In a world first, a South African laboratory, DNAlysis, in collaboration with managed healthcare provider Sutton Health, has developed a test that measures human resilience.
Previously, it was thought that resilience, or grit, was purely psychological, but the locally developed test zooms in on several aspects of genetics and creates a picture of predisposition to coping with the ever-changing stresses and demands of modern living: the science of survival.
“It’s taking what we know as ‘fight or flight mode’ to the next level,” says DNAlysis research and education head Helen Gautchi. And resilience has become a back-end of the pandemic buzzword as many struggle to cope with the rapid change in the way we now live, the socioeconomic and emotional pressures that are vastly different from just two years ago.”
“It’s about emotional wellbeing but it’s also about physical wellbeing and how those two components come together with what we’re exposed to in our environment,” says Gautchi.
“But then there’s this other major component, 70 to sometimes 90 percent of it. It’s our predisposition to how we can, just at a baseline, cope with adverse circumstances. And that’s what we are looking at from the genetics point of view.”
She says that genetic variations can either increase or decrease resilience and improve personal ability to bounce back after a challenging circumstance.
“Or are you that individual who might have weaknesses in certain areas and requires extra support, targeted support to improve how those pathways are functioning, how the genes are expressing themselves in situ and improve resilience on an emotional, physical side. It’s a more holistic approach to resilience.”
The outcome of these genetic litmus tests is then reinterpreted by, for example, a life coach or psychologist to work on specific areas in your life that may need support to enhance resilience.
Executive coach Jason Bernic, who is piloting the project post DNA analysis, says that the report shows you have high, moderate or low levels of resilience.
There are 7 molecules that are tested. Serotonin, Dopamine, Oxytocin, Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), Norepinephrine, Neuropeptide Y (NPY) and one’s Stress Axis. “All of these molecular neurochemicals play a key part in a person’s genetic ability to be resilient.”
Bernic says that the impact of a pandemic, a political instance or personally challenging circumstance that hinders your life path in any way requires a measure of resilience.
“It requires the ability to adapt to stress while maintaining healthy mental, physical and emotional performance.
“I think the way that this shows up every day is in one’s ability to regulate their emotions,” notes Bernic. “And if you think about it, you’re doing what you do. You’re going about your business. You’re going about your job. You’re doing what you do, and then something happens that gets in the way. So, you end up sitting at home for a year and a half, like during the pandemic. You end up having the kids in your study while you’re working from home and having to homeschool them. Your life is turned around.”
Bernic says that if you can imagine the bar graph of your life where you’ve got these peaks and these troughs, if you were to live in that constant state.
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It wouldn’t serve you to “deliver on whatever it is that you need to deliver; resilience is about managing yourself and all of those aspects that you can come back to a state of what you might describe as normality”.
“The good news, and the driving factor behind having this genetic test done, is that there are adaptations that one can make which positively impact your resilience levels. So even if you score low in any of the areas of resilience, the report then provides valuable insights into how you can optimise these areas and boost your resilience using personalised interventions and strategies.”
This can range from diet through to other lifestyle interventions. Bernic works with a range of healthcare practitioners to manifest these.
And while you cannot change your DNA, you can modify your life to better suit your own version of existence.
“We can modify the choices that we make so that the genes within those contributing molecular areas can express differently,” says Bernic.