What do your genes have to do with your diet? Everything. New inquiry into genetics has revealed a wide range of ways your genes affect the kinds of foods your body tolerates, and those you should avoid. In fact, this research has led to a new field called nutritional genomics: literally, the science of how your genetics affect the absorption and processing of what you eat.
Genetics Versus Epigenetics
Genetics is the study of the genes an organism is born with. Now genetics in terms of human health has become a growing industry. There is another aspect of genetics, however, that is equally important: epigenetics.
Epigenetics studies how your diet and environment can affect the expression of your genes. In other words, your diet and environment can cause some genes to switch on and others to switch off. This can affect how well your body processes some foods that would, under different circumstances, affect your body in entirely different ways.
If you think of genetics and epigenetics together as a horse pulling a cart, then genes affect the size and strength of the horse. Now think of epigenetics as the load placed in the cart that affects how well the horse can pull.
How Did Nutritional Genomics Come To Be?
While the field of nutritional genomics is new, the foundations for it were laid back in 2002 with the completion of the Human Genome Project, the mapping of human genes. This led to several new fields in which genes could be carefully analyzed for their impact on a wide variety of health issues. Tests were now possible that can determine the likelihood of breast cancer and other forms of illness.
Nutritional genomics came out of this newly cultivated genetic research. Geneticists began to isolate genes that affected, among other things, how we process specific vitamins.
A Specific Example Of How Your Genome Can Influence Your Nutrition
One example is the discovery of the MTHFR genes. This set of genes influence how the body absorbs some types of vitamin B through a process called the methylation cycle.
For example, there are four forms of vitamin B12 products available on the market today. The most common type is cyanocobalamin (cobalamin is the scientific name for B12). A less commonly available for sale type is methylcobalamin. In most individuals, any version of B12 may be fine. But for some who have a mutation in the MTHFR gene, the methyl form of B12 may be better absorbed – and they probably also would benefit from a specific methyl form of B9 known as methylfolate. Just taking a “regular” multivitamin with cyanocobalamin and folic acid (the synthetic and most commonly available form of vitamin B9) may do more harm than good for individuals with these specific genetic anomalies.
This is only one aspect of how genetics affect diet. There is a broad range of others.
Managing Your Diet Through Genetics
Our Hong Kong clinic offers the services of doctors, nutritionists and functional medicine practitioners who are familiar with this new research. We may recommend that you submit a sample for a DNA test to examine how your genes could affect your nutritional needs and diet. Obtaining your genetic profile is as simple as using a swab on the inside of your cheek.
After that, we can advise you on how nutritional genomics can be applied to your particular genetics and diet. This new field will likely play an increasingly key role in how we manage our health in the future. You will learn not only what foods to eat but which to avoid, and may also discover other lifestyle changes that are particularly important for your optimal good health.