Nutrigenomics- How Does What We Eat Affects Our Genes
Nutrigenomics (also known as nutritional genomics) is a growing specialty in Functional Medicine and Nutrition and is ushering in a major mechanism towards increasing personalization in healthcare.
Nutrigenomics is the study of how food affects a person’s genes and how a person’s genes affect the way the body responds to food. Nutrigenomics may offer a deeper understanding of how a person’s genes and diet together may impact a person’s health and risk of developing disease.
Nutrigenomics is the study of the relationship between genomics, nutrition, and health. Genomics is the study of all a person’s genes (the genome). Technically, nutrigenomics refers to how nutrients influence your body to express genes, while Nutrigenetics refers to how your body responds to nutrients because of your existing genetic makeup.
However, many people use these terms interchangeably. Definitions do vary as this field is so new. However, common principles in all definitions focus on the ability of dietary components to up-or-down-regulate specific gene expression (epigenetics-above the gene) and the impact of certain genotypes on individual responses to different dietary components (e.g., lactose intolerance, celiac disease).
Epigenetics describes a phenomenon where certain molecular components can turn genes on or off. Similar to how a dimmer switch turns lights up and down in a room. Knowing your genetic predispositions gives us objective information regarding how we may personalize your dietary, supplement and lifestyle recommendations to dial down the dimmer switch on genes that predispose us to certain diseases and thereby regulate the expression of those genes.
Hence, epigenetically creating a different outcome from those genes.
Nutrigenomics is the study of the effect genes have on the risk of disease and dysfunction that can be mitigated by nutritional intervention, as well as the impact food, nutrition, stress, and toxins have on the expression of genes. This is the realm of “personalized lifestyle medicine,” the specialty of Functional Medicine and the future of medicine.
Jeffrey Bland, PhD the father of Functional Medicine summarizes the concept of Nutrigenomics in this manner: “Food is also information. The nutrients in food transmit messages to our cells, tissues, and organs. These can be messages about health or messages about dysfunction. Food speaks to our genes – it turns them on and off.
There are millions of molecules of information in every bite of food that get translated by our genes into cellular instructions. These instructions are what control our health and disease patterns.
So, food is not merely calories, fat, protein, carbohydrates and micronutrients like vitamins and mineral. The foods we chose to eat are literally changing the expression of our DNA for good or bad.”
Dr. Bland has further stated that the concept of “Genetic Determinism” is outdated as we now know that only about 30% of our health is locked into our genes and the other 70% is determined by what we wash over our genes in terms of our environment, experiences, lifestyle, diet, and other choices we make that in essence send messages and information to our genes determining what the genes will express.
While individuals cannot change their genetics, they can alter their diet and lifestyle to mitigate for genetic predispositions, take targeted supplements to support gene variations and promote normal cell function and structure.
Personalized Applications of Nutrigenomics
Personalized applications of nutrigenomics will promote an increased understanding of specifically how nutrition effects metabolic pathways and influences our body’s ability to maintain balance and optimal function.
This will allow us to prevent diet and lifestyle-related diseases or at the very least, intervene in the early phases of disease with targeted prevention strategies to inhibit the progression and even reverse the disease process.
Most of the diseases and health issues facing modern society such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s Disease stem from the interaction of multiple genes with a multitude of environmental factors.
As the field of genomics and nutrigenomics obtains a deeper understanding of the pathophysiology of an individual’s various health risks, we can more effectively modulate those risks with personalized prevention and intervention strategies.
As scientists are unlocking the codes to health and longevity, identifying the genetic nutritional responses can help to determine which specific foods may provide the best biological response based on an individual’s DNA.
To add to the complexity of the interaction between our genetics, environmental influences, and health, we need to consider the genome contained within our own microbiome. Microbes outnumber our human cells ten to one.
The majority live in our gut, particularly in the large intestine. The microbiome is the genetic material of all the microbes – bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses – that live on and inside the human body.
The number of genes in all the microbes in one person’s microbiome is 200 times the number of genes in the human genome. While we cannot change our genes, we can alter the microbes that inhabit our microbiome towards a more favorable balance that will positively impact almost all aspects of our health.
The discovery of the microbiome has opened a literal universe of positive modifiable genetic influences on our health, as our beneficial microbes contain genes that produce nutrients, signaling molecules, immune modulators and even hormones that our bodies utilize.
The diversity and abundance level of various microbes, genes, proteins, and metabolites will influence all aspects of our health. The composition of the gut microbiome requires a clinical evaluation when assessing nutrigenomics and appropriate interventions strategies.
The steady increase in the incidence of autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes and Crohn’s disease in the Western World and the lack of efficacy of standard treatments, is a driving force in the search for “upstream” prevention and management approaches.
With the explosion of research on the microbiome showing correlations between certain aberrant patterns of dysbiosis (imbalance of microbes) in the gut microbiome and greater prevalence of certain metabolic diseases and autoimmune diseases, there is a desire to understand why these correlations exist and what may be done to rebalance our microbiome to minimize the risk of disease.
Emerging Research into Nutrigenomics and the Microbiome
The emerging research in the field of Nutrigenomics and the Microbiome will continue to shape our understanding of how we may identify the unique dietary and lifestyle factors each person should embrace to positively impact their genetic potential and achieve optimal health.
The bottom line is that what we eat, what we think, how and where we live, all send signals/information to our genes that influence their expression for health or disease. Nutrigenomics gives us the opportunity to match dietary recommendations to individuals based on their unique genetics.
Genetic testing should be done under the supervision of a qualified Health Care Provider who has been trained to accurately assess the results and prescribe the appropriate intervention.
At AustinMD we utilize various testing modalities including Genova Diagnostics Genomic testing, allowing us to assess genetic variations that may predispose a person to certain health vulnerabilities. Genetic testing and Nutrigenomics are specialties of Functional Medicine as we seek to understand how genes interact with the environment, diet and intervene to optimize health and prevent disease.
- Personalized Nutrition: Translating the Science of NutriGenomics into Practice: Proceedings From the 2018 American College of Nutrition Meeting:
- Nutrigenomics in the Modern Era
- Understanding the Regulatory and Transcriptional Complexity of the Genome through Structure