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How Nutrition Plays a Role In Epigenetics; The Science of Nutrigenetics


DNA Strand

Nutrigenetics involves the study of the interaction between nutrients and genes at the molecular level. The study of epigenetics is the study of changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself.

If you remember learning about the human genome in biology class, you may recall that we all have around 3 billion DNA pairs living within our 23 pairs of chromosomes. While 98% of our genes are all the same, our protein-coding genes are comprised of around 2% of your genome. It’s this small part (known as the exome) that contains the genes that define your unique traits, such as lactose sensitivity, lean muscles, or straight hair. These genes instruct your amino acid arrangements for proteins that create your traits as well as look into your actionable genes.

While we all have the same genes, we each have genetic variants that can impact what we look like, what we’re allergic to and what our bodies need to thrive. Through the studies of the human genome, researchers and scientists like myself, have discovered that different people respond in different ways to different nutrients and diets because the variations in our DNA can have a significant impact on our metabolic efficiency, how or what causes us to lose or gain weight and more.

Nutrigenomics can reveal a number of health-related issues that can help you better understand what fuels your body and what doesn’t.

-NUTRIGENOMICS: The scientific study of the interaction of nutrition and genes, especially with regard to the prevention or treatment of disease.

The possibility of giving the same supplements or dietary plans to two individuals is a possibility. But what is right for one person does not necessarily mean that it is good for another. Genetics on its own does not determine your health and well-being, but it helps determine your diet and nutrient intake.

For example, if your genetic code pre-disposes you for early on-set heart disease, you must take that into consideration with your diet and nutrient intake.


DNA Strand with chromosome links

Epigenetics is the study of heritable changes in gene expression (active versus inactive genes) that do not involve changes to the underlying DNA sequence — a change in phenotype without a change in genotype — which in turn affects how cells read the genes. Epigenetic change is a regular and natural occurrence but can also be influenced by several factors including age, the environment/lifestyle, nutrition, or a disease state.

-PHENOTYPE: The set of observable characteristics of an individual resulting from the interaction of its genotype with the environment.

-GENOTYPE: The genetic makeup of an organism or group of organisms with reference to a single trait, set of traits, or an entire complex of traits.

Epigenetics, as a simplified definition, is the study of biological mechanisms that will switch genes on and off. What does that mean? Well, if you are new to this whole thing, we first need a quick crash course in biochemistry and genetics before learning exactly what is epigenetics:

-Cells are fundamental working units of every human being. All the instructions required to direct their activities are contained within the chemical deoxyribonucleic acid, also known as DNA.

-DNA from humans is made up of approximately 3 billion nucleotide bases. There are four fundamental types of bases that comprise DNA – adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine, commonly abbreviated as A, C, G, and T, respectively.

-The sequence, or the order, of the bases is what determines our life instructions. Interestingly enough, our DNA sequence is mostly similar to that of a chimpanzee. Only a fraction of distinctively different sequences makes us humans.

-Genes are specific sequences of bases that provide instructions on how to make important proteins – complex molecules that trigger various biological actions to carry out life functions.

In other words, DNA gives the instructions for various functional proteins to be produced inside the cell — this process is also known as the central dogma of molecular biology. Now that you understand the basics of genetics, let’s learn about epigenetics. Epigenetics affects how genes are read by cells, and subsequently whether the cells should produce relevant proteins.

Epigenetics Controls Genes.

This is achieved through (a) nature: epigenetics is what determines a cell’s specialization (e.g., skin cell, blood cell, hair cell, liver cells, etc.) just as a fetus develops into a baby through gene expression; and (b) nurture: environmental stimuli can also cause genes to be turned off or turned on.

Epigenetics Is Everywhere! Literally!

What you eat, where you live, who you interact with, when you sleep, how you exercise, even aging – all of these can eventually cause chemical modifications around the genes that will turn those genes on or off over time. Additionally, in certain diseases such as cancer or Alzheimer’s, various genes will be switched into the opposite state, away from the normal/healthy state.

Epigenetics Makes Us Unique.

Even though we are all human, why do some of us have blonde hair or darker skin? Why do some of us hate the taste of mushrooms or eggplants? Why are some of us more sociable than others? The different combinations of genes that are turned on or off is what makes each one of us unique. Furthermore, there have been indications that some epigenetic changes can be inherited.

Epigenetics Is Reversible.

With so many genes, what will be the result of the different combinations of genes being turned on or off? The possible arrangements are enormous! But if we could map every single cause and effect of the different combinations, and if we could reverse the gene’s state to keep the good while eliminating the bad… then we could hypothetically* slow aging, stop obesity, and so much more.

DNA strand

Although our epigenetic marks are more stable during adulthood, they are still thought to be dynamic and modifiable by lifestyle choices and environmental influence. It is becoming more apparent that epigenetic effects occur not just in the womb, but over the full course of a human life span, and that epigenetic changes could be reversed. There are numerous examples of epigenetics that show how different lifestyle choices and environmental exposures can alter marks on top of DNA and play a role in determining health outcomes.

Environment, Diet, Lifestyle, Exercise, Stress, Relationships, Life traumas, etc. are powerful influences on epigenetic tags and disease susceptibility.

The increased knowledge of epigenetics, combined with rise of technologies such as DNA based customized supplementation, allows us to better understand the interplay between epigenetic change, gene regulation, and human diseases. These studies can lead to the development of new approaches for molecular diagnosis and targeted treatments across the clinical spectrum. All to which I have based my career and research on. Imagine the possibility that gives us a mass scale ability to enable a more personalized approach to the conversation of epigenetic and nutrigenetics.

The excitement surrounding nutrigenetics stems from the notion that it’s the foundation of personalized nutritional supplementation. Clearly, population-based dietary and nutritional supplement recommendations are helpful, but they aren’t adequate for all individuals since people respond differently to nutrients and diets.

Personalized nutritional supplementation bases nutrient recommendations on genetic predisposition to hiccups within our biochemistry. The idea is that once personalized nutrition is integrated into routine care, patients can be genotyped for specific genetic variations, made aware of their genetic predispositions, and nutrient deficiencies, then given strategies to dramatically reduce their risk. We are on the forefront of giving the body the proper nutrients needed to thrive and therefore, supporting epigenetic and comprehensive health that encompass healthy living.

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