Nutrigenomics: How Food Talks to Your Genes
This blog is re-published (with permission) from Amanda Archibald of The Genomic Kitchen. Here is a recording of our Digital Dinner Party where we chatted about the science of nutrigenomics while cooking up some delicious food!
Download recipes from the party with grocery list and other goodies here. See you in the kitchen!
Nutrigenomics = nutrition + genomics
The science of how genes are powered by nutrition is called nutrigenomics (nutrition + genomics). While there are many elements that provide information to our genes, such as stress, exercise and environmental toxins, nothing is more influential than food and nutrients. Nutrition is the principal source of information genes work with.
Nutrigenomics allows us to understand how the food we eat, specifically nutrients (like vitamins, minerals, carbs, and fats, etc.) and other components in food called bioactives (they actively affect our biology), interact with our genes and influence what they do. Up until this point, we didn’t know how powerfully nutrition influences our genome.
Nutrigenomics gives us new insight into how food actually works in the body influencing health at the gene level. Genes are the pivot that food interacts with to produce proteins which guide every aspect of how the human body works.
Genes hold a unique recipe for every protein your body makes. Every protein directs a function in your body. This is why knowing which foods and nutrients affect which genes (i.e. nutrigenomics) is a critical path to health.
Nutrigenomics has highlighted another way our food and nutrients affect our genes. The science shows us how certain foods and nutrients can stabilize our genes and prevent some SNP variations. As we get older and are exposed to things like toxins and free radicals our genes can make more mistakes. So, by eating certain foods we can help our genes correct these errors, or create “workarounds,” and keep our proteins and cells (and entire body) in optimal health.
A Nutrigenomics Example: Reducing inflammation
Let’s say you want to reduce inflammation, something I call fire in the body. You can use nutrigenomics to choose food that influences the genes directly involved in managing inflammation.
Knowing which foods work with the specific genes that cause or tame inflammation, we can plug the right foods in. This effectively dampens the noise around anti-inflammatory food and supplement claims and leads us to the specific foods and nutrients that work as anti-inflammatories for us humans.
When it comes to inflammation, we know that the allium family e.g., onions, garlic, leeks, etc. can turn off the inflammatory TNF-alpha gene. Elderberries, capers, turmeric (especially the roasted root) and radishes can do the same thing! This is unlike simply taking a supplement that claims to tame inflammation. Nutrigenomics gives us very precise information based on the information that food provides to our genes.
Now you see the value in knowing which genes that help and hinder our health, and the nutrients that influence them.
Can I start using nutrigenomics without a genomic test?
In a word, YES! Here’s why.
As you now know, nutrigenomics is the science of how food works with human genes. We share approximately 99% of the same genes with each other. After all, genes are what make us human. What differentiates us are those little variants called SNPs (Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms).
These variations are tiny differences we all have in our genetic information that is used to create individual protein “recipes.” They can determine whether the protein that is created is functioning the way it should be, or whether it’s not working to its full capacity. Whether our Vitamin D activation enzyme is made correctly or whether our inflammatory gene proteins are turned down. When a protein is not showing up to work on time in your body, or slacking on the job, it sometimes requires additional nutrient support from a specific food or even a supplement. While genomic testing provides the clearest insights into YOUR unique gene blueprint, human genes respond to food the same way for all of us.
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