WHAT IS NUTRIGENETICS, AND HOW DOES IT APPLY TO EVERYDAY LIFE?
It sounds like science fiction, but this growing field could be of use to everyone. Nutrigenetics is the theory of how genes interact with certain food ingredients. Each person is unique in their genes and responds differently to certain foods, and this budding industry promises to recognize what foods the body tolerates and which ones it doesn’t on the basis of genes. It sounds like science fiction or technology of the future, but nutrigenetics is already a pervasive part of our everyday life. As early as the 1960s, the nutrigenetic testing of newborns for phenylketonuria disease began. Phenylketonuria is a disease in which, due to a genetic defect, the body is unable to break down the amino acid phenylanine. If the illness isn’t recognized and a child’s diet isn’t adjusted accordingly, physical and mental disabilities will develop. Therefore, for the last 50 years, every newborn child in many places, including the U.S., has been tested for the presence of this disease. We also often hear the term lactose intolerance. This is also a genetic disease, so those who eat lactose-free in relation to symptoms eat according to their genes. If you’re a symptomless carrier of lactose-intolerant genes, you’ll be able to drink milk all your life, but your children may inherit the intolerance from you. Gluten intolerance is another dietary issue that can only occur if you have certain genes. Without those genes, the probability of developing gluten intolerance is next to zero. A nutrigenetic diet — that is, eating according to individual genes, has long been a part of our life and is far from a thing of the future.
ALTHOUGH THE NUMBER OF SKEPTICS AND OPPONENTS IS DECREASING, THERE ARE STILL MANY WHO DON’T TRUST THE PROCESS OF GENETIC TESTING AND ANALYSIS.
We often hear from people that they would never undergo genetic testing, but they probably don’t realize that their first nutrigenetic analysis for PKU illness was performed shortly after birth. Their children were also nutrigenetically tested without anyone asking for permission. For decades, this has been a standard procedure that helps prevent physical and mental disability through a modified diet. Each of us underwent our first nutrigenetic analysis shortly after birth. Most critics of this issue don’t even know what a nutrigenetic diet actually is. They believe that it’s a comprehensive genetic analysis that presents extremely detailed information about some nutrients. They don’t know that the most common food intolerances, such as lactose or gluten intolerance, fall into the nutrigenetic diet category. The “I don’t want to know” approach is another one we encounter, especially in healthy people. A person who unconsciously suffers from intolerance to gluten and, like the majority of affected people, lives for 10 years without proper diagnosis, would normally want to know the cause as soon as possible. We also often hear that there haven’t been enough studies on this topic. The argument that “It’s too early and there are not enough studies” is outdated, but would’ve been more valid sometime around 1995-2000. In 2001, the Human Genome project ended. That’s when, for the first time, we read and published the entire human genetic code. This opened the door to an incredible amount of genetics science and a whole new research industry emerged called nutrigenetics. Two years later, the genetic cause of lactose intolerance was discovered, and shortly thereafter the genetic cause of gluten intolerance. Today, nutrigenetics is taught at every major university. The number of publications on genetic variations has increased exponentially. Today, we have more than 300,000 publications in the database that investigate the effects of frequently occurring genetic defects. We already know the health effects of more than 80,000 different genetic variations and more than 300 studies have been carried out; For example, on the genetic variation of the COMT gene. For the sake of comparison: in health genetics, if three large studies have been carried out that investigated and proved the same, this fact is considered scientifically substantiated. For the COMT gene, we have over 300 studies. The time when it was possible to say that we don’t have enough studies is long gone. Do we know everything about genetics? Not at all. But we know a lot about many aspects of it. So why are there still people who claim that there is little scientific research? This has to do with the rapid development of the field. Those who went to university before the year 2000 didn’t learn anything about this field, and anyone who doesn’t stay updated will quickly lose sight of where science is at the moment. I’m sure these people don’t know that there are more than 300 studies on some genetic variations.
IF YOU DO GET TESTED, WHAT CAN YOU FIND OUT? There’s plenty that you can learn about yourself from genetic testing. For example, you might find out that phase 1 detoxification enzymes — genes responsible for starting to destroy carcinogens like smoke — don’t work properly. If you’re a smoker, you’ll be at a 3.4-times higher risk of lung cancer than many other people. Phase 2 detoxification genes are responsible for toxins like heavy metals such as cadmium, lead and mercury, but also from herbicides and pesticides, which are sprayed on crops to remove weeds and pests. Restricting your intake of heavy metal foods; like saltwater fish and shellfish; and getting plenty of minerals that bind heavy metals; like calcium, zinc and selenium; is recommended if your body has trouble breaking those toxins down. If your body has trouble properly disposing of weed and insect remedies, you should also eat organic foods. If you have bad cholesterol due to your genes, omega-3 (fish oil) capsules are a common recommendation. But in some people, this has just the opposite of its intended effect effect due to their genes and can worsen cholesterol levels. Phytosterols, which come from plants, might be a better fit for those who fall into that category. Depending on their genes, someone could also have a several times higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease. In addition to other preventative measures, diet can play a big part in prevention. Studies have shown that antioxidant-rich foods can significantly reduce the likelihood of the disease. In at least one study, drinking 3-5 cups of coffee a day was associated with a 65 percent lower risk of Alzheimer’s/dementia later in life.