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When I was pregnant with Jack, my now 6-year-old, I had one major mantra that I repeated over and over and over again:
“Control what you can so you can release what you can’t.”
As someone who’s lived her entire life with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, trying to conceive and pregnancy were stressful times for my…ahem…control issues.
But I learned the very hard way that, when it comes to fertility and pregnancy, most things are out of my control. And that simple fact made my anxiety rage.
So managing anxiety meant finding the small things I could control and making my best effort to do those things very well.
I will only drink 1 cup of coffee today. I will take my prenatal vitamins. I will drink 60 oz of water today.
These are the types of things that I could control, so that’s where my emphasis lay.
I could not control whether my period came when I was hoping instead for 2 pink lines.
I could not control whether an embryo burrowed its way into my uterine wall.
I could not control how the next ultrasound would go.
But I could control what I put in my body, so I made a ritual out of taking prenatal vitamins and hydrating effectively, and this ritual saw me through some of the most anxious days of my life.
While many of us are trying to get the best possible nutrients into our bodies to prepare them for a baby, and to grow baby well, we often face deficits we don’t even know about due to misspellings (SNPs) in our DNA that prevent us from properly processing and absorbing certain types of nutrients (specifically, One-Carbon and fatty acid nutrients.)
Many of these nutrients are essential to supporting a baby’s physical and mental development, impacting things like information processing speed, eyesight, and more.
So imagine if there was an easy and effective way you could learn about your own unique genetic nutritional needs so you could have complete control over whether those needs are being met.
Now there is. With a simple cheek swab in the comfort of your own home, you can get personalized nutrition recommendations that allow you to tailor your diet and supplements to specifically support your body and your baby’s development.
In this article, I’ll be sharing my personal supplementation struggles and, most importantly, my super transparent Genate Test™ review.
There’s a lot of information here, but if you’re concerned about giving your body everything you possibly can to support your current or future baby, let’s take a deep dive!
A huge thanks to SNP Therapeutics for sponsoring this article, which allowed me to take a Genate Test, access personalized nutritional counseling, and to jump into all of the nutritional and genetic research. I am writing this article because The Genate Test is a product I personally have used and LOVE, and it would’ve saved me so much anxiety if it’d been available before my own pregnancies. I want all new moms to know about this incredible resource, and I’m so thankful to SNP Therapeutics for making that possible.
My Fertility Journey
When I started trying to conceive (TTC), I was so naive about the process that I told my husband, “We have to get pregnant either this month or next so I can have a baby during summer vacation.”
(I was a graduate student at the time, and it seemed like having a summer baby would be so easy. Ha!)
What the hell was happening? Why wasn’t my body working properly when I had such a short window to conceive?
The lesson I slowly began to learn during that 45-day cycle was that this process was not something I could control the way I liked to control everything else in my life. It turned out that peeing on an ovulation stick and expecting my body to do exactly what I wanted was much more of a monumental task than I had naively assumed.
Over the coming years, this lesson would become more and more deeply ingrained: fertility was not in my control. The health of a pregnancy was not in my control. No matter how desperately I wanted to control each and every aspect of this process, I could not control 95% of the things happening to and in my body.
If I’d had the control I wanted, I wouldn’t have spent a year-and-a-half trying to conceive. And I sure as hell wouldn’t have had miscarriage, after miscarriage, after ectopic pregnancy, after miscarriage.
By the time I conceived Jack, I’d been on the fertility roller coaster for 3.5 anxiety-ridden years, full of trauma, guilt, and anger, all topped off with a giant dollop of “Why me?”
Why Choosing a Prenatal Vitamin Was Maddening
With all that fertility baggage, you might be surprised that something as simple as choosing a prenatal vitamin became a standout struggle during this time. At the beginning of my first pregnancy (which ended in a blighted ovum miscarriage), my GYN prescribed a prenatal vitamin that contained folic acid.
I already knew about the importance of folic acid, and had for over a decade. In fact, I’d been supplementing with folic acid all that time. When I was in college, the National Council on Folic Acid (yes, that’s a real thing) launched a major campaign on university campuses to get young women to begin folic acid supplementation long before they began trying to conceive as a large-scale effort to decrease the incidence of neural tube defect in babies.
So imagine my surprise when, after my second miscarriage, one of my OB nurses suggested I take a prenatal vitamin that contained methylated folate instead of folic acid.
Keep reading to learn more about the raging debate between folate and folic acid, but for now, here’s what I want you to understand:
This small comment from a nurse sparked a huge debate among my care providers that ultimately took something that should’ve been on the small list of things I could control and turned it into a major source of anxiety: what prenatal vitamin I chose to put in my body.
MTHFR: The Motherf*cker Gene
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) has very specific recommendations for prenatal vitamin supplementation, and until this nurse’s comment, I felt good about the fact that I was following those recommendations.
But then I asked my doctor whether I should be taking a prenatal with folic acid or methylated folate, and I opened a floodgate.
TL;DR: Because of something we learned about my body during recurrent miscarriage testing, my doctors couldn’t agree on which type of folate I should supplement, and it made me crazy.
Now for the details.
It turns out that my recurrent miscarriage blood panel revealed a genetic variant on the MTHFR gene, which my reproductive endocrinologist (RE) lovingly referred to as “the motherf*cker gene.”
The MTHFR gene “provides instructions for your body to make the MTHFR protein,” explains the CDC, “which helps your body process folate.” Folate is a water-soluble B vitamin that, among many other functions, helps prevent neural tube defects in babies.
We most commonly see it in prenatal vitamins as folic acid, but in recent years, there’s been a lot of debate about whether folic acid is truly the best form for expecting moms to meet their folate needs.
What my blood work showed was a genetic variant of this gene, which can impact my ability to absorb folic acid and process it properly as folate. This is an extremely common genetic variant, affecting nearly 40% of people.
And this is where things get interesting. According to the CDC, people who have the most common variant of the MTHFR gene (called C677T) also have a blood folate concentration that is 16% lower than people without this variant.
For some doctors, this is evidence that many people need to supplement with a different type of folate instead of folic acid, leading many doctors to recommend types of methylated folate.
On the other hand, folic acid is the only type of folate shown in research studies to prevent neural tube defects, so it’s still the recommended form of folate by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
For this reason, many doctors are staunch advocates of folic acid and caution patients against taking prenatal vitamins that contain other types of folate.
This is, I believe, why my RE called it the motherf*cker gene.
“It just f*cks with things,” he explained, “taking advice that should be straightforward and turning it into something that doctors can’t agree on. Nobody really knows what to do.”
And when it came to getting clear answers on what type of prenatal vitamin I should be taking because of this extremely common genetic variant, finding an answer was, indeed, a motherf*cker.
The Anxiety of Not Knowing
I had so many doctors at this point–an OBGYN who was caring for my pregnancy, but who I barely knew; a Reproductive Endocrinologist who I credit with supporting me through recurrent miscarriage and bringing both of my babies into this world, and who I trusted immensely; and a Perinataloogist, a high-risk specialist who I was only getting to know but whose opinion I would come to value immensely during both of my pregnancies.
And they couldn’t freaking agree!
One insisted that I take folic acid, as it was all that had been tested and approved by ACOG.
Another was adamant that methylated folate was the right option for me because my body would not properly absorb folic acid.
And the third didn’t really have much stake in the game, saying she honestly thought I’d be fine either way.
This disagreement among my healthcare team led me to experience guilt and frustration over the choices I’d been making for more than a decade (taking folic acid rather than methylated folate).
The result was that I experienced greatly exacerbated anxiety during a pregnancy that was already riddled with panic and worry, given my history with recurrent miscarriage.
I barely staved off a panic attack before the fetal ultrasound that detects neural tube defects, the type of condition that is supposed to be prevented by proper folic acid supplementation.
While I was fortunate that all turned out well during that pregnancy, and again 5 years later during my pregnancy with Branham, I cannot overemphasize the unnecessary feelings of guilt, shame, and worry I experienced because no one could agree, with a strong research-base, on what would be best for my body and my baby.
Introducing The Genate Test, Innovating Personalized Nutritional Information
When I recently learned there might be a solution for all the mamas experiencing the uncertainty that gnawed at me for so many months, and even years, I burst into tears of relief.
I found out that there was a genetic test that you could take comfortably at home that would tell you about all of your specific genetic pathways to help you understand how your unique body does and does not absorb nutrients–AND, what you can do about it.
There are two major reasons this is so game-changing:
- We can now learn our personal genetic roadblocks that might inhibit our absorption of multiple nutrients that are essential for different aspects of baby’s development, like DHA, Choline, Folate, and B12.
- As part of this test, we get research-based information on what to do about our individualized needs.
What was clear during my pregnancies was that we needed an interdisciplinary approach to understanding prenatal supplementation, where the medical doctors came together with the PhDs and the registered dietitians and the geneticists, conducting research studies to actually understand different bodies’ needs for prenatal supplementation.
And well, friend, The Genate Test has done just that.
It’s all thanks to the research of Dr. Steven Zeisel, a renowned nutrition researcher and the founding director of the Nutrition Research Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Zeisel has been working in nutrigenetic research for over 30 years, and he’s doing the interdisciplinary work that I craved but had no idea was happening.
Dr. Zeisel has helped physicians understand the interrelated relationship between many nutrients in the One-Carbon and fatty-acid pathways, having conducted research that’s been supported by over $16 million in research grants from the National Institute of Health (NIH).
His research is further supported by ongoing clinical trials, as well as clinical trials completed at Harvard and Cornell Universities.
Thanks to Dr. Zeisel’s work, we not only have an accessible way to learn about our own genetic pathways, but the information is FINALLY available on what to do as a result of our own unique genetics.
The game has been changed, and thanks to The Genate Test, you don’t have to worry like I did. And if I can just be frank here for a minute–it’s about damn time.
And the benefits extend far beyond the question of methylated folate vs folic acid. There are so many essential nutrients at play here, and now you can know how you process each one of them. The Genate Test focuses on these nutrients:
- Folic acid
- Omega 9
- Omega 3 – DHA
With The Genate Test, you get personalized insight into how you can best support your unique body through nutrition and supplementation, with a specific focus on the vitamins and nutrients that have been shown to have the greatest impact on a baby’s physical and cognitive development.
Let me tell you about my experience.
My Honest Genate Test Review
The first step in this process was simple–get a Genate Test and take it.
The test arrived at my house simply packaged, which I honestly appreciated. Given the cost of such a test, I prefer knowing that my dollars are going toward the actual testing and research support, not toward ornate packaging.
Taking the test was super easy. I washed my hands, opened the package on a clean surface, and followed the directions to do a quick, painless swab of my cheek. The instructions were infographic style, so they were super easy to use.
I repackaged everything according to instructions, popped it in my mailbox, and waited for the results.
It was really that simple.
It took about three weeks for my results to come in, and when they arrived, I was given a detailed overview of the results that they called “The Genate Report.”
This is where the bulk of the information was, so I’ll walk you through the parts I found to be the most useful.
1. My Genate Report
The report was easy to read and utilize, which I really appreciated, as I’m far from an expert in genetics or nutrition.
The report is divided into 9 sections, the first 4 of which are unique to my specific needs, and the last 5 of which help explain prenatal nutrition as it relates to the information in the Genate Report, so I could decide how to customize different decisions to my own needs.
The report also comes with the option to schedule personalized nutritional counseling, which I did and will review below. In short, I highly recommend the added feature of nutritional counseling.
I loved the many visual aspects of the report because they made it so much easier for me to read and understand.
When I landed on the first results section, it was very clear: I’d been flagged for something (as it would turn out, multiple things), so I needed to read on, and do so carefully.
I found the bolded words to be confusing, but despite that, I was able to easily understand the gist of the results–when you’re in the red, something’s going on.
Once I moved on to the non-bolded text, the language was super plain and comprehensible:
“Your Genate Nutrient Summary Score is High or in the “Red” Range which suggests you may have more significant challenges in efficiently metabolizing important nutrients.”
This result corresponded with what I already knew from recurrent miscarriage testing, but as I got into the details of the results, I realized there is even more going on than I already knew, and how to handle it became much clearer and more obvious.
2. How to Use The Genate Report
The second section walked me through how to use my report, so while it didn’t help me understand anything new about my personal genetics, it provided a good roadmap of where I was going and what I could expect to learn as I kept reading.
This section of the report explained the different nutrients that we’d tested my metabolic pathways for, and it told me why they’re so essential for pregnancy.
Then, it walked me through an explanation of the pathways that had been reviewed.
Basically, there are different metabolic pathways that we can envision like a highway. The starting point is what we consume–food or supplements–and the ending point is well-metabolized nutrients in our bodies.
The Genate Test searched for roadblocks in the metabolic pathways for 7 different One Carbon Nutrients and Fatty Acids.
- Folic acid
- Omega 9
- Omega 3 – DHA
But try not to get hung up on this lingo. In my own words, The Genate Test basically said:
Hey, these 7 nutrients are super important for your body while you’re trying to conceive, and during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Let’s check out your body’s highways and make sure you’re processing them all efficiently. If you’re not, we’ll tell you how.
And this is where the visuals get REALLY helpful.
First, a color-coded legend explained how to read colors on the map I was about to see.
Next, I got to see the actual map.
Looking at this part alone was a little confusing at first, mostly because I don’t know what all these different genes are. But when I did my personalized nutrition appointment, this is that part where things got really interesting, so I’m thankful for this map, even though it provided the least value when I read my test results the first time.
During my counseling session, my nutritionist, Cara, walked me through this entire map and explained it piece by piece, showing me where I’m efficient (what nutrients I absorb well), where I’m inefficient (which nutrients I don’t absorb well), and how we can use that information to supplement in ways that allow us to bypass specific roadblocks.
So the end result is that I now know exactly what to do to actually absorb the optimal amount of each nutrient. Keep reading.
To understand this map, the major things I realized I should look for were yellow and red blocks. They work like traffic lights. So the red block around PEMT says to me, “Hey, pay attention here! This one really matters.”
While the MANY yellow blocks on my chart are also reminders to pay attention, even though those “roadblocks” aren’t as severe as the PEMT one.
Important note: I did not know what PEMT meant. In fact, as I write this, I had to read more to remember. But none of that matters, and I’m not going to bore you with information about my particular roadblock.
The results later are clear and understandable enough that I still know what to do. Please don’t let yourself get hung up on confusing words or scientific phrases. There’s plenty of plain language coming that tells you what you need to know!
3. Breaking Down My Genate Report Results
What I love about the map above is how easy it makes it to say, “Okay, I have one major area of concern and lots of moderate areas of concern. Cool.” That’s really all I needed to know.
(I was also fascinated to discover that, after all that angst during my pregnancies about whether I was taking the right type of folate, folic acid and folate weren’t even my biggest concern. For me, the biggest issue was choline.)
The next section of the report is much text heavier, but it’s plain language that’s a lot easier to follow, so you’re able to find out your specific needs.
While folic acid was one of my moderate areas of concern, I was fascinated to see that it actually wasn’t the biggest one.
My biggest roadblock is actually in my ability to process something called Phosphatidylcholine, which is a type of choline that comes predominantly from animal sources like eggs and liver.
What was also interesting to learn is that this is not the type of choline used in most vitamins, so not only do I need to be careful to consume extra choline; I also need to consume specific types of choline or very specific choline supplements–they aren’t all the same!
There were 5 total sections that look like this, showing me major pathways and how well my body absorbs each:
- Phosphatidylcholine Production
- Choline Metabolism
- Fatty Acid Metabolism
- Folate Metabolism
For me, the only one that was normal was #3. #1 was in the red zone, and #2, #4, and #5 were in the yellow zone.
The next section of the report breaks these pathways down further into specific genes. Now we know how my overall pathways look, so it’s time to look at the genes within these pathways.
This is honestly the part I found to be the hardest to read, but what I learned during my nutritional counseling appointment was basically that the bottom two lines were really what I needed to understand.
They very simply show:
- Nutrient(s) affected by my personal roadblocks
- Supplements I need to use to support those roadblocks
The easiest way for me to absorb this information was to move it into a note in my phone. I like very clear, bulleted lists, so that may not work best for everyone, but it worked best for me.
4. What Changes Do I Make? Making Use of My Genate Test Results
And finally, the fun part.
What the heck do I do with all this information?
The way this is broken down in my Genate Report makes it super easy for me to understand, even without the nutritional counseling session, though I’ll talk more about that in a few minutes. Basically, it told me 5 major nutrients with customized recommendations based on my Genate Results for how much I should absorb of each daily.
Based on my results, it’s no surprise that choline was the most important change, with the personalized recommendation being that I consume more than twice the recommended daily amount of choline to have the same absorption as someone who has no roadblocks in this pathway.
It also clarified the information I had been struggling to get evidence-based answers to for so long: for me, methylated folate is best, and I need more of it than the standard recommended daily dose. Though if I were expecting again, I’d take my test results to my doctor to discuss whether I should supplement with both methylated folate and folic acid just to follow guidelines. I am a serious rule follower at heart.
Interestingly, this is actually what I did during my pregnancies. I definitely didn’t consume the optimal amount of choline (and I refuse to allow myself to feel guilty about that because I didn’t know.)
But at the advice of one of my doctors (and against the advice of another), I did take a prenatal vitamin with methylated folate, and I took a separate vitamin to supplement additional methylated folate, so I know now that we guessed well.
Oh, what I would give to have known that 7 years ago. I’d have felt so much less stressed and had another thing I could actually control during pregnancy. Alas, I’m so thankful this information is available for parents who are expecting now.
Finally, at the end of this section, there was another super helpful chart that looks very similar to the one above, only this time walking me through my personalized daily recommended vitamin consumption.
This walks me through my personalized needs for the consumption of the following vitamins:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin D6
With all this information in hand, I’m now fully equipped to look at my own nutrition (what I consume each day) combined with my supplementation regimen (vitamins and supplements I take each day) and tailor them to fit my unique needs.
How freakin’ amazing is that?
Why Genate’s Nutri-Genetic Counseling Is So Worth It
When I finished reading my Genate report, I felt super equipped to look at the labels on my vitamins and adjust accordingly. And for some people, that might be enough.
But wanting to control all I can, there was one thing that still bothered me–it’s much harder to understand how my nutritional choices play into my personalized recommended daily values of different vitamins and nutrients.
Some people are great at tracking nutrition using meal tracker apps, but I absolutely despise them. Tracking my food quickly becomes obsessive for me, triggering a lot of anxiety and often causing me to overeat because I’m feeling so anxious.
So for me, talking to a nutritional counselor about how I can support some of my needs was a no-brainer. And I’m so glad I did!
My dietician, Cara, was incredibly knowledgeable not just about nutrition, but about nutri-genetics. I’ve worked with numerous nutritionists and dieticians during my lifetime, but I’ve never before felt like anyone was so in tune with my body and needs. (And of course, they weren’t–this one had a detailed genetic test to go through!)
Here are the main reasons this appointment was so helpful:
- Cara helped explain my Genate Report in ways I didn’t fully process on my own.
- I was able to ask very specific questions about my personalized needs and goals.
- Cara explained the bioavailability of vitamins and nutrients in different foods, and specifically said that for phosphatidylcholine, where I have the biggest roadblocks, I would be best served by trying to consume more of that nutrient through my diet because my body would be better able to absorb it that way.
- Cara talked to me about phosphatidylcholine specifically, explaining how I could add sources of it into my diet that were not necessarily the same as sources of choline. Based on my Genate Report alone, I likely would’ve supplemented more with a pill, and it would’ve been the wrong type of choline for some of my needs.
- Cara asked specifically how she could best support me moving forward, and in response to my request, sent me 3 different meal ideas for each meal so I can build a list of default meal options that benefit my body when I just don’t want to think about what to prepare.
The level of customization involved in this process was remarkable, and I walked away feeling energized to make improvements and fully equipped with the information I needed to do so easily.
The biggest drawback of this session was also part of what made it so damn good. I took a very long nutritional survey before meeting with Cara, and it took a solid 20 minutes of my time to sit at my computer and hammer through it.
When I finished the survey, I was honestly questioning whether the appointment would be worth that added hassle.
But when I got into the appointment, I realized just how much attention she paid to those results. Her recommendations were custom-tailored to everything I had said I needed, and took all my preferences into account.
She didn’t try to make me a meal plan because I’d said that always fails for me.
She didn’t recommend foods I don’t eat, or that take too long to prepare, because I’d noted that those were issues I’d had with nutritional counseling in the past.
Cara had an actual list of my likes and dislikes, how I like to cook, and how long I want to spend preparing each meal, so she was able to customize every recommendation to my genetic needs, and also to my tastes, preferences, and lifestyle.
When the session was over, Cara told me she’d send me a follow-up plan (something I learned earlier in the session, as well, when she noticed me furiously taking notes and lovingly informed me that it was unnecessary.)
Moving Forward After the Nutritional Counseling Session
Cara’s follow-up plan, seriously, was everything.
She took all my Genate results and distilled them down into the most important pieces. “Trying to do it all can get overwhelming,” she said, “So let’s focus on what’s most important for your body.”
Here’s what she gave me:
- Customized daily values for the most important vitamins and nutrients for me personally
- A personalized daily hydration goal
- General recommendations for small changes to my diet that would lead to big results (things we’d already discussed as being attainable for me)
- Default meal options that I would actually make and eat
All of this was customized based on my Genate results, as well as on my personal desire to use nutrition to increase my energy levels.
If I ever have another baby (which isn’t in the plans), I would plan to schedule one of these sessions for each trimester, as needs, taste preferences, and energy levels fluctuate.
As is, I’m making the changes myself, noticing a difference in energy, and will probably schedule another appointment with Cara once the new changes have become habitual to see how we can further optimize my diet.
Do You Recommend The Genate Test?
The answer, friend, is an emphatic yes. A shout-it-from-the-rooftops, want everyone to know about this incredible option HELL YEAH!
This test is groundbreaking, and I’m so excited for the way it can empower moms and their lives moving forward.
I personally recommend taking this test during the fertility process, as I would’ve felt so much better equipped and empowered if I’d had that option. Families who are trying to conceive are actively learning so much about their bodies, and this test is an incredible way not only to learn, but also to develop a specific plan for moving forward that gives you something you can . . . ahem . . . control.
And something you can control that really makes a difference in the health of not just you, but also your baby. Dr. Zeisel’s research has shown that the nutrients The Genate Test targets are critical to cognitive/brain development during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and their availability can have lifelong impacts on health outcomes.
And I want to be really clear about one thing. Yes, this article is “sponsored,” and that hasn’t even a little bit impacted a single word I’ve written. (Well, I did have to run the word motherf*cker by the company first, but that was all.)
I wanted to develop a partnership with Genate because I am such a raving fan. I have experienced first-hand how empowering the results of this test can be, and if I could go back and gift that to myself 7 years ago, I’d do it without the slightest hesitation.
That’s why I asked them to partner with me for this article; not the other way around. Because they’re changing lives, and I want to be a part of it.
Would You Take The Genate Test Before or During Pregnancy?
Katy Huie Harrison, PhD, is an author, mom, recurrent miscarriage survivor, & owner of Undefining Motherhood. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and 2 children (Jack & Branham). She believes our society puts too many expectations on women that make womanhood and motherhood restrictive. Her goal is to shift the paradigm about what it means to be a woman and mother, giving all women a greater sense of agency over their own lives. You can find Katy and her work featured in places like CNN’s Headline News, Romper, Scary Mommy, Love What Matters & more.