Nutrigenomics is the developing and exciting science of the interaction between our genes, diet and lifestyle. It brings a whole new perspective to personalised nutrition.
The food and nutrients we eat, actually influence the instructions that our genes make to produce proteins. This is nutrigenomics.
Also, each of us has unique dietary gene variations called single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNiPs for short. These are responsible for our unique responses to the food we eat. This is nutrigenetics. This explains why the same diet can have different results for different people. Therefore, understanding your genetic variations is a key success factor in determining the best diet for you.
Tendency, not destiny
What is really important to appreciate is that we can’t change our genes, but we can influence our "gene expression" (the instructions our genes give our cells) by how we live our lives. Our genes are our “tendency”, not our “destiny”. We can influence many of our genes in a positive way, to promote health and prevent disease, once we know the right diet and exercise choices to make.
TIME magazine image cover courtesy of Time, Inc., 2016
Unique gene variations
Science has identified that some gene variations influence our susceptibility to chronic disease, e.g. depression, cardio-vascular disease, inflammatory conditions or cancer (see reference 1 below). Nutrigenomic testing helps us to understand how a person’s gene variations are affecting their health and wellbeing. This information significantly improves the personalisation of diet and lifestyle recommendations.
Research has been published demonstrating that diet recommendations based on genetic testing improved people’s long-term weight management, significantly more effectively than a standard Mediterranean diet (see reference 2 below). In another weight-loss study, researchers devised a two-year standard weight-loss diet. In the first group, subjects ate 600 fewer calories. The second group had no calorie restriction, but instead were given a diet matched to their genetic profile. For example, if people were shown to be less efficient at metabolising carbohydrates, then they were given fewer carbohydrates in their diet, but without calorie restriction. The results? The second group, following a genetically-matched diet lost 33% more weight.
Another published study, reviewed 67 athletes and footballers over 8 weeks. Results showed that DNA-matched training and diet improved their performance almost 3 times more than those on mis-matched programs (reference 3 below).
1: Kaput J, Rodriguez RL (2004) Nutritional genomics: the next frontier in the postgenomic era. Physiological Genomics, 16:166-177.
2: Arkadianos I, Valdes AM, Marinos E, Florou A, Gill RD, Grimaldi KA (2007) Improved weight management using genetic information to personalize a calorie controlled diet. Nutrition Journal, 6:1.
3. Jones N, Kiely J, Suraci B, Collins DJ, de Lorenzo D, Pickering C, Grimaldi KA (2016) A genetic-based algorithm for personalised resistance training, Biology of Sport, 33: 117:126.
Interested in finding out your nutritional and exercise gene variations?
Continue reading below to learn more about which nutrition and exercise-specific genes can be tested and how it can inform your diet and lifestyle decisions.
Carbohydrate sensitivity – Some genetic variants can increase our blood sugar response to refined carbohydrates. This can raise blood sugar levels too high and contribute to weight gain. Knowing yours sensitivity will tell you the amount of carbohydrates to eat and help you to understand and manage your cravings.
Saturated fat sensitivity – Some of us are more efficient at getting fats from foods, in which case a lower consumption is advisable. Find out which fats and how many you should be eating for weight loss and for good general health.
Lactose intolerance – In people with the "lactase" gene variant, the enzyme lactase (which breaks down the milk sugar "lactose") declines significantly with age. This may explain digestive bloating, discomfort and pain after eating dairy foods later on in life. Do you suspect lactose intolerance?
Coeliac predisposition – Coeliac disease develops in approximately 30% of the population, which carry this genetic variant. This test will identify your susceptibility. (Note-coeliac disease is only diagnosed from a blood test done by your GP).
Caffeine sensitivity – In some people, excess caffeine can cause anxiety, insomnia headaches and stomach irritation. Find out if you are classified as a “fast” or “slow” metaboliser of caffeine, and therefore the optimal amount to consume.
Liver Detoxification ability – Variations in liver detoxification genes can influence the efficient removal of toxic chemicals and waste products from our body. Knowing your unique genetic variants will accurately direct your diet and lifestyle choices to support your liver to detoxify efficiently.
Methylation cycle – Linked to detoxification, Methylation is a biochemical process that happens in every cell, to break down toxins. It happens constantly. Vitamin B6, folate (B9) and B12 are all needed to keep the methylation cycle working efficiently. A properly working methylation cycle affects our cardiovascular system, general inflammation and regulation of hormones. Knowing if we have a genetic susceptibility to reduced methylation, can inform our dietary choices. For example, eating more dark green leafy vegetables, which are high in these B vitamins, supports our methylation cycle much better.
Vitamin D need – Certain Vitamin D receptor genes can reduce how well we convert sunlight into active Vitamin D3. Lack of Vitamin D is associated with increased risk of osteoporosis, compromised immune function and other health problems. Your GP can test your blood levels, or your Nutritional Therapist can organise this for you via a finger prick test. It is advisable to get your levels tested regularly and know if you need above the daily recommended allowance, based on your genetics.
Vitamin B need – Our nervous system, digestion and red blood cells depend on B vitamins for their function. Genetic variants can compromise the conversion of inactive folic acid onto active (useable) folate. Diets rich in folate are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease (see reference 1 below).
Anti-oxidant need – Anti-oxidants are molecules found in fresh fruit and vegetables and they have an important role to play in combating damaging “free-radicals” (electrically charged molecules which collide into other molecules causing damage to cells). Learn which anti-oxidants are key for you and in what quantities.
Oestrogen imbalance – Some women suffer having too much oestrogen in their body, which can contribute to fibroids, breast lumps, endometriosis, irregular periods or fibrocystic breast disease. Used oestrogen is normally removed from the body by the liver and bowels. However, levels can rise, due to certain gene variants, which reduce our ability to excrete this used oestrogen. Find if you need to take extra steps to help remove used oestrogen.
Inflammation – Certain genes are responsible for regulating the amount of normal inflammation that our immune system creates in our body. An excessive inflammatory response is associated with many degenerative diseases, while an under-responsive immune system leaves us vulnerable to infection. Knowing our genetic vulnerability guides us to eat more anti-inflammatory foods, like Omega 3 fats, improve our sleep and maintain regular exercise.
Salt and Alcohol - Learn how much salt and alcohol it is best for you to consume for optimum health.
Reference: 1. Wald DS, Law M, Morris JK (2002) Homocysteine and cardiovascular disease: evidence on causality from a meta-analysis. BMJ, 325:1202.
Power versus endurance profile - Identify your genes that influence power or endurance activities and learn how to train to your genetic strengths
Aerobic potential - Understand your potential VO2 max for endurance sport
Recovery speed - Understand what your genes tell you about your natural recovery speed and how to plan your exercise schedule accordingly
Recovery needs - Learn about your body’s need for vitamins and micronutrients to optimise your recovery after training
Injury risk - Some people are genetically at more risk of injury than others. Learn where you are on the injury risk scale and what you can do about it.