The relationship between genes and nutrition is the primary focus of nutrigenomics.
Many people view food just as a source of energy, but is that right? Primarily, the function of food or calories is to keep us alive by supporting our system as a whole. With no food, we can produce no energy.
What we eat is tightly related to how we feel, but have you ever questioned why? It seems that food is a lot more than just a source of energy. As humans developed, so did their appetite, which affects how much food we eat, which foods we choose, and at what time.
Choosing the right foods, eating them at the right times, and eating the right amount can have a profound effect on our health. It can aid in the prevention of numerous neurodegenerative, cardiovascular and musculoskeletal diseases.
But how do we know what is the right food for us? With so many different theories out there, new trendy diets, and supplements, it is hard to point out the best diet. This is because humans are different, and there is no single best diet that suits everyone.
This is where Nutrigenomics takes place, to solve these problems and find the ideal foods for you.
What is Nutrigenomics
Nutrigenomics is the science that combines genetics and nutrition and studies their relationship. Both ways – how nutrition affects gene expression, and how genes affect our food choice.
It studies the effect of foods, macronutrients, and micronutrients on our gene expression. Different gene copies, variations, or expressions can have a significant effect on our health.
Put simply, it studies the relationship of diet, food constituents *nutrients on gene expression, as posted in The Nutrition Society. (1)
Nutrigenomics is focused on exploring the way food constituents and their bioactive compounds affect gene expression at a molecular level.
It is thought that with proper genetic assessment, we can have a greater and more correct insight into one’s ability to process, metabolize, digest, absorb and utilize foods. This can help nutritionists create a more sustainable yet effective diet plan.
Aside from nutrition, there are many other behavioral, environmental, physical, and social factors that can influence gene expression.
Brief History of Nutrigenomics
The fact that nutrition impacts our health is known very long ago. From traditional Chinese medicine to Ayurveda in India, many knew the power of foods and herbs long ago. It is no miracle that we’ve seen a connection between consuming too much food and gaining weight. We’ve all seen our grandmas making opium poppy-filled pies since it acts as a natural pain-killer. We’ve all seen older people consuming ginger or turmeric teas because it reduces inflammation. But there are much smaller and more complex, but significant parts nutrigenomics discovers.
The term nutrigenomics was first described in 2001 by Pelegrin. It is a relatively new field of research that is slowly emerging and has high potential to grow and develop.
In genetics, it is known that scientists can predict the potential for developing a certain disease, purely based on genetic tests. The limitation here is potential to develop doesn’t necessarily mean that it will. Nutrigenomics can help us understand if we have a predisposition for developing celiac disease, diabetes, cancer, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
Since food is known to affect our health, scientists looked at the differences in people and their digestion. There was always the narrative that food affects health, and although we know some physiological mechanisms, genetics wasn’t taken that seriously in the past.
Now it seems that genetic tests can reveal a lot about our health, from the potential to develop celiac disease, and discover caffeine metabolism speed up to lactose intolerance. It seems like some of the underlying physiological mechanisms can be explained by or rely on how food affects our gene expression.
How Can Genetic Tests Improve The Way We Eat
Nutrigenomics is useful if we want to gain insight, an understanding of how our body works. To do so, we take genetic tests which are then analyzed by an expert in the field.
The main goal of nutrigenomics is to properly assess one’s genetics, by exploring our DNA, chromosomes, or genes, we can optimize our diet. The test gives us a lot of data we can practically use when structuring an individual meal plan.
The aim is to:
- Find the weak spots in our genes, like (lactose) intolerance and high sensitivity (to sugar) which can cause digestive problems or increase the risk of developing diseases (celiac disease).
- Include more of the foods that positively affect gene expression, or stimulate the expression of genes that are known as healthy.
- Reduce the consumption of foods that lead to the expression of certain genes known to lead to poor health.
- Optimize the consumption of drugs, supplements, chemicals, or compounds so it leads to better health.
The data we gather after the genetic test can be crucial in properly structuring meal plans, giving nutritional advice and suggestions, picking the right supplements your body needs, or reducing consumption of specific drugs.
Only by understanding our genes, we can understand the way our biology works. We can have a better insight into what happens in our body, and how our digestive system works.
Nutrigenomics can explore and correctly assess how our body works to create energy and use food as fuel. How we break specific macronutrients, how we absorb them or other vitamins and minerals, and how we digest food and utilize these constituents to create energy.
The Importance of Individualizing Nutrition
DNA is the number one most individual and specific human code. DNA is the boss which gives our body instructions on how to replicate, develop and regenerate. If we eat the right foods, we could potentially enhance our gene expression to favor better health.
Even hundreds of years ago, with medicine, science, and engineering being at such a lower stage in their development, people knew food has a tremendous effect on our health, they just couldn’t quantify it. It is fascinating to know that we can affect this by changing our diet, implementing better exercise regimes, or consuming drugs in a different way.
As we’ve discussed, we as humans are very different in the way our digestion works. Some can tolerate milk and milk products; others are lactose intolerant. Some can fight free radicals and oxidation efficiently; others experience chronic inflammation regularly. Some genotypes are better off consuming plant-based foods, while others thrive on meat for concentration, libido, and muscle growth.
When a nutrition plan takes into account all this data from our genes (variations, copies, and expression) it can fill in the gaps that we can’t otherwise see or know of. We don’t develop an appetite for vitamin D, B12, or Iron. We develop an appetite for sugar, but there are many things we need to explore under the surface. There are many other specific benefits of using nutrigenomics, as shown in the section below.
The Potential Benefits of Nutrigenomics Implementation
As we’ve discussed, nutrigenomics can help us fill the gaps in our nutrition, we don’t know about. It respects the needs of our bodies, the way our physiology works, and the way our digestion works.
Implementing the right ratio of macronutrients, incorporating more of the specific macronutrients our bodies can’t absorb, and optimizing the way we consume alcohol, coffee or drugs can have a profound effect on health.
Individualizing one’s diet is a great tool to effectively:
- Improve overall health and well-being
- Reduce chronic inflammation and oxidative stress
- Stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels
- Reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease
- Metabolize drugs in a better way (timing and quantity manipulation)
- Absorb vitamins and minerals better
- Control our Cholesterol levels (HDL to LDL)
- Improve insulin sensitivity and reduce insulin resistance
- Improve overall sleep quality and manage stress
Healthy vs. Unhealthy Eating Behaviors
Some eating behaviors are now recognized as unhealthy due to their effect on gene expression which leads to poor health or disease development. These include the consumption of deep-fried foods, excessive consumption of processed red meats, high amounts of simple carbohydrates and refined sugars, excessive alcohol or drug consumption, and smoking. And while this is a topic that is significant for the general population, it is not that individual and specific.
Many biohackers nowadays consume relatively large portions of red meat, which is of higher quality, grass-fed, with fewer toxins, and pesticides and also prepared in a better way to reduce oxidation.
Other eating behaviors are considered to be healthy, as they lead to gene expression associated with better health, well-being, and longevity. It seems that eating certain foods may improve our genetic picture because food also has an effect on genes.
This is why we’ve come up with healthy habits, they lead to the desired state of optimal health. These include eating fresh fruits and vegetables, sufficient consumption of fiber (grains, nuts, oats), drinking enough water, switching to complex OH, and eating antioxidant-rich foods and polyunsaturated fats (omega 3).
Nutrigenomics is the science that focuses on the effects of foods and their constituents on our gene expression. It discovers how genetics influence the way we absorb, digest, metabolize and utilize specific foods, compounds, vitamins, minerals, and drugs. Nutrigenomics can help us structure an optimal and individualized nutrition plan that takes our genes into account.