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Friday, May 11, 2018

Nutrigenomics—Can what I eat really affect my genes?


There is a new trend in town—Nutrigenomics—the scientific study of the interaction of nutrition and genes, especially with regard to the prevention or treatment of disease. Nutrigenomics is a whole new burgeoning field that is studying the effects certain nutrients have on our genes that then influence how we metabolize our food, how we gain or lose weight, as well as why people can eat the same diet, like high in fat, but only some will develop high cholesterol. The assumption is that this field will help us know how to minimize and/or treat risks of triggering certain diseases we are genetically prone to get through the food we eat.

This field of study was made possible because of the completion of the Human Genome Project and began only 15 years ago. Although we all know each of us is born with a set of specific genes, what may not be as familiar is that those genes have the ability to “express” themselves in a variety of ways depending on various influencers—diet being one of the influencers.

All of us know through our own experience that certain diets don’t work for us and it is not just about personal preference. It is about how our body responds to the types of foods we eat on a certain diet. This speaks to the ongoing debate between which is the better diet, low carb or low fat. It remains a debate because of people having varying success on either of these diets, probably because of how the nutrients are interacting with their genes.

Just Right Set® plate/photo by Nikki Massie

How cool will it be to know our bodies, because of our gene make up, will respond better and remain healthier if we follow a certain diet? And when we are trying to lose weight for our health, how great will it be to be able to have a personalized nutrition plan that outlines what diet will actually work best for us? Right now diet recommendations have more to do with the preference of a particular dietitian or our own or even more so, the particular trend of the day. That explains why so many diets fail and why so many of us struggle to keep the weight off. We aren’t eating the right diet for our genes.

Dr. Ahmed El-Sohemy, one of the founders of the field of Nutrigenomics, believes that in the-not-too-distant-future we will be able to have a personalized road map that tells us what diseases we are at risk of manifesting because of our gene make up and how we can decrease the risk of triggering a disease through a personalized diet plan. How revolutionary to think we can actually know scientifically how to manage our health and lower risk of specific diseases through what we eat.

Of course managing our overall health isn’t quite as simple as knowing what the best foods are for us to eat. We are far more complex than that. There are so many more environmental factors that play into our health from where we live, to how much exercise we get, to our mental health, to our family make up and so much more. However, the closer we can get to understanding how our bodies specifically respond to each of those influences because of our own genetic make up can only help us better succeed in living life as our healthiest selves. It looks like Nutrigenomics is paving the way to helping us do just that through understanding how what we eat influences our genes.

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