Nutrition research has traditionally focused on the assumption that all individuals have the same nutritional requirements, (although some distinction has been made for children and men vs. women). Nowadays, more and more researchers are studying nutrigenomics and nutrigenetics to see if, instead, we can create personalized nutrition for the individual. Let’s see what this is all about.
All the gene stuff can get a bit confusing as it is complex, but hopefully, I can make it clear and help you realize why it is important.
We’ve all experienced the one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition – and found that it works for some people and not others. With new research, we now have a different goal: to develop a personalized nutrition strategy for optimal health and disease prevention. This means that we match our nutrient intake with our genome so that gene expression, maintenance, metabolism and cell function can occur normally and sustainably.
It seems like a huge goal, but we are making progress. Two aspects of it are: how the food we eat affects our gene expression and how our inherited genes modify micronutrient uptake and metabolism and dietary effects on health. This is nutrigenomics and nutrigenetics, which together are called Nutritional genomics. The infographic below explains a little more.
Nutrigenomics and nutrigenetics both involve genes and nutrients but nutrigenomics looks at how food acts on genes and nutrigenetics looks at how genes act on food. A lot of people still get it confused – even some professionals and researchers – but now you know!
So now what do I do with my gene test results?
You have probably heard of 23andme and other genetic testing facilities that look for SNPs. This is nutrigenetics. Maybe you’ve already had yours tested, or maybe you are contemplating it.
The chances are that if you have test results, you were probably confused by them! It is complex.
And the interpretation of your results is very important. We can’t look at SNPs in isolation. One SNP doesn’t lead to one disease or increase disease risk. These genes are what is called “low penetrance” genes, so we need to look at patterns/groups of SNPs, not individual ones.
But as we saw above, nutrigenetics is just part of the picture. We also have to look at the biochemistry and nutrigenomics. And then, most importantly, we need to look at the person. Do they have symptoms, what is their family history, what are they concerned about? What are their lab or functional tests showing? How is their environment?
Yes, we can improve our health and work to optimize our function but not just from looking at SNPs.
What does all this mean to me?
What this means is that for these nutrigenetic (23andme type) tests, you need to work with a health care practitioner who understands this. It’s not that having a certain SNP means you need to take this supplement or eat more of this food. Functional medicine practitioners like myself, include genetic testing as part of our program for clients, when we think it is necessary. But it is just part of the process and not something to look at in isolation.
There is an ‘interpreting your genetics’ summit available online in August. This is a great way for you to learn more – and then you’ll be able to tell if you are working with someone who understands the big picture. And you’ll feel empowered to make some changes. Here’s a link to sign-up. I’ll be covering some more about nutritional genomics with specific examples in the next couple of weeks.