As I sat in a conference learning about the interaction of genetics and nutrition, I genuinely wondered whether I had been teleported into the future. Whilst I still looked the same age, I couldn't quite comprehend how me spitting in a tube was providing a wealth of information about what I should be eating. How had a field of "nutrigenomics" slipped so quietly into the world that very few of us even knew it existed? How has this not been mainstream news?
As I was flicking through my very own personalised report and looking at my inherited genes, I couldn't believe just how incredible science was.
About four months ago I decided to complete a genetic saliva test, and whilst anxiety prevented me from clicking on the breast cancer or Alzheimer's risk results, I did want to know everything about my ability to detoxify, hormone health, neurotransmitters, and how my body deals with histamine, so I took the raw data and sent it off to a trusted company.
When the results came back I was able to clearly see why veganism nearly ruined me, why I feel like I'm always stressed and anxious, why paleo may not be the best diet for me, and why I need to keep a close eye on my hormones and caffeine intake.
What is Nutrigenomics?
Nutrigenomics is a scientific study of the interaction between genes and nutrition, and I can say with great confidence that the field will be growing enormously within the next decade. It used to be something that we dreamed about but it's now a reality, and something we can utilise to help prevent all sorts of ailments just with a few dietary tweaks.
What the Reports Show
A genetic report will tell you where you have a "SNP" (single nucleotide polymorphism) i.e. a mutation on your gene, and whether or not it is a double or single mutation. If you use a comprehensive reporting service like Lifecode Gx, it will also highlight whether the mutation is beneficial, less beneficial, sensitive or less sensitive, and give you a break down of the effect it may have on your body.
Here are some of the most interesting findings from a nutritional perspective:
1. COMT mutations may cause anxiety
If you have a mutation on your COMT gene, you may have a slower breakdown of neurotransmitters in the brain. This could mean you're more likely to have anxiety or mood swings, and be more prone to pain. Research has subsequently shown that vitamin C is vital for helping this pathway, so ensuring adequate amounts may be useful. Interestingly, when we get stressed we can actually use up our existing store of vitamin C, so we need to be watching this intake in general.
2. With an MTHFR mutation, folate is critical
The MTHFR gene is responsible for a process called methylation, which is involved in so many bodily functions, from detoxification to energy production, immune function to DNA integrity, and folate plays a major role. If there is a mutation at this gene, the ability to utilise folate decreases and so the system slows down, leaving someone at risk for cardiovascular issues, mental health problems, and fertility issues as well as cancers. Ensuring that a large amount of folate is consumed in a food state form, from leafy green vegetables, avocados, lentils and citrus fruits, is vital. Some people may need to supplement, but certain types of synthetic folate may cause even more issues, so this needs to be assessed carefully.
3. PEMT or BHMT mutations require choline
PEMT is a gene needed for choline synthesis, which is then needed to feed into something called the BHMT pathway, which is again involved in detoxification and nervous system function. These pathways can be affected by a lack of choline (from eggs and beef liver) as well as stress. Whilst betaine (from beetroot) and zinc (from shellfish and pumpkin seeds) can be beneficial, vegans with no eggs and under stress may suffer.
4. If you have a NOS mutation, you may want to avoid going Paleo
Those who have a NOS gene mutation may have a low production of nitric oxide, which renders a person more susceptible to cardiovascular disease, free radical damage, and a slower removal of ammonia. As ammonia is naturally found in animal products, going Paleo with lots of meat may be detrimental. With this mutation, ensuring that there are more veggie meals, and lots of antioxidants in the diet is essential.
5. Those with a CYP1A2 mutation may want to ease of the caffeine.
Interestingly, genetic testing may explain why some people can be so affected by coffee, and others really can really tolerate it well. People with a mutation here may not be able to metabolise caffeine efficiently and so it stays in the body much longer. Whilst a buttered coffee and 100% dark chocolate may seem like the greatest idea, you may want to get your genes checked before you make it part of your daily routine.
6. MAOB or DOA mutations could prime you for hayfever or gut issues
MAOB and DAO are involved in the breakdown of histamine, so any mutations could give rise to respiratory issues, skin issues, or digestive problems. Whilst some people may happily devour a banana, strawberry and spinach smoothie, others with a SNP may not do too well. Avoiding high histamine foods could be a good idea, as well as reducing caffeine and alcohol, which impair those pathways.
Genetics for the Future
The great news about the availability of these tests is that we can start to see where we need to tweak our diet, and what supplements may or may not be useful on an individual basis. A comprehensive report will also highlight how you process certain medications, enabling more effective treatment in the medical setting if you ever need it. The whole field of epigenetics and nutrigenomics is fascinating and I suspect we're only just touching on what will be a hugely researched topic in the next few decades. From a nutritional perspective it's always good to look at the body as a whole and even if you have genetic mutations, there are other factors to consider to gain a whole holistic picture.
For more information on genetic testing, check out: www.jodiebrandman.com