Medicinal Food: How Nutrigenomics Is Shaping Our Health
According to epigenetics and longevity studies, only about 25% of our overall health is influenced by our genes.
“It’s in my genes” is something I often hear clients say when taking an initial health history. However, according to epigenetics and longevity studies, only about 25% of our overall health is influenced by our genes.1 Seventy-five percent of the picture is our lifestyle—smoking status, nutrition, movement, stress, and sleep.
Nutrigenomics, or the study of how food influences gene expression, examines how what we eat affects our genes’ activity. In other words, the food we eat can impact what proteins genes produce according to our DNA. Take caffeine as an example. Many people can drink caffeine and go to sleep 20 minutes later, while others cannot drink it after a certain time in the afternoon. We metabolize differently!
Just as some bodies react differently than the norm to certain foods, how people metabolize medications can vary as well. Pharmacogenomics looks at how drugs impact people based on how quickly they metabolize the drug. Prescription doses will depend on whether someone is a slow metabolizer or a rapid metabolizer.
With nutrigenomics, as doctors better understand how a patient’s body handles nutrients and supplements, they’ll be able to better predict the effects of a particular drug or a dosage without having to wait and see how the patient responds.
Nutrigenomics is based on several concepts:
- Genes play a role in disease development, and prevention.
- A poor diet can be a serious risk factor for many diseases.
- Nutrient deficiencies, and toxic chemicals in low-quality foods have an effect on human gene expressions.
- Each person is different in terms of how much their genes, and health are impacted by their diet.
- A healthy, but also personalized diet can be used to prevent, mitigate, or cure chronic diseases.
How does one go about getting nutrigenomic testing? Some new startups, like Habit and Arivale, offer an at-home test or blood draw that can give you a full report to tell you what to eat, or avoid. Habit has a Shake Challenge that involves drinking a shake to determine the ratio of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins that may be best for you. The lab measures look at blood samples, and the results show how your body responds to carbohydrates, fats, and protein during the testing process.
The science for nutrigeomics is still evolving. A 2015 review of nutrigenomics research2 pointed out that while the evidence is certainly promising, many studies lack definite associations between genes usually examined in nutrigenomics testing, and some diet-related diseases.
Nutrigenomics is an emerging field with a lot of promise in how we might treat, and prevent disease through nutrition. Diet, and medication recommendations will no longer be 'one size fits all.' Understanding their nutrition profiles will help patients avoid adverse reactions, and find the individualized plans that work for their bodies. Because nutrigenomics is still a relatively new field, there are a lot of things to consider before it becomes a common, widespread way to treat people.
- 1. Passarino, G. et al. Human longevity: Genetics or Lifestyle? It takes two to tango. Immun Ageing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4822264/. Accessed April 17, 2018.
- Pavilidis, Cristianos et al. Nutrigenomics: A controversy. Applied & Translational Genomics. Mar 2015 (4) p 50-3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2212066115000058. Accessed April 17, 2018.