You can probably remember back to when you were young, and your parents would remind you that you needed to take your vitamins in order to grow up big and strong. But which vitamins did you need? How often should you have been taking them, and at what dose? In the past, these questions were rarely addressed. Instead, many children just took a daily multivitamin to cover all of their nutritional bases.
However, in the modern age, we have seen the rise of what is known as “nutrigenomics.” Nutrigenomics helps us understand how certain supplements can be life-changing for some people yet extremely harmful to others.
How a supplement reacts with a person’s body has to do with their unique genetic makeup. To discover precisely what a body needs to function at its best, we can take a DNA test to analyze nutrition needs. These tests make it possible to remove all of the guesswork out of taking vitamin supplements and provide your body with precisely what it demands.
Why Vitamins Aren’t “One Size Fits All”
In the US, the Food and Drug Administration publishes guidelines and recommendations about how much and how often people should consume various nutrients; however, they do not consider the genetic makeup of each individual.
The recommendations created by the FDA are known as the “Dietary Reference Intakes,” which are based upon the distribution of the entire population. This data takes into account the average daily amount of nutrients required for most people to be healthy. So, what is the problem with this recommendation? Many of us aren’t “average.”
What Are Your Genes Telling You?
It is no secret that each human body is genetically unique. However, did you know that according to a recent Oxford University study, only 8.2% of the DNA in your body is functional? This 8.2% of your genome is responsible for everything from how you look to how your organs function.
Discovering what your body craves on a genetic and molecular level is beneficial for many reasons. For example, consider Vitamin A. Some bodies have a hard time converting compound beta-carotene into Vitamin A, which is its usable form in the body. Vitamin A is essential for your vision, healthy skin, brain function, and reducing inflammation.
If your body cannot process beta-carotene effectively, eating a diet rich in carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, or pumpkins would not be very beneficial. These foods are rich in essential nutrients, but unfortunately, they will just pass through your system with little effect.
However, there is still hope. By taking a supplement that contains the converted form of Vitamin A, your body will be able to absorb these nutrients properly and function naturally. Vitamin deficiencies, like those associated with beta-carotene, can be determined through blood analysis and genetic testing.
What is Nutrigenomics?
The more that we learn about genetics, the more diversity we discover between individuals. That is especially true when we look at how each person responds to different nutrients. Humans possess several gene variants that can affect both the rate and the efficiency of various nutrients being metabolized in the body. Enter the study of nutrigenomics.
Nutrigenomics is the study of how genes and nutrients interact with each other. This relatively new and exciting research is often regarded as the “future of nutritional science” since incorporating genetic data allows for the creation of highly customized nutritional recommendations based on the individual’s genetic makeup.
How Much Supplementation is Just Right?
In most cases, the choice to take a supplement stems from the desire to be more health-conscious or to protect the body from any nutrient deficiencies. If this sounds like you, you may turn to a DRI or other nutritional guideline to better understand what supplements you may need. While these guidelines might be a solid starting point, you might be surprised to learn that many people have particular genetic variants that will affect their ability to absorb nutrients effectively.
So, how would you even know if you have a gene variant that produces too much iron or too little vitamin D?
The only way to know for sure is to order a DNA nutrition test. Some vitamins, such as vitamin D, are a bit tricky to balance. Some bodies might require more than the government guidelines call for, while others should avoid supplementation altogether. To truly identify how much of a supplement your body needs, specialists must consider a DNA nutrition test as well as your lifestyle choices, medical history, and any medication you may be taking. With this information, a specialist can create a customized supplement plan to help your body perform optimally.
What Can a DNA Nutrition Test Tell Me?
So how can you know which supplements will interact well with your DNA? To fully understand how particular vitamin and mineral supplements work with the human genome, researchers have identified several gene variants that will impact how well they are metabolized by the body. Some examples of these variants include:
- The MTHFR gene has two variants, A1298C, and C677T, which can reduce folate metabolism. Folate is responsible for regulating the body’s homocysteine levels. High levels of homocysteine can increase the risk of developing coronary artery disease.
- The HFE gene can carry the H63D or C282Y variant, affecting the metabolism of iron, usually causing high iron levels. Chronic fatigue and joint pain are early symptoms of elevated iron levels, resulting in liver and heart damage if left untreated.
- The PEMT gene variants, 744G to C and 5465G to A, can result in lower than average choline levels in some women. Choline is a nutrient that plays a role in fetal development, fat metabolism, and brain and liver function. Women with a choline deficiency are at risk of developing fatty liver disease.
New variations are being identified regularly.
While these examples are by no means the only way your body interacts with vitamins, they should give you a real idea as to why these nutrients are so crucial for a healthy body.
Some other notable examples from nutrigenomic research include a variant of the GC gene, which could impact a person’s vitamin D intake, and a variant of the BCMO1 gene, which affects vitamin A levels.
A Healthier Way to Supplement
Using nutrigenomics is an excellent way to customize supplements to your body’s specific needs. By targeting the nutrients that your body needs most, you can achieve a variety of health benefits, including:
- Improved mood and energy levels
- Better sleep and short-term memory
- Increased muscle strength, balance, skin and eye health
- Protection from nutritional deficiencies that result in asthma, allergies, and hearing loss
- Ability to manage stress or lose weight
A supplement plan based on your unique genome is more than just a vitamin and mineral regimen. This plan could also include beneficial supplements of amino acids, herbal supplements, probiotics, and omega-3 fatty acids. The primary goal of nutrigenomics is to give you more control over your health by tailoring a plan to meet your body’s unique requirements.
Why is Nutrigenomics Important?
Nutritional genomics (nutrigenomics) can also be thought of as the relationship between your diet (the nutrients you take in) and how your genes are expressed.
Since the onset of the Human Genome Project in the early ’90s, the mapping of the human DNA sequence has paved the way for the study of nutrigenomics as we know it today. Without this research, we would still be mainly in the dark regarding how nutrients interact with our genome.
Although the field of nutrigenomics is often overhyped, the study remains fast-paced and well funded. It has brought with it great interest in tailored approaches to individualized healthcare.
However, with any new field of study come challenges, both regulatory and ethical. For example, the information required for nutrigenomics to be useful is highly personal and has the potential for misuse. Additionally, there is the moral question of whether it is appropriate to screen for genetic predispositions if no treatment exists. For these reasons, this area of study has been a hot topic for debate among industry professionals.
Benefits for Healthcare Systems
Whether it is ethically appropriate or not, the field of nutrigenomics is bound to bring a noticeable change to how we view healthcare in the near future. In fact, a UK Department of Health article predicted that genetics would profoundly affect the monitoring, prevention, and treatment of genetic conditions, all the way back in 2003.
The growing interest in nutrigenomics has also led to organizations such as the International Society for Nutrigenomics and Nutrigenetics and the European Nutrigenomics Organization, which strive to increase international collaboration and research efforts.
Considering the stress placed on healthcare systems by nutrition-related diseases, this study can create more sustainable ways to treat health at a population level. While the field of nutrigenomics still has a considerable way to go, there seems to be a great desire to provide a more personal healthcare experience for physicians and patients.
How Does Nutrigenomics Work?
Genes respond to a number of environmental influences, including drugs, chemicals, and nutrition which can affect the way a gene expresses a trait physically. A few key nutrients that play a large role in gene expression are choline, folate, vitamins B2, B6, B12, and Vitamin A.
In addition to those essential vitamins, dietary patterns are also associated with gene expression. For example, a diet with a high Glycaemic Index (how carbohydrates affect blood glucose levels) has been associated with an exaggerated polymorphism of the Adiponectin gene. In other words, those with this condition are more likely to develop insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes.
Nutrigenomics is a field of study that is very much dependent on the development of technology that is able to process the raw data related to genes and their variants. These evolving technologies allow specialists to identify and measure several different types of molecules at the same time. This advanced tech is critical considering that most genetic conditions are not caused by a single dietary element but by a complex grouping of interactions between gene variants.
One of the biggest challenges for the field of nutrigenomics is understanding exactly how bioactives will react in our bodies. The complex biology of the human body makes it difficult to pinpoint one single cause or reaction. However, as advances in human genome research are made, specialists can better identify how nutrients interact with a population of diverse genetic backgrounds.
While there is still much to learn about how vitamins and minerals affect each specific gene, genomic counselors can analyze your particular genome, family history, and environmental factors to make intuitive recommendations for supplements that will benefit your unique body chemistry.
What is the Future of Nutrigenomics?
The future of nutrigenomics is unclear, yet there are significant advancements in the field regularly, which could greatly help those with vitamin or nutrient sensitivities or deficiencies. As more healthcare professionals adopt a preventative approach to treating patients, nutrigenomics shows much promise in providing targeted treatments for preventing diseases and genetic conditions.
Understanding how nutrients interact on a genetic level will take some time. Still, as technology advances, our knowledge of how to supplement vitamins and minerals effectively grows. Each body is incredibly unique, but with nutrigenomics, healthcare becomes highly personal and tailored to each person’s individual requirements. We can expect to see the field of nutrigenomics to grow in the coming years as the age of home healthcare and family medicine enter their prime.
If you are curious about which vitamins work best with your genes, ordering a DNA nutrition test is a great way to find out. A DNA nutrition test will provide you with a customized analysis of what is best for your body.
If you would like to learn more about how Genealogy Care analyzes your DNA, check out this blog post here.