto beans, which don’t contain any cholesterol.

What are ways to reduce cholesterol?
Obviously reducing your consumption of animal foods can reduce blood cholesterol levels. Other options include increasing your fiber intake, limiting carbohydrate, alcohol, and fat intake, losing weight, increasing your physical activity, and abstaining from smoking (5).

How can I measure my cholesterol levels?
We offer a range of tests to measure your cholesterol levels, and each test just requires a tiny blood sample self-collected from a simple finger-prick.

1. What is Cholesterol? American Heart Association. (2020).
2. HDL (Good), LDL (Bad) Cholesterol and Triglycerides. American Heart Association. (2020).
3. Cholesterol Content of Foods, Patient Education. UCSF Health.
4. Are eggs risky for heart health? (June 2019). Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School.
5. LDL and HDL Cholesterol: “Bad” and “Good” Cholesterol. CDC. Reviewed Jan 2020.

Can I check my vitamin and mineral levels from home?

The short answer is yes, you can easily check vitamin and mineral levels from home. And all it requires is a simple self-collected finger-prick blood sample.

Why should you check your vitamin and mineral levels?
The Second Nutrition Report (1) published by the CDC found less than 10% of the U.S. population had nutrition deficiencies. However, specific deficiencies in certain populations are a lot more common. For example, vitamin D deficiency affects only 3% of non-Hispanic white people, but 31% of non-Hispanic black people.

Many nutrient deficiencies do not cause any symptoms in the early stages, but this is when they should be corrected so no health complications occur. Taking a simple blood test can indicate what nutrients you may need to increase intake of, either through dietary changes or by taking additional supplements.

Consider taking a vitamin and mineral test if:

  • You’re affected by unexplained fatigue or other general illness
  • You’re often affected by illnesses that don’t seem to affect others as much
  • You’re experiencing mood changes or your mental health is affected
  • You’re planning a pregnancy or are already pregnant
  • You suffer from a disorder that can affect your nutrient absorption (e.g., celiac disease, Crohn’s disease)
  • You’re over age 50
  • You have had previous nutrient deficiencies
  • Your weight has changed unexpectantly
  • Or you just want to improve your overall health!

How can I check my nutrition levels from home?
Previously, a doctor’s visit or laboratory appointment was required to collect a blood sample for nutritional testing. However, that is no longer the case, as we offer at-home test kits to make the whole process a lot simpler.

Simply order the test you require (see our comprehensive list here) and a test kit will be shipped out to you. The test kit contains all the samples and instructions that you need to collect your own blood sample. And don’t worry, only a tiny amount of blood is required and it is simply collected from a relatively painless finger-prick. No needles required!

After collecting your sample, return it to our laboratory for very accurate and fully automated laboratory analyses. As soon as testing is complete, your results are available through our secure online portal. We recommend discussing any abnormal results with your healthcare provider to determine what steps you should take to improve your nutritional health.

What vitamin and mineral tests are available through Genetrack Diagnostics?
We offer tests for several of the most common deficiencies:

*We offer different analyses for a thorough understanding of your iron status: Iron, Ferritin, Transferrin, and TIBC.

Should I take a combination test?
A deficiency in one vitamin or mineral can increase the risk of other deficiencies; hence a combination test is often a wise choice. We offer the following combination tests:

For more information about the vitamins and minerals that we offer laboratory tests for, see our other articles here.

1. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Second National Report on Biochemical Indicators of Diet and Nutrition in the U.S. Population 2012. Atlanta (GA): National Center for Environmental Health; April 2012.

All about Hashimoto’s disease and Graves’ disease

Hashimoto’s disease and Graves’ disease are two autoimmune disorders that affect the function of the thyroid. Hashimoto’s disease almost always causes hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), although in rare cases, it can cause hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). Graves’ disease causes hyperthyroidism.

What is the thyroid gland?
The thyroid gland is a small organ located just under the skin in the neck. This bow tie-shaped organ is usually only about 5 cm across and normally can’t be felt or seen. The thyroid releases specific hormones (chemical messengers) that act on almost every tissue in the body (1). These thyroid hormones help regulate so many vital body functions, including:

  • Heart rate
  • Skin maintenance
  • Heat production
  • Fertility
  • Growth
  • Digestion
  • Rate at which calories are burned

What are autoimmune disorders?
Normally the immune system defends the body against disease and infection. But sometimes, the immune system attacks healthy cells, tissues, and organs instead. This is what is known as an autoimmune disorder or disease. When one of these disorders occurs, the attacked cells, tissues, or organs cannot function properly, and can sometimes cause life-threatening disease (2). The most well-known autoimmune disorder is type 1 diabetes, where the immune system attacks and destroys the beta cells in the pancreas, resulting in an inability to produce and secrete insulin.

What is Hashimoto’s disease?
Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disorder, where the immune system produces antibodies that attack the thyroid gland. This damages the thyroid gland and it is unable to make enough thyroid hormones, resulting in hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) (3).

Hashimoto’s disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism, which affects about 5 in 100 Americans. It is a lot more common in women than men and usually develops in women aged 30–50 years. People who have other family members with the disease and/or have other autoimmune disorders (e.g., celiac disease, lupus, type 1 diabetes) are at increased risk of developing Hashimoto’s disease (3).

What are the symptoms and complications of Hashimoto’s disease?
Many people do not show any symptoms in the early stages of Hashimoto’s disease, but as more and more thyroid damage occurs, a range of symptoms can occur (3), including:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Constantly feeling cold
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Constipation
  • Dry skin
  • Dry, thinning hair
  • Irregular menstrual periods
  • Fertility problems
  • Slower heart rate
  • Enlarged thyroid (called goiter)

Untreated hypothyroidism can cause several health problems (3), including:

  • High cholesterol
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Pregnancy problems

What causes Hashimoto’s disease?
In many cases, the cause of Hashimoto’s disease is unknown (3), but some factors that may play a role include:

  • Genetics (as family history is common)
  • Viruses (e.g., hepatitis C)
  • Some medications for mental health problems
  • Iodine-containing medications to treat abnormal heart rhythm
  • Toxins (e.g., nuclear radiation exposure)

What is Graves’ disease?
Graves disease is also an autoimmune disorder, where the immune system produces antibodies that attack the thyroid gland. However, Graves’ disease, actually triggers the thyroid gland to produce more thyroid hormones, resulting in hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) (4).

Graves disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism, affecting about 1 in 200 Americans. Like Hashimoto’s disease, Graves’ disease is also a lot more common in women than men, usually affecting people between the ages of 30 and 50 years. People who have other family members with the disease and/or have other autoimmune disorders (e.g., celiac disease, lupus, type 1 diabetes) are at increased risk of developing Graves’ disease (4).

What are the symptoms and complications of Graves’ disease?
A range of symptoms are associated with hyperthyroidism caused by Graves’ disease (4), including:

  • Weight loss
  • Heat intolerance
  • Muscle weakness
  • Frequent bowel movements or diarrhea
  • Trembling hands
  • Nervousness or irritability
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Faster heart rate
  • Enlarged thyroid (called goiter)

Untreated hyperthyroidism can cause several health problems (4), including:

  • Irregular heartbeat, increasing the risk of blood clots, stroke, and heart failure
  • Weakened bones and osteoporosis
  • Pregnancy problems
  • Graves’ ophthalmopathy (an eye disease that can cause double vision, light sensitivity, and eye pain

What causes Graves’ disease?
In Graves’ disease, the immune system produces an abnormal antibody called thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulin (TSI) that mimics the effects of the normal thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and hence tells the thyroid to produce an excessive amount of thyroid hormones. But what actually triggers the immune system to produce TSI is not fully understood. It is likely a combination of genetics (as family history is common in affected people) and an outside influence like a virus (4).

How are Hashimoto’s disease and Graves’ disease diagnosed?
Medical history, physical exams, and blood tests are commonly used to diagnose thyroid issues, including Hashimoto’s disease and Graves’ disease. Blood tests may include:

We offer each of these tests from a self-collected finger-prick blood sample. Tests are available as individual tests (links included above) or all combined together in our Thyroid Health, Complete Panel.

1. Hershnan JM. (Modified Oct 2020). Overview of the Thyroid Gland. Merck Manual Consumer Version
2. Autoimmune Diseases. (Reviewed July 2021). NIH, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
3. Hashimoto’s Disease. (Reviewed June 2021). NIH, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
4. Graves’ Disease. (Reviewed Sept 2017). NIH, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Testing for HIV is quick and simple

At the end of 2019, an estimated 1,189,700 people in the United States were predicted to have HIV. However, it’s not possible to determine an exact figure as about 13% of HIV-positive people in the U.S. are unaware of their HIV status (1).

This lack of knowledge is because many people infected with HIV are unaware of the infection in the early stage (acute, stage 1), as they may not experience any symptoms or only mild symptoms (e.g. headache and sore throat) that can be easily confused with other illnesses (1).

Have you been at risk of catching HIV?
Maybe you have had unprotected sex recently or you have shared injectable drug equipment with someone else. You could unknowingly be carrying HIV and at risk of transmitting it to others too.

Get peace of mind and take an HIV test today. Testing is quick, relatively painless, and simple.
We offer a 4th generation HIV test that detects both the HIV p24 antigen and HIV antibodies. The HIV p24 antigen is a structural component of the viral particle and can usually be detected in the blood of an infected individual from 2-3 weeks after infection. However, p24 antigen levels in the blood begin to decrease 3-4 weeks post-exposure until no longer detectable. HIV antibodies are produced by an infected individual in response to the viral infection. They are usually not detectable until 4-6 weeks after exposure or up to 3-6 months in some cases, but then generally remain detectable (2).

Our test just requires a tiny blood sample self-collected from a finger-prick. This blood sample is then sent to our laboratory for analysis by a fully automated immunoassay–the same very accurate assay type that is used by doctors, clinics, and hospitals all over North America. But our test has one distinct advantage–there is no need to make a doctor’s appointment to get your sample collected. Collect the sample in privacy at home and receive your results online as soon as testing is complete.

HIV testing window period
It is important to note that there is a window period of 45-90 days, during which HIV diagnostic tests may produce a negative result, although infected individuals can still transmit the virus to others. This is because there are just not enough of the tested molecules (antigen and antibodies) present to be detected by laboratory assays. Follow-up testing is recommended for any individuals with a negative result who may have been exposed to HIV. An alternative test type that detects HIV nucleic acid in the very early stages of an infection is also an option (3).

What if I test positive?
Although an HIV diagnosis is still very unpleasant news, it is no longer the death sentence it once was. Even though there is no cure for HIV, antiretroviral therapy (ART) is a very effective treatment to prevent the progression of HIV and to prevent the transmission of HIV to others. It enables HIV-positive individuals to live relatively normal, healthy lives (3).

For more information about HIV treatment, please see our previous article “How is HIV treated?

1. HIV Basics. CDC.
2. Busch MP, et al. (1995) Time course of detection of viral and serologic markers preceding human immunodeficiency virus type 1 seroconversion: implications for screening of blood and tissue donors. Transfusion, 35 (2), 91-97.
3. HIV/AIDS. World Health Organization.

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