Nutrigenomics – Science of Genes and Nutrition
In 400B.C Hippocrates cited ‘Let food be thy medicine’, i.e. using nutrients or food to treat yourself. Though it was cited long back the fact stands true till today. In light of this, scientists for long were trying to understand the correlation between the food we eat and its subsequent relationship with our genes. This paved to the development of a new field of science known as Nutrigenomics or Nutritional Genomics.
Till now most people know that our phenotypic characteristics (i.e. observable features) are determined by our genes such as the colors of eyes, height, hair color, certain diseases and more. However, there exist biochemical characteristics also which are controlled by our genes such as the way we digest food, hormone secretion, and certain diseases caused due to alteration at the DNA level. Considering this basic understanding the science of Nutrigenomics tries to explain the relationship between your genes, nutrients, and your diet.
Nutrigenomics is a new concept which wires other fields of life sciences. Though it is new, the associated developments within the field are fast pacing. There is a requirement for continued research as nowadays most people are prone to diet-related disorders. The future of Nutrigenomics lies in Personalised Solutions for diet, exercise, and medication to overcome various health issues. The best examples of its fast pace growth are the genetic testing companies across the globe like 23nMe, MapMyGenome, Centogene and many more.
How Nutrigenomics Help us?
To treat and rectify relations between food and inherited genes [inborn faults in metabolism], the diet will form the major part of treatment methodology as per Nutrigenomics. Let us look at certain examples to gain better insights about its applicability.
One of the best examples is the impact of amino acid –phenylalanine which leads to a condition called phenylketonuria (PKU), caused by a mutation in a gene. Individuals with this condition have to avoid the consumption of foods containing phenylalanine (amino acid).
Similarly, lactose intolerance is caused due to alteration in a gene encoding lactase enzyme, wherein the consumption of milk products should be avoided as the individual will not be able to breakdown the lactose present in the milk products.
Another example will be individuals with a gluten allergy wherein the individual carries a mutated gene for gluten metabolism leading to increased sensitivity. This causes issues like bloating, gastric issues and improper digestion. The condition can be maintained with the help of a personalized diet plan based on the genetic makeup of an individual.
In 2003, when the Human Genome Project was completed, scientists started digging further into food and gene interactions and finally reached the concept of Nutrigenomics. The whole concept revolves around the fact of how specific food reacts with your genes. The diet thus created will be according to an individual’s genotype. Whatever you eat always has a direct impact on how the genes and body perceive it. If we can control how the body receives these messages at a molecular level we can work on our metabolism, weight loss, and much more.
Food and diet are an important inclining factor for many diseases and in certain conditions like cardiovascular diseases diet should contain controlled levels of saturated fats. Whether it is cardiovascular disease, diabetes, PCOS or any other condition each one of these will have specific dietary requirements. For example, in case of diabetes one should have low glycemic index foods (foods that get absorbed slowly into the bloodstream).
What we must understand from Nutrigenomics?
To keep yourself healthy it is often suggested to work out daily and follow different kinds of diet plans. But are these exercise and diet plan specific to your body? Well, the answer to this question lies within your genes which is very well dealt by the science of Nutrigenomics. You will find that general recommendation under any diet plan will be to increase your fruit and vegetable servings and lower fried food. But Nutrigenomics goes way beyond this and calibrates your dietary requirements exactly according to your genetic makeup. Without knowing about your genetic variants and your health status you may not know the exact nutrients that you lack. Thus, know your genes to know yourself.
Nutrigenomics has the following advantages. It can be used to study:
Patterns of eating. Through this, we can analyze if you have issues feeling full (satiety), crave particular snacks or are inclined to sweets.
Reactions from food. Learn how your body reacts to common foods to understand if you may be lactose intolerant, experience alcohol flush, gluten intolerant, caffeine sensitive and more. How our body reacts to certain foods can be figured out through Nutrigenomics.
Personalized diet. By knowing your genetic makeup you can get comprehensive and personalized diet guidelines.
Body’s nutritional needs. Here we can understand what minerals and vitamins are required to optimize your health conditions.
Metabolic health factors. This will help us understand if you are prone to any diseases and how diet affects each component in your body such as LDL, HDL, hormones and more.
Thus, with the help of basic genetic tests, you can understand about predisposition towards certain diseases and how your gene-based nutrition profile can help you gain insight on what is best for you.
Eventually, the aim of Nutrigenomics is prevention. Evidence of interactions between nutrition and genetics is still indefinite. The whole concept of nutrigenomics makes complete sense but there is still time to reach the level of personalized nutrition with respect to each individual’s genetic makeup. More research work and an increase in public awareness are necessary to get to the point where we are helping individuals to understand how to prevent diseases due to one’s lifestyle. We can delay the onset of dietary disorders by early-identification of individuals who are prone to weight gain, diseases, and other lifestyle disorders.