Nutrition and Genes: A Two-Way Street
The fields of nutrigenomics and nutrigenetics emerged from the recognition that food-derived non-nutrient molecules can modulate gene expression to influence intracellular molecular mechanisms. These two disciplines are derived from the interweaving of the sciences of nutrition, biochemistry, molecular biology, and genomics. Nutrigenetics is the study of the effects of genes on nutrients, whereas nutrigenomics is the study of the effect of nutrients on genes and gene expression. From the study of nutrigenetics, we know that our genes play a key role in how we metabolize what we eat. Likewise, from the study of nutrigenomics, we know that what we eat changes us at the molecular level of our genomes.
This is an exciting time: researchers are on a quest to identify biomolecules with significant nutrigenomic potential. Many thousands of different phytochemicals are present in plant foods, especially fruits and vegetables . It has been determined that beneficial plant phytochemicals, called phytonutrients, modulate gene expression. These dietary plant compounds can reduce the risk of many health conditions, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease, and even reverse the disease process in some cases. More and more evidence suggests that the health benefits of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other plant foods are attributed to the interactions of bioactive compounds and other nutrients in whole plant foods.
The Future of Medical Advice and Care
A whole-food, plant-based diet has proven to have many health benefits, yet we don’t all respond to nutrient agents in the same way. Our individual nutrigenetic response will determine whether we would do better with more or less of specific foods and nutrients in our diet. It is clear that many nutrients have a powerful impact on gene expression. Diet manipulation and nutrient therapies hold great promise for future medical advice and medical care. Scientific researchers are beginning to crack the code — there is much that is understood and still much more to learn.
Precision Nutrition Requires Precise Diagnostics
Only in recent years has our understanding of human physiology grown to the point where we can begin to understand both how individual dietary components and how the complex interplay of diet and microbiota affects our health. Genetic polymorphisms may compromise individual biochemical function. The interlinked sciences of nutrigenetics and nutrigenomics provide the clinician with a more targeted opportunity to personalize a patient’s treatment program. Specific dietary interventions offer a means for altering the microbiome and metabolism, and as a consequence, alter the course of many intestinal and systemic disorders.
At The Harlin Center, we integrate your nutrigenetics data and your microbiome data into a comprehensive broader clinical assessment of your health and provide you with personalized recommendations.
Every patient in our clinical genomics practice receives a dietary analysis that includes:
- a personalized consultation that takes stock of your dietary habits, known dietary risks, and over-the-counter nutriceuticals
- an analysis of your 4-day dietary journal that calculates caloric intake; percentages of the daily value (DV) for twelve vitamins and ten minerals; percentages of the three macronutrients: proteins, carbohydrates, and fats; analysis of carbohydrate and fat composition; and the amino acid composition of the proteins you’ve eaten
- a research-based examination of your most clinically important genetic variants related to your nutrition (e.g. vitamins A, B12, D and K, the metals magnesium, iron, copper, zinc, and polyunsaturated fatty acids)
- a 12-page report on your microbiome data that categorizes it in an easy-to-understand format and provides explicit recommendations for optimizing your gut health
Nature, Nurture, and Disease Risk
Each of us carries genetic variants which uniquely impact our response to nutrients (known as gene-diet interactions). In some individuals, these variations appear to be linked to different diseases, most notably obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Here are a few of the nutrition-related risk alleles we screen for.
Two Genomes: DNA + Gut Microbiome
Growing levels of scientific and clinical evidence are finding that microbes living in our guts play a vital role in our overall wellness. Numerous studies have established a causal relationship between a well-diversified plant-based diet and the growth of beneficial microbes and metabolites. In addition, research has shown that regular consumption of a plant-based diet, low in fat (<30% total fat, <10% saturated fat, 12%-14% monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and 6-8% polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA)), can even correct the gut dysbiosis associated with obesity and cardiovascular disease. (1,2,3)
Here’s a page out of our microbiome report.
- R. H. Liu, “Health-promoting components of fruits and vegetables in the diet,” Advances in Nutrition, vol. 4, no. 3, pp. 384S–392S, 2013.