What I wish I knew before I took a DNA test

When I decided to take a DNA test, I thought it’d be a fun kind of experiment. I’ve done a lot of research into my family tree, so I’m pretty knowledgeable about where my ancestors came from. What I didn’t realize was there were relatives who were much closer to me that I knew NOTHING about. IMG_1710Most of the information I got about my family tree was strictly from research since my father passed away when I was young. I’m an only-child so for the past twenty (or so) years, I thought I’d always be an only-child. Thanks to a DNA test, I learned that wasn’t true. Since then, I’ve learned a lot more!

Part of my story was featured this week in an article by Natasha Lavender at Brit+Co. Here’s some more “advice” I’d give before taking a DNA test.

Natasha: What would you want people who even suspect that they might find out something new about their family to know beforehand? What do you wish you’d known?

Shannon: Some DNA testing companies have you “opt-in” to the relative finder function. That means, if you don’t choose to find family members via your DNA, you won’t uncover any surprise relatives.  However, I used genetic testing to help me build out my family tree. The issue with direct-to-consumer testing though, you usually don’t have a genetic counselor there with you to explain your results. So when I found out that I had a half-brother, I didn’t have anyone to explain what it all meant or how to move forward.

Natasha: It sounds like you’re happy you found your half brother: would you say overall, especially given all the research you’ve done into different types of genetic testing, that you would generally tell people to go for it or avoid it?

Shannon: I can tell you that having my DNA tested has been the most life-changing thing I’ve done. For me personally, it’s been an amazing experience. I thought I’d always be an only-child since my dad passed away when I was young. To discover that I’m not the only child and that I have nieces and nephews has been so rewarding. That said, not everyone in my family had the same reaction. A lot of people found the news very alarming. I think some things take time to digest and if confronted with new information it all depends on how people embrace it.


(My brother, his wife, my nephews, my husband, and me at the Cubs game in Chicago)

Natasha: Are there any types of genetic testing you recommend over others?

Shannon: That’s tricky. It depends on what someone is looking to find out through their DNA. There are so many companies now offering genetic testing i.e. for ancestry, health, weight loss etc. I’d say the most important thing is to make sure you read the fine print and know how your DNA is going to be safe and protected.

Check out Natasha’s article here: Here’s Everything You Need to Know Before You Take a DNA Test

7 reasons people fail to lose weight

Even after dedicating three posts on this Website and two Genetic Jackpot podcast episodes to weight loss, I still have a little bit more I’d like to say about the topic.

You can listen to the two podcast episodes below:

To recap: Since June of 2012, I have lost a net 310 pounds. I did this through a variety of exercise routines, diets and a combination of both.

There’s no special diet out there. There’s no perfect exercise routine, really. You have to play trial and error and find out what works for you.

FatNickStill, while we’re all different, the reasons why we may fail to lose weight are the same.

Over the years, I tried and tried hard to lose weight before I succeeded.

Looking back, here were the reasons why I failed in the past – and why I imagine some of you have struggled in the area.

1. We give up too much too quickly.

How many times have you done this in failed weight loss journeys: You empty out the cabinets of all that nasty junk food and immediately go to just veggies and fruits. Nothing against that, obviously, but the biggest problem I experienced in my failed diet attempts of the past was I tried giving it up all at once – and that immediately made me mad and I hated myself. Start slowly. The first big domino that fell in my successful weight loss journey was I found a diet soda to replace a “regular soda.” Out with Coke – in with Diet Mountain Dew. (Yes, that’s a weird change, I know). I immediately shaved off around 300-400 calories a day because of that. Try to spot your biggest weakness and attack it. I lost 20 pounds reasonably quick by giving up soda and walking two miles a day.

2. On a similar note, we often try to do too much too fast when it comes to exercising.

If you’re significantly overweight, ignore all of those BS commercials you see for programs that may or may not work. Ignore them. Start slow and start at your pace. For me, I started walking a mile a day. That quickly turned to two miles a day and evolved into three miles a day. Once I dropped the first 100 pounds, I started doing aerobics. That continued into Insanity. Now I’m on weightlifting. Don’t try to reenact the training montage from Rocky IV where Rocky is preparing to take on Ivan Drago. It’s a process. Which leads me too……

3. Expecting miracles.

It can take weeks to lose 10 pounds, let alone 300 pounds. If we lose “just one pound” in the first week, many of us consider that a failure….when in reality, it’s considered the healthy way to do it. Not understanding that it’s a process – not an overnight miracle – is a big reason we tap out.

4. Not doing it “your way.”

I think the thing I’m most proud about concerning my successful journey is I didn’t follow anyone else’s path. I often switched diets, rotating between low-carb and low-cal. I copied no one’s workout. I did it my way. Choose your own path and don’t be afraid to do trial-and-error. STAY HAPPY!

5. Not accepting the idea that “bad days” happen.

Even the most fit of the most fit will have bad days in the gym or in the kitchen. For me in the past so often, I let one bad day because three bad days. I let three bad days become three bad weeks. Accept that bad days will happen, prevent them and move on to the next day with a fresh start.

6. Having a “have to do it” mindset instead of “want to do it” mindset.

When you have to do something, you often do it begrudgingly. Paying the bills. Paying taxes. Large family gatherings….OK, I’m kidding. You get the point, right? Don’t do that with weight loss. I wrote a list of several reasons why I wanted to lose weight, none of which matters to you. Come up with your own reasons other than “I need to do with for my health.” Health, needless to say, is an important reason. But find positive and entertaining reasons to lose weight. Once you “want to do it,” you’re more likely to actually do it.

7. Not having a scale.

This kind of plays into the third reason above. You need a way to see results – and when you need to lose 100 pounds – you may not “see” progress for a month or two. You need to see those few first pounds you lose to keep on going. A scale is intimidating, but completely worth it.


Those are just the seven reasons I came across looking back at my life. There are certainly more.

But the bottom line is this: You must stay happy with what you’re doing. The minute you start regretting it or hating it, you’re finished.

Listen to all Genetic Jackpot episodes on SoundCloud or iTunes. 

Researchers in Colorado develops genetic disruption strategy aimed at deterring evolution of superbugs

ecoli-1184pxResearchers at the University of Colorado in Boulder have developed a genetic disruption strategy that stops the evolution of a “superbug.”

Superbugs, those pathogens that are resistant to drugs, infect nearly 2 million people annually in the United States – killing 23,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“In an effort to develop a sustainable long-term solution, CU Boulder researchers created the Controlled Hindrance of Adaptation ofOrganismS (CHAOS) approach, which uses CRISPR DNA editing techniques to modify multiple gene expressions within the bacteria cells, stunting the pathogen’s central processes and thwarting its ability to evolve defenses,” a news release about the study said.

The process began five years ago when the researchers began examining for genes that could act as a “cellular kill switch for E. coli.

You can read more here.

Listen to all Genetic Jackpot episodes on SoundCloud or iTunes. 

Study: 35 genes linked to marijuana use


As we’ve touched on with multiple podcasts, genes have been blamed (and credited) for litany of issues, most notable diseases and weight loss.

A new study indicates that something else can be linked to genes: Smoking pot.

Using data from 180,000 people, researchers wee able to determine there are at least 35 different genes that could actually impact the odds of you experimenting with marijuana.

Two key points in the study:

– There’s a correlation between using marijuana and the personality traits that are impacted by genetics.

– Those who are more likely to develop schizophrenia and ADHD are more likely to use marijuana over a lifetime.

“The study found a genetic overlap between cannabis use and the use of tobacco and alcohol,” a press release about the study said. “There was a similar overlap between cannabis use and personality types that were prone to more risky behavior or were more extroverted.

Read more here.

Listen to all Genetic Jackpot episodes on SoundCloud or iTunes. 

New research: ‘Zombie gene’ may help prevent elephants from dying of cancer


It’s estimated that between 11 to 25 percent of humans will die from cancer during life.

The odds increase for those who live longer and the larger you are, the odds increase even more.

However, oddly enough, only five percent of elephants die from cancer despite a male adult elephant weighing up to 13,000 pounds.

Theoretically, elephants should have a significantly higher cancer rate than humans.

So what’s happening here?

New research indicates that elephants have a gene nicknamed the “Zombie” gene. It’s known scientifically as LIF6 and it only is found in elephants.

More from CBS News:

Listen to all Genetic Jackpot episodes on SoundCloud or iTunes. 

I Dream of Gene-ie: Scientists discover genes that can control deep sleep


Could nightmares be controlled or even eliminated?

New research indicates that it could at least be possible following the discovering of two genes that are responsive for nightmares and dreams.

Scientists in Japan, in a new study, identified a pair of genes that can regulate rapid eye movement and non-REMP sleep an animal experienced.

The scientists modified mouse genes and genetic screening to determine the factors that could cause sleep abnormalities.

The researchers, from The University of Tokyo, genetically modified mice so they no longer had genes that coded for the chemical messenger acetylcholine, which is released in high amounts when mammals are in REM sleep.

Removing these genes involved knocking out two genes known as Chrm 1 and 3, which are widely distributed across different regions of the brain.

Removing Chrm 1 caused the mice to have short, fragmented periods of REM sleep, while taking out Chrm 3 reduced their length of non-REM shut eye.

Read more here.

Listen to all Genetic Jackpot episodes on SoundCloud or iTunes. 

Episode 11: A further discussion about genetics and weight loss


In this week’s episode, Shannon and Nick have a follow-up discussion concerning genetics, diet and weight loss.

Included in the discussion is the role genes can have in weight loss, but why it’s not the only factor.

Plus, Nick elaborates more on his 300-pound weight loss journey over the past six years.


Listen to The Genetic Jackpot Podcast! Previous episodes are below.

You can also listen on our iTunes page here

Episode 10: How secure is your genetic information online? 

Episode 9: Exploring the link between weight loss, diet and genetics

Episode 8: The backlog of thousands of untested rape kits

Episode 7: Chicago news anchor’s journey to Africa for answers

Episode 6: Helping younger generations become aware of DNA

Episode 5: DNA’s Role in the Golden State Killer Case

Episode 4: Opening up the “Pandora’s Box”

Episode 3: Pets and DNA

Episode 2: To test or not to test?

Episode #1: An introduction to The Genetic Jackpot

As market forces shift consumer choices, Nestle wants YOUR DNA


The latest company hoping on the bandwagon for personalized nutrition?

Nestle SA.

Nestle is interested in your DNA in order in an effort to take advantage of a growing trend of consumers seeking slightly healthier options when it comes to food.

The company sold off its United States candy unit due to a falling demand for sugary treats.

Now, the company will be using DNA testing in an effort to gather data about customers’ wellness and diet.

More from Bloomberg:

Nestle SA, the world’s largest food company, has joined the trend for personalized nutrition with a blend of artificial intelligence, DNA testing and the modern obsession with Instagramming food. The program, begun in aging Japan, could provide the Swiss company with a wealth of data about customers’ wellness and diet as it pivots toward consumers who are seeking to improve their health and longevity.

You can read the entire article here.

Listen to all Genetic Jackpot episodes on SoundCloud or iTunes. 

How DNA science assisted the identification process following September 11th, 2001



Over 2,700 people were killed on September 11, 2001. 

Adding even more sorrow to the tragic events in New York City that day was the fact it took months – and in some cases years – for families to receive final closure. 

Due to the damage caused at Ground Zero from  water, mold, bacteria, fire and jet fuel, the challenge of identifying the remains was very difficult, according to Mark Desire of the Office of the City Medical Examiner in New York City. 

“Fire, water, sunlight and mold and bacteria and jet fuel — all of these things destroy DNA, and I just mentioned everything that was present at Ground Zero, so this was extremely challenging,” he told The New York Post in an interview. 

The Post article details the incredible science that went with the process of identifying the remains, including a way to draw blood from bone. 

You can read more here: https://nypost.com/2018/08/29/inside-the-groundbreaking-science-to-identify-every-last-9-11-victim/

Listen to all Genetic Jackpot episodes on SoundCloud or iTunes. 

Genetics are not the reason, but an excuse: My 300-pound weight loss story


In one of the most popular episodes of our Genetic Jackpot Podcast, Shannon spoke to Emily Brown of Genetic Garden about how your genetics can impact your diet and overall health.

First, I would recommend listening to it and consider it. It’s a good interview and it’s a subject that’s worth exploring for a few reasons:

1. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that genetics can have an impact on obesity. Whether it’s family history or how you behave, there are plenty of credible studies to suggest there’s a link – ranging from various institutions, including the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. You can read more here.

2. There’s also growing evidence to suggest that genes may be linked to the type of food you like – and obviously, that shapes your diet. If you hate vegetables, that may discourage a vegan or vegetarian diet. If your body does not react well to meat, it’s the other way around – you’re most likely going that route.

3. Obesity is the single most important health issue facing the United States. It adds billions of dollars in health care costs every year. The military is having issues expanding its size due to possible recruits being out of shape. Obesity is a national security issue and an issue that needs to be address. Any possible solution or theory that brings the topic of weight management up is crucial and needed.

With that said, however, I’d like to propose this: While genes can be a reason for obesity, they are not THE reason.

About six years ago, I weighed over 550 pounds. I wore size 56 pants. I wore 4XL – 5XL shirts.

As of today, I have lost over 300 pounds. At one point, I had dropped 327 pounds, but I have gained some back in the form of muscle following a four-month weight-lifting program.

Now, I have not taken a DNA test for various reasons. I don’t know if I have the obesity gene or not.

But I can tell you this – it did not matter if you make dieting, exercise and weight loss a life choice. If I have the obesity gene, magically it did not matter these past six years because I’ve been shredding weight and fat.

If you’ve seen the movie Back to the Future, think of genetics like you might time traveling – your future is not pre-determined. You may have some disadvantages, but you also have some advantages.

Before and after our interview with Emily, I spoke about my weight loss journey and shared some of my story on this podcast. I also wrote a book earlier this year about weight loss.

I explore some of those themes below. If you enjoy this podcast, check out our other episodes below.

Listen to The Genetic Jackpot Podcast! Episodes below.

You can also listen on our iTunes page here

Episode 9: Exploring the link between weight loss, diet and genetics

Episode 8: The backlog of thousands of untested rape kits

Episode 7: Chicago news anchor’s journey to Africa for answers

Episode 6: Helping younger generations become aware of DNA

Episode 5: DNA’s Role in the Golden State Killer Case

Episode 4: Opening up the “Pandora’s Box”

Episode 3: Pets and DNA

Episode 2: To test or not to test?