Have you ever experienced anxiety, weight gain or low energy? All of these symptoms and more could be related to your genes. Different foods affect our genes and can play a massive role in our health.
Nutrigenomics is transforming how we eat. In this article, I will explain exactly what is nutrigenomics and how it could be the key to unlocking your healthiest and best self.
What is Nutrigenomics?
Diet advice used to consist of a one-size-fits-all approach to healthy eating. But, that sort of thinking has become outdated. Different foods and nutrients can have varying effects on individuals. This is where nutrigenomics comes in.
Nutrigenomics is a field of science that, put simply, focuses on nutrition and genomics. It’s the study of how food and nutrients interact with your genes. These interactions could negatively or positively affect your health. You're genetically and biochemically unique, this means that foods may have a different effect on you to someone else. This is why there is a no one-size-fits-all healthy diet.
Many of us are familiar with the phrase “you are what you eat” but despite this, more than one in three preventable hospitalizations in Australia between 2013 and 2014 were due to eight chronic diseases. Many chronic diseases are as a result of poor lifestyle choices such as smoking, poor diet, lack of exercise and overuse of alcohol.
The connection between our health, genes, and diet is more astonishing than we realized. Studies have found that food can actually regulate genes which means genes can be turned on or off. So, even though you may have inherited certain genes from your parents, these genes can remain dormant or active depending on what you eat.
How does Nutrigenomics work?
In the human body, we all have around three billion DNA pairs which make up the entire genome, the complete set of genes in a cell or organism.
DNA is a compound that consists of instructions and manages and directs activities in almost all living organisms. Genes carry instructions on how to produce proteins and basically determine how we’re supposed to function and how we’re meant to be built.
The Human Genome Project tells us that all human beings are 99.9% the same in their genetic makeup. It’s the 0.1% that is responsible for what makes us different to one another including how the body responds to diet. This small percentage of your genes also determines your risk for developing non-transmissible diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
So, while we have similar genes, we have genetic variants that impact what we look like, what we’re allergic to and what our bodies need to thrive. By studying the human genome, scientists have discovered different people respond to different diets because of their DNA. This can have significant impacts on your health. The genome is a term used to refer the collection of all genes in a species.
Nutrigenomics helps us to explain why one person can eat junk food and not gain any weight and another can avoid junk food at all costs but still gain weight. By understanding your genome and how foods interact with your genes, you can modify your diet to achieve positive health outcomes and even prevent the onset of certain diseases.
Nutrigenomics is Being Applied to a Wide Range of Conditions
Nutrigenomics is a complex field of science that focuses on the relationship between what we eat and risk and response to disease. Nutrigenomics can be applied to a wide range of health conditions.
Research shows that a personalized wellness program based on genetic variants could reduce the risk of developing metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of health conditions that occur together, increasing your risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease. These conditions include:
- High blood sugar
- Increased blood pressure
- Abnormal cholesterol levels
- Excess fat around the waist
Experts have already found strong evidence linking the gut microbiome, obesity and mental health. The gut can play a major role in brain function and behaviour.
There’s a number of factors that can influence the gut microbiome such as mode of birth delivery and genetics but diet is considered one of the most crucial factors in the gut microbiome. Therefore, dietary interventions and the right recommendations have the potential to manage and prevent symptoms associated with gut-brain axis dysfunction.
There’s also a correlation between specific nutrients and diseases such as coffee’s potential impact on cardiac irregularities. By understanding nutrigenomics and discovering the links between our health and genes, we can take the first step towards personalized health solutions and medicines.
Innovations in Nutrigenomic Testing
Roger J. Williams observed the differences among healthy people in terms of nutrition and metabolism in 1956. Williams’ thoughts provided the wisdom and early hints for precision medicine and the need to address individuals in response to foods as well as susceptibility to nutrient-related diseases. Precision medicine is an approach to patient care which helps patients based on a genetic understanding of their disease.
Nutrigenomics is an important strand of precision medicine. Innovations in nutrigenomic testing allow individuals to fully understand their genetic makeup and how it relates to their health and wellbeing.
It may sound like a bold statement that your genes could be at the root of you feeling sluggish. But, the latest genetic discoveries show that even simple vitamins and minerals taken in a targeted way could transform how you feel.
Whether you’ve been trying to detox but feel fatigued or just want to give yourself a boost, there’s so much power in nutrigenomic testing. By having your own genes tested, you can discover what your body needs to bloom. Even minor tweaks in your diet may result in more energy and better health.
This nutrigenomics test that I use with clients looks at over 150 genetic areas, creating a laser targeted approach to your health problems. Imagine knowing exactly what kind of foods your body needs and why. This information holds so much power and can truly change your life. Before I tested my genes, I felt low on energy and struggled with detoxification. I found out what I needed to get my health back on track, my energy was through the roof and I could finally think clearly.
What is Nutrigenetics?
Whereas nutrigenomics investigates how particular foods affect your body’s expression of genes and how this affects our health, nutrigenetics is slightly different. Nutrigenetics looks at how your body responds to nutrients based on your genetics. It aims to identify genes that are susceptible to diseases and the way in which small differences in our genes can change the effect nutrient intake has on the body.
By identifying these genes and understanding an individual's genetic makeup, personalized dietary and disease prevention advice can be provided. The overall aim of nutrigenetics is to be able to develop an individualized nutrition plan that helps you to reach and maintain your best health possible.
Nutrigenetics allows the genotype information to be used to determine the properties of proteins coded by certain genes and the effect diet has on metabolism, transportation of nutrients and elimination of toxins.
Both the fields of nutrigenomics and nutrigenetics are focused on the relationship between genes and nutrition. Your genes can determine how sensitive you are to salt, the likelihood you could become deficient in vitamin D and if you are lactose intolerant. Nutrigenetics can explain why two individuals of similar stature and activity level who follow the same diet may experience different effects.
Feeding Your DNA, The Nutrigenomics Diet
The modern food system feeds around six billion people with blanket recommendations for healthy eating. Yet, sugar intake has skyrocketed, people are eating more processed food than ever before and obesity levels are on the rise. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, two in three Australian adults were obese or overweight in 2014.
People around the world are suffering from diet-related illnesses due to poor lifestyle and food choices. By personalizing diets to each individual based on their genes, they can achieve their own aspirations for health. DNA tests can empower people to use their own genetic information to make the right lifestyle decisions.
The overall goal of personalized nutrition is to preserve or increase a person’s health using genetic, medical, phenotypic and nutritional information. The Personalised Nutrition Project published in Cell showed that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all diet. The project investigated post-meal glycemic response in 800 individuals and found that for some people sushi raised blood sugar levels more than ice cream, while in others it was the opposite.
Creating a diet and nutrition plan based on your genes will feed your DNA and give your body everything it needs to look and feel its best.
Your genes are not your destiny…
How many times have you been to the doctors thinking you were at the peril of your family history? When close relatives are plagued with chronic diseases, it can give you a sense of hopelessness. However, you’ll be happy to hear that just because it’s in your genes, that doesn’t mean it’s definitely going to happen.
An emerging field of study known as epigenetics helps to explain this further. Put simply, epigenetics is the study of biochemical mechanisms that switch your genes on and off. This means that environmental factors will latch onto your DNA and change which genes will be expressed and which will not.
So, epigenetics is the interaction between your genes and your environment. By understanding epigenetics more, we can attempt to figure out which of our behaviours affect diseases like obesity, diabetes, and depression. Even some foods have been linked to a reduced risk of cancer due to their epigenetic effects.
Epigenetics affects how our genes are read by cells. Cells are essential working units in the body. All the instructions that cells need to operate and function are held in your DNA. DNA in humans is made up of about three billion nucleotide bases of which four bases are the most important. Our DNA sequence or the order of the bases is what determines the instructions throughout the body.
Epigenetics looks at how our lifestyle and environment affect our genes. Lifestyle factors such as nutrition, exercise, sleep, and stress levels can ultimately turn genes on and off.
Research from the Danish Twin Study found that 90% of our longevity is determined by our choices, not by our genetics. Some natural chemicals can have a direct impact on gene expression. Essential nutrients such as choline which is commonly found in liver and eggs indirectly affect gene expression
Scientists found that factors such as smoking, sun exposure, and depression are known to contribute to ageing. Whereas being married, having a low body mass index and high social status influenced the ageing process positively.
Eventually, environmental factors can lead to chemical changes around the genes that in turn cause genes to be switched on and off. In some cases, diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s can cause genes to be switched away from a healthy state.
Although some genes are hardwired at the moment the egg is fertilized by the sperm, epigenetics suggests that DNA may be much more susceptible to change than previously thought. This emerging area of research represents a shift in how biology is viewed. It now needs to be looked at not only through the lens of genomics but also epigenetics.
Research suggests that epigenetic traits can be passed through generations. One study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that pregnant women who witnessed the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center passed on higher levels of cortisol to their babies. Cortisol is your body’s main stress hormone.
Examples of Genes...
The COMT Gene and Stress
By understanding your genes and gene variations you may have, it can help you in all areas of your life. For example, when it comes to stress, one specific part of your resilience to stress comes from your COMT gene. The more you understand this type of gene and the variation you have, the more you can learn to cope with waves of stress.
When your thoughts begin to spin out and you become stressed, your body responds by sending out three neurotransmitters known as Catecholamines, dopamine, and norepinephrine. When you experience that fight or flight response, that’s adrenaline in your body increasing so you can respond to the situation.
The COMT gene is responsible for making a particular enzyme known as Catechol-O-MethylTransferase. This enzyme’s sole job is to break down Catecholamines. This means bringing your heart rate back down and restoring balance both physically and psychologically after a stressful situation.
Not all COMT genes are the same and by understanding the characteristics of your own, you will be better equipped to deal with stress.
Research suggests that responses to stress mindset intervention may vary with COMT genotype.
One study in Taiwan looked at 779 students about to take a test which lasts two days and how it affected their stress levels. Scientists found that students with a slow-acting Met-variation scored an average of 8% less than those with a fast-acting Val variation. These are two variations of the COMT gene and suggest that gene variations impact how individuals cope with stress.
The MTHFR Gene
Another example of one of your genes is the MTHFR gene. The MTHFR acts like a set of instructions and is essential for several functions throughout the body. It’s three main jobs are:
- Convert vitamin B9 (folate) into methyl-folate which is more easily used by the body using a process called methylation.
- Convert homocysteine into methionine which is crucial for growth and repair.
- Detoxify heavy metals and other toxins.
Unfortunately, some of us were born with a defective set of instructions. The MTHFR gene mutation can result in a higher risk of chronic diseases. It’s also been linked to certain cancers. One study showed that depending on the type of MTHFR gene mutation they had, premenopausal women were 1.9 to 4.5 times more likely to develop breast cancer.
Methylation is the process which takes place to convert vitamin B9 into methyl-folate. Basically, methylation is the mechanism in which a methyl group is added to a compound. This may sound simple but methylation is actually vital to a number of functions in the body including:
- Controlling your immune system
- Controlling inflammation in the body
- Detoxifying the body of heavy metals and toxins
- Fixing DNA, cells and tissues
- Making chemicals that control mood, sleep brain function
If you have a MTHFR gene mutation, you produce 30-70% less methyl-folate which is the end product of folate methylation. As a result, you may experience symptoms associated with this type of gene mutation. Some common symptoms of the MTHFR gene mutation are:
- A long history of anxiety and depression
- Experience one or more miscarriages
- Autoimmune diseases such as Fibromyalgia and Hashimoto
- Longstanding digestive issues or IBS
Research has shown that there is a connection between the MTHFR gene mutation and a number of diseases including heart disease, cancer, stroke, and mental illness. One study by The American Heart Association found that participants with two copies of the MTHFR gene had an increased risk of coronary heart disease.
Getting tested for the MTHFR gene mutation is the first step you need to take to understand what your body needs to stay healthy. As there are many variations of the MTHFR gene it’s important to find out whether you have the mutation or not and what kind of mutation you have.
You can learn more in our article, the truth about the MTHFR gene mutation and everything you need to know.
Glutathione or GHS is a powerful antioxidant in the body that’s commonly referred to as the body’s primary detoxifier. GHS is an internal antioxidant which is created within the body. It’s produced in the liver but can also be found in the eyes, kidneys, and brain. GHS is involved in many functions in the body and provides benefits such as:
- Increases energy
- Strengthens the immune system
- Improves mental focus and clarity
- Reduces the effect of stress
- Enhances athletic performance and recovery
Glutathione is depleted by several factors like environmental toxins, excessive exercise, chronic stress and chemicals in foods. A deficiency in glutathione has been linked to numerous health conditions such as heart disease, cancer, kidney problems, and chronic infections. There is a genetic element to glutathione production which is why it’s important to test the genes involved in glutathione metabolism.
These are the genes that are responsible for producing enzymes that allow the body to create GHS. One of the main genes involved in this process is called GSTT1. This gene is surprisingly absent in 38% of the population according to a recent study.
As low levels of glutathione can cause such worrying side effects and lead to so many health issues, it’s crucial to find out so that you can eat the right foods and nutrients for your body.
Nutrigenomics is an emerging field of science that is finally giving us a better understanding of how certain foods interact with our body and DNA.
With innovations in genetic testing, you can now use your genetic information to create a personalized nutrition plan that gives your body what it needs to not only thrive but experience positive health outcomes and even prevent disease.
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