You've probably heard of 23&me or seen the Ancestry ads about surprising DNA analyses. What we're learning from DNA testing broadens our self knowledge and is propelling the nascent science of Nutrigenomics. Nutrigenomics doesn't evaluate ancestry yet it's results can be similarly surprising. Nutrigenomics studies DNA to reveal how food influences our gene expressions and how genetic variations may dictate our individual reaction to certain foods. One size, it turns out, doesn't fit all in nutritional recommendations. In fact, it's not so much that we are what we eat. Who we become is more influenced by how we eat.
Sports Medicine was one of the first disciplines to explore the power of DNA analysis in improving how athletes eat and thereby enhancing performance. Sports Nutritionists have long known that individuals react differently to diet and nutritional enhancements. A recent study at the University of Toronto suggests that, "Genetic variants affect the way we absorb, metabolize, utilize and excrete nutrients..." Still rigorous study is needed to demonstrate a positive link between foods or supplements suggested by DNA and resulting performance outcomes. Nonetheless, the drive for competitive advantage pushes sports medicine and Nutrigenomics forward. Meanwhile individual practitioners and entrepreneurs are excited about the Nutrigenomics potential. Do your research with this new field of study and buyer, please beware.
Professional university programs in nutrigenomics are emerging and, though healthy debate about demonstrable outcomes exists, that hasn't stopped individual practitioners from utilizing genetic testing to begin advising patients in wellness and nutrition. The related field of medicine called Nutriepigenomics, "examines the connection between diet and chemical marks that can be attached to or removed from our DNA, thereby turning genes on or off," writes author Bailey Kirkpatrick in an article titled Epigenetics, Nutrition, and Our Health: How What We Eat Could Affect Tags on Our DNA. The science of Epigenetics studies links between our environment and our genes while Nutriepigenomics probes the role of nutrients as a factor in gene expression. Nutriepigenetic studies are finding that lack of proper nutrition at critical times appears to play a role in inflammation and our risk with regard to some cancers. These two fields may lead to personalized nutrition in years to come and they will certainly add to our national discussion about the role of nutrition in fitness and wellness.
Have you heard of Functional Nutrition? Functional nutritionists evaluate individual health, lifestyle and diet to recommend an optimal nutrition plan. DNA testing, some suggest, provides even deeper analysis and more accurate guidance for building a wellness plan,. Of particular interest to Functional medicine practitioners, who look at our health problems in a broader way than Functional nutritionists, is the gene MTHFR. MTHFR aids in methylation and homocysteine balance. Methylation deficiencies, Functional practitioners say, are at the root of many elusive diseases including Dementia, ADHD, heart disease, Insomnia, Cancer, Tumor formation, and high blood pressure.
Nutrigenomics is validating what many people already knew about the way they metabolize or tolerate foods. In the future medicine hopes to tell us what foods we will metabolize and tolerate best and which foods or supplements our bodies need for optimal wellness and long term health. That promise is launching dozens of online DNA testing sites. If you're planning to have your DNA evaluated for an optimal diet consider visiting a qualified dietician or doctor or better yet wait a few years until the science matures.
While there's no one size fits all for nutrition --- nutritionists still advise that we eat the basic food groups and exercise daily. DNA advice is the frosting on the cake not the cake itself. There's clearly a relationship between food and disease and a rapidly clearer relationship between food, lifestyle and our body's genetic expression but it's complicated. Fitness coach Ginny Erwin summed it up this way, "DNA testing might give you some grains of information, but there is so much more to it than that,” she said, "...Your genetics load your gun, and then your lifestyle pulls the trigger.” Nutrigenomics hopes to disarm the gun or at the very least help us heal the lifestyle influences that determine whether or not we pull the trigger. Hopefully we can all get behind that kind of science. Eat well and stay well, dear reader, the miracles of genetics are coming soon.