Genomic tests are now available to everyone and I have explored this in a previous blog (see link below). While still in its beginning stages as a useful diagnostic tool, we are beginning to understand how to use some of this genomic information to prevent or reduce severity of chronic illnesses and predict how someone will respond to a specific medication. Approximately 99% of genes are the same for everyone worldwide. However, the remaining 1% of genes determines who we are and distinguishes us from everyone else.
Genetics vs Genomics
There are many different terms being used to describe our genes. The term genetics is the study of single genes or components of genes that we inherit from each of our parents and how they affect the development and disease risk for a person. These genes cannot be altered. Geneticists have long tested for specific genes that identify a specific disease, such as phenylketonuria (a genetic disorder that increases levels of the amino acid phenylalanine causing intellectual disability and health problems in babies).
Genomics is the study of the complex functions and interactions of all genes amongst themselves and with their environment. Genomics identifies single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs (pronounced snips). These SNPS can be positive or negative in relation to other genes and other factors that include the foods we eat and our environmental toxic exposures. It is these SNPs that affect a persons health and longevity.
Nutrigenomics is the study of the effects foods and their bioactive components have on gene expression (or activity). In other words, foods can turn your gene SNPs on and off and significantly impact your health. Food Bioactives are defined by the Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes for Health (NIH) “as constituents in foods or dietary supplements, other than those needed to meet basic human nutritional needs, which are responsible for changes in health status.” An example of a beneficial bioactive is resveratrol. Resveratrol is a plant polyphenol (an antioxidant that helps fight cell damage in the body) and best known to be found in red grapes, although it is also found in other foods. Among it’s many benefits, it has been recognized to support immunity and help fight cancer in the lab setting.
Nutrigenomics can assist healthcare practitioners and registered dietitians identify which foods affect a persons gene SNPs, thus leading to improved health and longevity and decreasing the risk for chronic diseases. The result is a personalized nutrition and lifestyle plan tailored for the individual. So stay tuned as we begin to explore this topic in more detail in the months to come.