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'Modern Snake Oil'

Some alternative healthcare practitioners are building a dubious business around using consumer genetic testing to sell natural remedies for certain gene variants, writes Britt Marie Hermes at Forbes.

Ben Lynch, a naturopathic doctor, tells Hermes that he recommends that everyone be screened for genetic polymorphisms. In particular, Hermes, herself a former naturopath turned biomedical researcher and science communicator, says that a lot of alternative medicine practitioners like Lynch focus on MTHFR gene variants.

However, Hermes cautions that the links between SNPs in MTHFR gene and disease are weak and that the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics has said that there is no clinical utility in testing for MTHFR polymorphisms. Indeed, genetic counselor and author Ricki Lewis notes people with MTHFR gene polymorphism that lower their enzyme levels can "be perfectly fine."

But, Hermes writes that Lynch has told her that he disagrees with the guidelines, which he also says are "missing the point." Instead, he says that MTHFR testing can uncover people who need methylated folic acid supplements and that those supplements can reduce those people's risk for hundreds of diseases.

"There is no credible evidence to support the benefit of nutritional supplements as a treatment for single nucleotide polymorphisms in the MTHFR gene," Debra Doyle, the genetics coordinator for Washington State Department of Health, tells Hermes.

Lewis adds that anyone selling such services "is a modern-day version of a snake oil salesperson."