What you need to know about nutrigenomics

Nutrigenomics is a growing field of research in human health. But what is it actually all about?

The human genome was sequenced by the Human Genome Project in 2003. For the first time, researchers developed a comprehensive picture of the structure, organisation and function of the genes that make up a human being. While scientists estimate that 98% of our genes are identical, there are variations in our genetic code that make us unique and can have a significant impact on our health and wellbeing.

“We all have billions of letters of genetic code but with slightly different combinations of those letters,” explains Emma Beswick founder of nutrigenomic DNA testing company, Lifecode Gx. “These alterations in the code are known as SNPs (pronounced ‘snips’). They affect how our body and mind respond to our environment.”

“They are like written instructions for our body, a bit like sheet music, which tells the musician how to play their instrument,” she adds. “Our genome tells our body how to function and behave.”

Why is our genome important?

According to Francis Collins, the former director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, the discovery of the human genome has given us “a transformative textbook of medicine, with insights that will give healthcare providers immense new powers to treat, prevent and cure diseases.”

Researchers are exploring how our SNPs influence how we respond to certain drugs, for instance, and whether we’re likely to experience side effects. This is a field known as pharmacogenics.

Breakthroughs in this area have lead to the development of personalised drugs that target cancers with a specific genetic makeup. While these drugs would be disregarded as useless if tested on the general population, they can be life-saving when given to very specific individuals who have been screened according to their unique genome.

As pharmacogenics makes steps towards uncovering transformative treatments for a variety of diseases, another area of genetic science — known as nutrigenomics — is attempting to prevent these diseases from occurring in the first place.

What is nutrigenomics?

Nutrigenomics explores the relationship between our genes and the food that we eat. Research has long shown that we each have unique nutritional needs but nutrigenomics is starting to explain why. Our SNPs can affect our response to different foods (such as lactose, gluten and caffeine) as well as how well we absorb and make use of the various vitamins in our diet. There are also variations in our genome that can increase our risk of various health conditions. These include obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure, among others.

There’s no need to lose hope if we find that we have an unfavourable SNP. “What makes nutrigenomics different from other genetic tests is that everything we look at has a fix,” Emma explains. With a clearer picture of our unique genetic code, a healthcare professional can advise on how we might mitigate our inherited risks with personalised nutrition and lifestyle changes.

This might look like taking a strong vitamin D supplement if we’re found to have an unfortunate SNP associated with poor absorption of this vital vitamin. Similarly, there’s evidence that those with certain variants of the FTO gene (associated with obesity) can benefit from increasing their intake of omega-3 fatty acids, protein and fibre and getting a good sleep routine. Further, sluggish variants of the PGC1A gene (associated with a slower metabolism) can be stimulated with exercise, fasting and cold water exposure.

Is there enough evidence to support nutrigenomic tests?

Nutrigenomics has the potential to offer invaluable insight into our unique nutritional needs, but some experts stress that we need further research before we can fully personalise our diets. They argue that, while there is strong evidence to support the association between specific gene variants and recommended lifestyle interventions, others need further study before they can be put into practice.

In a 2017 review, researchers suggested the reason for this is that the human genome is far more complicated than originally thought. The authors of the paper cite epigenetics (how lifestyle factors can switch genes ‘on’ and ‘off’) and the role of the microbiome as complicating factors that can influence how impactful a gene and diet association might be.

Concluding in the paper, the researchers say: “While the science of nutritional genomics continues to demonstrate potential individual responses to nutrition, the complex nature of gene, nutrition and health interactions continues to provide a challenge for healthcare professionals to analyse, interpret and apply to patient recommendations.”

What difference can a nutrigenomic test make?

While we may need further evidence to fully unlock the secrets of our DNA, anecdotal evidence suggests that nutrigenomics reports can be transformative for health and wellbeing.

“The biggest surprise from my nutrigenomic test was learning that my body blocks the ability to create glutathione, the master antioxidant that helps prevent cellular damage caused by oxidative stress,” says Liz. “As I don’t have this gene, I cannot create my own natural supplies. The only way I can obtain glutathione is by taking a supplement.

“From the very first day of taking a supplement, I felt so much brighter and more cheerful for it. Quite extraordinary. I thought I was feeling quite well beforehand, but since adding in glutathione I now feel even better!”

These results weren’t a surprise to Emma who’s seen countless lives changed by Lifecode Gx’s simple DNA test.

“One of my business mentors experienced life-long allergic symptoms — including asthma and eczema, and intermittent low mood and osteoporosis,” she shares. “Her Nutrient Core test showed both a predisposition to low vitamin D levels and reduced response to vitamin D. Vitamin D was the root of all these health problems. Her quality of life has been transformed with this simple insight.”

How to get a nutrigenomic test

If you’d like to try a nutrigenomic test, it’s important that an experienced healthcare professional interprets your results. They will be able to advise you on what the results mean.

Some nutrigenomic tests screen for the following gene variants:

  • food response – coeliac disease (gluten) and lactose intolerance
  • caffeine – sensitivity and metabolism
  • microbiome – diversity
  • vitamin need – vitamins A, B9 (folate), B12 (cobalamin), C, D and K
  • blood pressure – sodium-potassium balance
  • detoxification – glutathione
  • metabolism – blood sugar control (insulin), appetite (leptin)
  • inflammation – specific (infection response) and systemic
  • circadian rhythm – early bird or night owl predisposition
  • blood pressure – salt sensitive hypertension

To find out more information you can visit Lifecode Gx.

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