Big Pharma Is In Your Genes

      20 Comments on Big Pharma Is In Your Genes

Lori Miller, who comments frequently here on the blog, sent me links to a couple of interesting posts she wrote about 23andMe. Here’s a quote from the first one:

GlaxoSmithKline, one of the world’s largest drug makers, recently bought a $300 million stake in 23 and Me, a genetic testing company. The two also signed an agreement giving GlaxoSmithKline exclusive rights to customer data. The data is de-identified, aggregate customer information.

Yikes. Now why would a pharmaceutical giant want to own a big piece of 23andMe? I’d like to believe them that the data is de-identified, but my paranoid side can’t help but wonder: wouldn’t GlaxoSmithKline just loooove to know whose genes make them potential customers for the company’s drugs?

Moving on to the second post:

23andMe, the genetic testing company, sent me a new report saying I have a 64% chance of developing diabetes based on my genetics. Having at least three diabetic grandparents and hypoglycemia from the time I was a kid, I already figured I was a case of diabetes waiting to happen if I didn’t take precautions.

If I followed 23andMe’s crappy advice, I’d probably become one of those cases. GlaxoSmithKline, maker of the diabetes drug Avandia, owns a $300 million share of 23andMe. Some of 23andMe’s advice for avoiding diabetes is good–avoid added sugars, refined flour and potatoes. Thanks to the work of journalists, bloggers, podcasters, and a few renegade doctors and researchers who attacked the low-fat orthodoxy, they have to throw that in now to avoid losing all credibility. But their advice on what to eat instead isn’t very helpful for filling you up and keeping you from snacking on foods with flour and sugar:

Hmmm. I sent my DNA sample to 23andMe last year because Chareva’s mom bought us the kits for Christmas. The only mild surprise is that I’m 0.4% West African (which means I’m more African than Elizabeth Warren is Cherokee). Other than that, no big surprises. I’m roughly three-quarters Irish, which I already knew.

Now I kind of regret ever sending them my DNA. I don’t think they’ll do anything evil with it, you understand, but I don’t like knowing they’re in bed with GlaxoSmithKline. As Lori mentions, do we really believe a drug-maker is interested in passing out dietary advice that would reduce the market for diabetes drugs?

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20 thoughts on “Big Pharma Is In Your Genes

  1. Kerry

    I bought four of the kits a couple years ago because I wanted to see if anyone in my family had a MTHFR mutation. None of us ever ended up doing it, however, and now I’m glad of that fact.

  2. Tom Welsh

    Diabetes gives me a problem – a real headache. Also cancer, heart disease, tooth decay and dozens of other illnesses.

    The thing is, there are many detailed and authoritative accounts of studies done by doctors, scientists and other experts on the health of “primitive” peoples all round the world. Those studies coincide in some ways with what is known about the few remaining hunter-gatherers and nomadic peoples today, and those who lived before the Agricultural Revolution of about 10,000 years ago.

    Apparently such diseases as cancer and diabetes were virtually unknown. People ate their traditional diets, never even thought of cleaning their teeth or swilling chemical mouthwashes, yet most of them never developed a single cavity.

    How come?

    So when I read that someone’s genes dispose her to diabetes, I tend to wonder how such genes can have come about. After all, everything I know suggests that the “diseases of civilization” are caused by “civilized” life – especially its diet, lack of exercise, pollution and stress. Diet looks like the Number One suspect.

    1. Lori Miller

      Tom, when people from primitive tribes like the Pima or Aborigines start eating a typical western diet, their rates of diabetes explode well beyond that of the general population. Since my ancestry is almost entirely northwestern European (think long winters and some rocky terrain), it could be that my ancestors didn’t have a great need for carbohydrate tolerance until somewhat recently. I agree diet is important for someone like me–but diet doesn’t determine genes. Most overweight people do not have diabetes (I’m a size 6 myself, and I was a thin kid)–and we all know of people who can eat anything without gaining weight.

    2. chris c

      I suspect insulin resistance evolved as a method of fuel partitioning and the rapid storage of a glut of food. This works as long as the IR takes on different values at different tissues and can be switched off so the stored fat can be metabolised later.

      Modern diets turn it on and lock it on.

  3. S. Murphy

    Interesting that 23&me just added a “track your bloodwork” feature to their site where you can enter things like your cholesterol.

  4. Firebird7478

    I’ve never been particularly curious about my DNA. I know my family tree has a few broken branches, however. 😂

  5. JillOz

    G’day Tom,

    this is slightly off topic but this post reminded me.

    I recently borrowed a book from the library on Diabetes. not because I ahve it thank goodness, but to check out a few things.
    It was a book by the Mayo clinic from 2014. Not bad eh?
    But in the first few pages they tell T2 diabetics that sugar is not the cause of diabetes. They don’t know what is the cause, mind you, but nope it’s not sugar!!

    This page is from 2018. Notice how, though they talk about insulin, they completely avoid talking about how sugar causes T2 diabetes even though they discourage getting too much sugar into the blood. But glucose is a source of energy!!

    Even people who look after themselves will get nothing but confusion from this stuff. And it’s the Mayo Clinic!
    Even i from Australia know of their reputation!

  6. Dianne

    In a way that’s even creepier than the way ads for things I’ve recently googled pop up on other googled pages. And if I’m fool enough to click on one, it follows me all over the internet. Anyway, thanks for the warning — I’ll forget about having my DNA checked out. And no, I don’t believe pharmaceutical companies are interested in preventing diabetes. That would be on a par with a drug company telling the truth about statins or the lipid hypothesis.

    1. BobM

      Dianne, clear your cookies (which you can do by clearing your history). These ads are run by the same company, which tracks you. I have the same issue, but once I clear my history, everything is OK.

      There’s something to be said for DNA analysis, similar to pre- and pro-biotics, but it’s difficult to tell how much. And even if you get a result, such as MTHFR mutation, what do you do with that data? I mean, you could follow the current advice of a low fat, high carb diet…

  7. Orvan Taurus

    Alright, whole grains have the grains & carbohydrate issue. Fruit is sugar. Seeds are at suspect at the least, and nuts should be minimized… beans? That’s new to me. Please enlighten?

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I’d say that depends on the individual. I found that black beans jack up my blood sugar far more than I would have expected.

  8. Elenor

    You can absolutely get your blood checked — just use a FAKE name, and have the resutls sent to a friend or neighbor’s address!

    In another topic: I’m planning to have the VA write me a script (not pay, they won’t; but write the necessary prescription) for a continuous blood glucose (CBG) monitor. I’m barely pre-diabetic. There’s a new “movement” (apparently?) of healthy folks getting and using the CBG monitors (you stick a sensor under your skin that lasts for about ten days?) I have lots of question still, cause I’m just starting my research. But, the idea never occurred till I tripped over a blog of a woman doing so (well, of course, and the DIY things were only recently invented!). One of commenters wrote: ‘we’ are told that “rice is less bg-raising than pasta” — but in HER case, rice is a killer! Raises her bg and keeps it up for several hours!

    The idea of being able to identify VERY clearly what raises and lowers my bg is exciting! If I succeed, in getting one, I’ll try to submit a report here!

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Always good to know what affects you personally. Using my glucose meter, I’ve found that sweet potatoes and even white potatoes don’t raise my blood sugar all that much, but pasta and especially rice send it into the stratosphere.

      1. BobM

        I bought a CGM (FreeStyle Libre) from Europe well over a year ago, with sensors for a year. These are OTC over there. I learned a lot. High protein does not affect my blood sugar — at all. (I’m primarily keto.) And I’ve tested 150+ grams of protein in a single meal. Sweet and white potatoes and rice are devastating. True pizza is particularly bad, causing high blood glucose for a long, long time. (Not to mention asthma, chest congestion, allergies.) Eating out is tricky. I tried to be “good” the night before Christmas, as I knew I was going to eat some ice cream later that night. So, when everyone else was having sushi, I had “seafood salad”, sashimi (all meat, no rice), and some soup with only veggies and shrimp, all from an Asian restaurant. My blood sugar went almost as high as when I had the ice cream later that day. On the other hand, homemade popcorn causes zero blood sugar rise. And I mean zero. Omelettes with cheese and spinach – zero blood sugar rise. Eggs and meat over a small amount of potatoes for breakfast? High blood sugar rise. I also have this odd rise in blood sugar from about midnight to about noon and then drop from noon to about midnight. What I eat “rides on top of” this pattern. So, even if I fast for 1+ days, the same pattern appears. I’ll have 70s-80s-90s at night (lower when fasting longer), but over a 100 in the morning, going up until about noon. HbA1c keeps dropping, though (4.9 now from a high of 5.6).

        I’m now using the US version of this CGM, and I find the European version better. The US version requires you to use blood sticks for calibration, the European version did not. The US version starts 30+ points higher than my actual blood sugar level. The European version seemed spot on.

        I wish they’d come out with sensors that were cheaper (my US version = $75/28 days). Once they get to be OTC and cheaper (say, $20/month), people can really see what’s actually happening to their blood sugar.

        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          Definitely a good idea to know which foods affect you personally. I wish the U.S. medical establishment would start checking blood-sugar reactions for everyone with a health problem that could be related to high glucose.

  9. Firebird7478

    Are you watching what is going on in NYC? There is a measles “outbreak”. 300 people out of 300 million Americans and the city is declaring this a “crisis”, so much so that the city is making vaccines mandatory or be subjected to fines of $1,000.

    Anti-Vaxxers sued for having their civil rights violated, but the judge dismissed the case.

    News outlets are treating this like a plague, giving Big Pharma a real shot in the arm with their marketing.

    Everyone should go back and watch the episode of The Brady Bunch where all 6 kids get the measles, then the father, then the maid. It’s a pretty educational episode.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Measles? Heck, The Older Brother and I got them at the same time and lived to tell.

    2. Lori Miller

      Or they could read the part in Gone with the Wind where Scarlett’s first husband dies of the measles. Adults (and infants) who get the measles are more likely to have complications than kids are.

      I got a bunch of shots in the Air Force (including rubella) and lived to tell about it.

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